NASHVILLE, Tennessee — Maplewood High is the only school in the nation with its own Firestone Service Center.
There, you will find high school students trained not only in mechanics, but trained in the ways of life and working their way out of poverty, all thanks to instructor TJ Williams.
“Some of these kids were without hope, and now they have hope,” Williams told The Tennessee Star.
“If a kid already knows they are living in poverty then the last thing they want to hear is ‘Good morning. You’re poor.’ No, it should be ‘Good morning, you don’t have to stay in this. Let me show you how to get out.’”
This is the first such program in the world. Bridgestone officials designed the curriculum in 2015, Williams said.
One of those kids, Jacob Newman, 16, described himself at one time as a “really arrogant sixth grader” who needed focus.
“Without this program, I would still probably be in trouble. I look forward to coming in here working on cars. I look forward to seeing Ms. TJ. I look forward to seeing my friends. Without that I think I’d be in trouble somewhere, somehow,” Newman said.
“I compare automotives to life in a way. We all know some things can go wrong, but it can always be repaired with time and effort. It can always be fixed. It just gets me going to know there is always some way to fix the problem.”
Some students are working toward their Automotive Service Excellence certification, Williams said.
The students have a lot to work with. They have all the tools and equipment one would find at any other mechanics’ shop.
Cars foreign and domestic were at Maplewood’s Firestone last week, in need of repair. Someone even brought in a classic 1964 Plymouth Fury for the kids to tinker with.
Serdario Bell, 16, told The Star the automotive engineering program has made her a happier person.
“I used to have a very bad attitude. But I like seeing Ms. TJ happy, even when (bad) stuff happens to her. She goes about her day happy,” Bell said.
“It makes you go ‘OK, maybe I can do the same thing.’ Maybe I can go about my day and just have fun.’ Even if it’s a hard situation I can still smile through it. Happiness just comes through this place.”
Thomas Brown, 18, said Williams is strict — but he also said she cares for all of her students and without this opportunity he’d likely live on the streets.
“I would have dropped out senior year without this program,” Brown said.
“I’m not a big fan of coming to school, but I come because I see TJ every day, and I know I’m going to learn something new.”
Graduates of the program often go on to work at Firestone, Williams said.
“We have kids in the industry,” Williams said.
“You hear about them buying their first house or buying their first car.”
Jacqueline Nanney, 17, said the program was “a life-changing experience.”
“At first I wasn’t that good of a student, but then when I got into this program it changed a lot of things,” Nanney said.
“I was never a good child back then. Ms. T.J. still smiles when she goes through hard times. It makes you feel like you can do the same.”
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