FREEHOLD, N.J. - If we could have known Guy Letrick in high school, we may not have believed that he is the HVACR instructor that he is today, actually working towards a college degree. "I was a normal 18-year-old that really didn't care about what I was doing," he said. "I didn't put enough effort into high school. Boys tend to mature a little later than girls."

He sees that with a lot of the students at Monmouth County Vocational School, where he works. Letrick is the runner-up in the 2004 Instructor of the Year contest sponsored by The News and ARI.

"Working with the kids has made me better," Letrick said. He is pursuing an associate's degree in HVACR technology. Letrick also is an officer for the Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES) and belongs to the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors - National Association (PHCC), in addition to belonging to the Council of Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Educators (CARE).

Letrick teaches flaring, brazing, soldering, and swedging. The first quarter of instruction begins with a copper tubing project.

Let's Get Involved

This instructor teaches students in the HVACR program a lot more than heating-cooling-refrigeration basics. He teaches them the importance of getting involved in the industry itself for long-term professional development.

For instance, he encourages them to join professional associations such as RSES, or at least to attend meetings. "I encourage the kids to join," Letrick said. "It keeps you in touch with the field." Students who attend association meetings also earn bonus points, Letrick's version of extra credit.

Students also compete in Skills USA-VICA competitions. In fact, silver and gold regional winners came from Letrick's class in 2002 and 2003.

Getting involved also works in the other direction. Area contractors get involved with the HVACR program via the advisory board. "Some advisors are RSES chapter members," Letrick said. "One is a student's father, a refrigeration union training supervisor."

The board has "a lot of impact" on the program's direction, Letrick said. It is also required for Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA), for which the program has applied. A site visit is pending.

Contractors on the advisory board have first choice of the best graduating students. "One has hired five," Letrick said.

The first marking period covers service of air conditioning equipment, package units, split systems, heat pumps, and keeping journals.

Two-Year Curriculum

Monmouth's HVACR curriculum follows a logical sequence. It starts in the first marking quarter with a copper tubing project.

Letrick emphasizes this skill because "a lot of techs go out in the field and they can't solder or braze." He teaches flaring, brazing, soldering, and swedging. In addition to keeping the tubing clean and dry, Letrick emphasizes the need for a leak-free system. Students are taught how to use meters on wiring boards, work on refrigeration equipment (hooking up and removing gauges, pumping down the system, recovery, and refrigerant charging), and work on household refrigerators and window A/C units.

The second year includes a review of tubing skills so students don't forget what they learned the first year. Then they explore a variety of systems. The first marking period covers service of A/C equipment, package units, split systems, heat pumps, and keeping journals. The second period covers heating equipment and journals; the third period covers refrigeration equipment and journals; and the fourth period offers students the choice of working on any type of equipment. Simutech journal-keeping is mandatory.

Simutech Systems ( are HVACR simulators that "provide realistic, ‘hands-on' service training and theory of operation for HVAC and refrigeration systems," the company said. The program journals, Letrick said, make students go through the process of explaining the problem, citing possible causes, and coming up with logical solutions.

The entire process makes them think the problem through instead of simply swapping out parts until they find the right answer. The program helps teach students how to think and troubleshoot independently.

The fourth marking period of the second year includes the opportunity for students to take the Industry Competency Exam (ICE) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) certification test, and to work in the field. "I go to the jobsites and check up on the students to see how they are doing. I visit in the summer; there's too much information for my kids to have to absorb."

This School-to-Work Program has been very effective, Letrick said. "The companies we have are reputable. They have to have Workers' Comp insurance. Safety of the students is the biggest concern we have."

More Incentives

When students finish with the two-year program, their certification may include ICE, EPA Section 608 certified refrigerant approved handling certification Type I, II, III, and Universal; ESCO 410A/407C certification; and a Monmouth County Vocational Program Certificate.

Keeping them motivated to finish the course is a challenge Letrick accepts with enthusiasm. A "Homework Pass," for example, is a homework exemption given each week to students who score at least an 85 on a weekly quiz. There's a tool raffle at the end of each marking period for anyone who earns an A on a period quiz; prizes include wrenches or nut driver sets. At the end of the year there is a raffle for a more valuable prize, such as a set of gauges.

A lot of these prizes are donated by guest speakers, another regular feature of Letrick's classroom.

As we mentioned before, the lessons taught in Mr. Letrick's HVACR classroom go beyond the science of the trade.

"The kids all wear uniforms to class," he said, "same as they would when they're out working." Letrick also emphasizes professionalism. No profanity is allowed in the classroom. Students are also taught how to deal with angry customers, which can help them deal with other situations in their lives.

"We have kids with different issues," he said. Sometimes when he is talking with a student, "I hear a lot more than I maybe wanted to." However, he appreciates the trust the students have in him. Sometimes the entire class sits down for "Life Lessons with Mr. Letrick."

When Monmouth County Vocational School goes out for high school recruiting day, Letrick and the other teachers are looking to attract juniors and seniors who may not think the college path is right for them. Letrick takes current students with him, and he finds they have the most influence on peers who show some interest in HVACR. Word of mouth plays a big role in recruiting.

It's no wonder the N.J. State Department of Education recognized the program for student excellence based on program achievement tests, and that Letrick was named an Extraordinary Incentive recipient for 2000-01. Letrick acknowledged a debt of gratitude to his former teacher and mentor, Tom Timoldi. "You can change the course of your life," Letrick said. "It's never too late."

Publication date: 11/08/2004