FIRST PLACE: LARRY BALL, FOOTHILL HIGH SCHOOL
HENDERSON, Nev. - We all know that the industry keeps talking about getting students interested in the industry at a younger age; Larry Ball, the HVAC instructor at Foothill High School, is doing it.
By working in conjunction with the local college, he is able to not only bring students in younger, he is able to give them credits that apply at the College of Southern Nevada (CSN), in case their parents wanted them to go to college - a major draw. If not, they can go on to start their career in the residential heating and air conditioning trade right after high school graduation. Ball tries to guide them toward college.
Ball was nominated by a former student, Adrian Castaneda, who now is an HVAC technician. According to Castaneda, “Without him there would not be as many good technicians and contractors if he had not inspired them. He inspired me by showing me that it is much more interesting to learn something new every day.
“Besides HVACR, he also taught me in other courses such as math, proper English, and physics. And aside from all that knowledge, he showed me how to use it with ethics.”
Castaneda originally wanted to go into welding, Ball said, because he was interested in the pay available for underwater welding work. Ball told Castaneda how rare those jobs are, and convinced him to give HVACR a try. Castaneda said he was a bit intimidated at first, but Ball’s teaching style reassured him.
GETTING STARTEDBall explained that like so many others, his own father had been involved in HVAC work. Ball learned the technology through Amana factory training. “I had been repairing appliances already. I was already mechanically inclined.”
He started teaching in the 1991-92 school year. He does it, he says, because “teaching is a way to give back to the industry, and get qualified techs in the field.” He is a believer in entering students into the SkillsUSA competition, and not just to let the students see how they stack up against others. Ball uses it as a yardstick for himself. “SkillsUSA shows me if I’m teaching them what they need to know.”
As far as he knows, Ball is the only air conditioning teacher at the high school level teaching sophomores. In his youngest students, he looks for liking of the technology and aptitude.
The college credits start stacking up in the junior year, when students can accumulate 13 college credit hours (Tech Prep). Seniors can earn 13 more credit hours (Jump Start), and they work for one-half a year as an intern for an outside firm. Ball still grades these internships based on reports from the employer. Not only does it give the students hands-on experience, it also gives them real job experience to put on future applications. They can also achieve Industry Competency Exam (ICE) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) certification, although not North American Technician Excellence (NATE), which requires more hands-on experience, Ball said.
CLOSE TO COLLEGEBall’s high school classes are actually taught at the community college, which is literally next door and has a better facility for his classes. “Most of these kids would never think of going to college,” Ball said. By giving them credits while they are in high school, it prompts them to move into college life by making their completion of an associate’s degree more cost effective.
The high school’s Tech Prep Program offers high school juniors and seniors the opportunity to receive college credit from CSN for certain articulated high school courses. Students must receive an “A” or “B” on their final report card, meet the competencies of the course, and pay a $10 application fee for each college course. In addition to giving them a natural springboard into college, it helps them reduce tuition costs by essentially giving them 26 credit hours for $260. According to CSN, 1,606 high school Tech Prep students earned college credit and saved $487,602 in tuition and fees in 2006-07.
According to the school, more than 260 Career and Technical Education courses, from architecture to welding, are available to these high school students. “The courses provide students with the academic and technical knowledge they need to pursue higher education or enter the workplace upon graduation.”
The kids in the class also learn how to deal with people from other cultures in their class, said Ball. “We have kids from different gangs in the class, and kids from Pakistan and Afghanistan working together,” he said. “It’s like the United Nations.”
Ball works hard to keep the classroom amusing as well as informative, so he is very upbeat and energetic. “We’re competing with iPods and PS3s,” he said. In addition to the basics of HVAC, he often needs to teach them the basics of physics, chemistry, and math - “basic math,” he said. He also teaches his students how to present themselves to customers and potential employers, the so-called soft skills.
The school is currently working on Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA) accreditation, and is making its way through the mound of paperwork this requires, as well as the review process.
Ball’s curriculum also tries to keep one step ahead of required certifications and legislation, keeping it as relevant as possible for the local workforce. For instance, a recent Las Vegas bill would require a 10-hour OSHA certification card in order to work in the city. It’s already in the curriculum, thanks to Ball.
A report from the Nevada Department of Education called CSN “a model Tech Prep Program for community colleges in Nevada.” The report recommends that the other programs in the state consider adopting similar methods and approaches.
Ball’s wife, Chloe, is also a teacher, though she currently teaches fifth grade. She knows how difficult this can be, but she also knows how much her husband gives to his students. “He gives everything he’s got,” she said.
Ball is enthusiastic about the future of the trade for his young students. “These jobs aren’t going overseas,” he said. And they are real careers they can take with them, wherever they go.