School field trip a step in the right direction

Episode 216

June 10, 2018

One way to help fix the education system

Thirty eight years in education as an agriculture instructor taught me a few things, some good and some not so good. As an agriculture instructor, I relied on student interest in my course in order to maintain my job.

The time of year I dreaded the most was spring sign-up time. We received anywhere from 40 to 50 high school students who at least expressed an interest in looking at what we had to offer.

Somehow between that time and sign-up the number typically dwindled to maybe 10 or 11 who put their name on the dotted line. That was discouraging to me.

Why this discrepancy you may ask? I have no scientific answer but I do have some reasons I heard over the course of my career. Here are a few:

  1. Not enough time in my schedule due to graduation requirements
  2. My parents want me in the college courses for post high school education
  3. The kids out there are not kids I want my kids to hang around with
  4. Guidance steered me away from this area.
  5. This course is too easy, I need tougher classes
  6. My friends are taking…{you fill in the blank}
  7. And there were more. I think you get the point

I tried to be a “big picture” instructor and tried to show my students what is happening outside of the tiny box that some live in whether by choice or chance.

I can remember there were times when I would bring FFA members (FFA is the student organization for agriculture education, a national group with over 500,000 high school members) to state convention at UMaine @ Orono and they would admit this was the first time they had been away from home.

When I would bring them to National FFA Convention in October at Indianapolis, Indiana they would get sensory overload when they saw the more than 60,000 FFA members at the convention.

I organized the annual “Gearhead Tour” which typically took one day to visit race shops, tracks, and individuals in the Indy area. At each stop I would ask several people how they got to where they were today and what motivated them?

There were very few instances when the FFA members on that tour could not relate to the journey which brought these folks to the pinnacle of their profession. Most FFA members which I run into today have those memories seared into their brains and tell me how much they enjoyed seeing how common folks did uncommon things to get where they are.

I would like to give a shout-out to instructors who attempt to show their youngsters what is out in the real world which surrounds them. Vocational teachers have a built-in advantage when it comes to this tactic. Most courses, students or potential students can see they are tied directly to the world of work.

In addition most technical programs must have advisory committees which are made up of industry folks who help the instructor stay connected to what may be happening in their particular field.

What got me interested in mentioning the technical education side of education occurred at Baxley’s Speed Shop in Windham last week when automotive students from Region 9 Tech Center in Mexico, Maine came by to visit.

Automotive students from Region 9 Tech Center in Mexico, Maine arriving at Baxley’s Speed Shop in Windham for a tour and demonstrations of high performance. Baxley’s Speed Shop photo

While at Baxley’s the auto students were given a tour and had a chassis dyno test on Nathaniel Brown’s Ford Shelby Mustang. Speed Shop owner, Charlie Baxley said, “Not going to lie…I’m not sure who was more excited today. It was fun showing some kids what we do and showing off some of the projects going on. Hope that they are able to do whatever it is they want. That’s really what it is all about. If you can do what you want everyday…and make a living…yo.”

Dyno testing Nathaniel Brown’s Ford Shelby Mustang on the Mustang brand dynamometer at Baxley’s Speed Shop for the Region 9 Automotive students. Baxley’s Speed Shop photo

I asked Charlie what prompted a visit from the automotive students. He replied, “Yes. It was the first visit. They contacted us out of the blue.”

“I think it helps kids see that it doesn’t have to be oil changes and brake jobs. It can be cool if that’s what you want. I think it was ridiculously awesome they contacted us and came by. We are super happy to do it for others as well.”

I mentioned to Charlie that I was writing about vocational education in my blog tonight and wanted his take on the post-secondary scene to which he replied, “I think it’s great to show kids an alternative. I went through the college system and don’t think that is necessary for everyone.”

“My first degree was a 2-year vocational degree. Drafting but still not a full-fledged college degree. That landed me an engineering gig that I carried out 16 years later. I was never the model college student.”

I know that there are several auto instructors who bring there students on interesting field trips. They also bring in state-of-the-art seminars as well as participate in contests like Skills USA. My concern is not necessarily the tech center instructors, rather it is parents and counselors who need to see what goes on in the world outside the school.

It is much better now than when I started in education in 1975. The information is widespread and diverse in nature. I like to think the message is getting out that a four-year degree is not always the pathway out of poverty or always the best choice for students.

I boosts my spirit when I hear Governor Lepage mention vocational education in a positive light. The president has mentioned it in his campaign and since being in office that vocational education can provide a pathway to success.

On November 9, 2009, my FFA members and I who were in attendance at the 82nd Annual National FFA Convention in Indianapolis , Indiana heard keynote speaker Mike Rowe of “Dirty Jobs” fame. His speech about getting the gears of America rolling was one of the best I have heard from a celebrity speaker.

Since then, Mike has come made it his mission to inform parents and young people as well as the general public that rolling up one’s sleeves and getting hands-on work done carries with it a dignity often not appreciated by someone until they need that plumber to fix their overflowing sink or mechanic to figure out what ails their car.

Simply type Mike Rowe videos into your favorite search engine and take the time to listen to what he has to say. I think you may be pleasantly surprised and maybe somewhat convicted about your attitude toward work. Although I doubt any reader of UpNorth Motorsports would fit into the uninformed category.

Bottom line, encourage others to visit places like Baxley’s Speed Shop and see what types of people and jobs which are somewhat rare yet out there. Life is so short, it would be nice to enjoy going to work daily and getting some enjoyment from it.

Spud Speedway getting ready to host Firecracker 200

One neat thing that I get to see first hand as a groundskeeper at the Caribou race track is the preparations going on behind the scenes readying for the Aroostook Savings and Loan Firecracker 200 on July 3rd. Maintenance and repair persons are at the track to ensure race fans that the track will be ready when they arrive to enjoy the Pro All Star Series (PASS), Street Stocks, and Enduro that Tuesday evening.

Renovations to the pit area control tower include new floor, steps and side boards. Painting will take place soon. HTF Motorsports photo

The replacement of the old well house with a pitless adapter in the concession area of the main grandstand area. Water’s ready. HTF Motorsports photo

Major changes to the seating will be taking place over the next week as well as preparation of concessions buildings and ground maintenance. I think race fans will be pleasantly surprised.

Aroostook County kart racers strut their stuff down state

Limestone’s Gage Theriault wins the Junior Animal Engine class with his Rage Nitro Kart, completed the night before, at Speedway Karting, Hermon, Maine. Theriault is number 43 in middle. Gage Theriault Racing photo

Presque Isle’s Bryan Searles car 07 on outside pole at Speedway Karting feature race. Searles placed second in the race. BAS Racing photo

Damian Theriault win streak continues at Speedway Karting in Hermon Saturday. Second place Daniel Faulkingham on left, race winner Damian Theriault center, and Jason Theriault third. Team JRT photo

Second win of race weekend. This one in Senior Sportsman Division at Richmond Karting Speedway Sunday. Left to right Brandon Williams 4th, Samantha Chapman 3rd, Regina Ramsey 2nd and race winner Damian Theriault. Team JRT photo

Colby Martin whose dad, Shawn Martin is from Frenchville, won the Junior Boxstock class at Richmond Karting Speedway in his new kart. This was Martin’s first win this season. Look for his father at the Spud Speedway Firecracker 200 July 3rd. Colby Martin Racing photo

Thursdays On Sweden Street racing kart display

Sporting my new HTF Motorsports apparel at Caribou’s Thursday on Sweden Street held indoor due to rain. NMKA had three karts on display and many inquiries about kart racing. In the background is one of two race karts that Spud Speedway owner Troy Haney is selling for only $1000 each. NMKA race two Presented by County QwikPrint is Saturday June 16 at noon. Pits open at 9:30.  Janet Bosse photo

Wyatt Alexander places sixth at Sara Speedway in Virginia

For the first time in his racing career, Wyatt Alexander from Ellsworth, now living in Charlotte, North Carolina competed in a race without his father Brett as his crew chief. The sophomore at University of North Carolina-Charlotte raced his legend at Shenandoah Speedway, Shenandoah, Virginia. Alexander started sixth and was able to maintain that position through the finish.

His father, Brett said this about the new experience for his son, “Well, it sure seems strange for Wyatt to be at the track racing without me tonight . In 15 seasons of racing , this is the first race he’s ever run that I haven’t been there to call the shots.”

“I’m very proud of him though, and he’ll probably be able to hear us cheering for him from Maine . Some of you may have noticed that Wyatt is not running his traditional number 96, but instead is using the 95. This is in tribute to his great-uncle Steve Alexander who raced along with Wyatt’s grandfather back when the Alexander racing tradition got started.”

Wyatt Alexander prepares to do battle in the Legends class at Shenandoah Speedway June 9 2018 WAR photo

Wyatt said this about the experience, “It was fun! No sponsors as of now. But big thanks to Puzzled Racing working with me to get the car.”

“Todd helped me at the track and he was also racing. We didn’t really have a crew, just Todd and I. No spotter, Linds (Lindsey Walker his girlfriend) watched with my cousin Tammy (Rebich) and her husband Nick. It was great to have them there.”

Alexander’s next race is the PASS race at Speedway 95 June 17. He will be competing at the Firecracker 200 July 3rd at Spud Speedway.

Cars and Coffee Cruise Night Friday June 15

Cars and Coffee Aroostook will be hosting their June Cruise Night Friday June 15 from 5:30 pm to 8:30 pm at Burger Boy on Sweden Street in Caribou. The group encourages all auto enthusiasts to join them for a meal, ice cream, or shake regardless of what they drive. They emphasize this is an informal get together not a “Show & Shine” event. I hope to catch some of the action this Friday. Say hello if you see me at the Cruise In!


Let’s go racing,

Tom Hale

Soli Deo Gloria






Tom Hale

About Tom Hale

Tom wrote 14 years as freelancer for the Bangor Daily Sports covering motorsports in Maine. Now blogging and concentrating on human interest stories about people and places in racing. He races Champ Karts and owns HTF Motorsports in remote Westmanland, Maine