Crash Courses: Students repair and refinish vehicles in Automotive Training Academy

Harlingen CISD students within the Automotive Training Academy learn how to repair damaged vehicles while earning certifications necessary to enter the workforce. 

From repairing damage caused by vehicle collisions to making cars look and drive like new, students in the Collision Repair Services track within the district’s automotive training academy gain skills that can be taken directly to the job site. 

In fact, Harlingen High School students Jose Puga and Jerry Zepeda spend their weekends interning at Boggus Ford, a widely known and respected dealership located in Harlingen.

Puga and Zepeda, high school seniors, are part of the Automotive Training Academy. Beginning in 9th grade, they began their sequence of courses that includes principles of transportation systems, basic collision repair as well as painting and refinishing. 

Puga and Zepeda and their classmates refinish and replace vehicle bodies and frames. 

Students in this academy work on actual vehicles damaged in crashes. 

Zepeda said he is grateful for the “opportunities here in school … the career choices and electives.” The choices offered within Harlingen CISD allowed him to find classes he was passionate about, including collision repair. 

Together, Puga and Zepeda worked on a vehicle damaged in a collision. The car’s body needed major repair including the replacement of two side doors. 

To prepare for the hands-on learning, students in the collision repair services track also complete in classroom work, learn about safety, and observe their teacher Mr. Rick Serna perform repairs on vehicles inside the classroom. 

“This was my passion from the very beginning, and when Mr. Serna told me I could get certified … I (knew) I was going to get certified regardless of what it takes,” Puga said. 

Puga and his classmates consistently work on the vehicles, which are located in the high school’s Career and Technology Education wing. The collision repair services classroom features a full-fledged auto detailing and painting room, a classroom, and a well-equipped learning center modeled after an auto body shop. 

Puga said he will graduate this May with “more knowledge because if you were to ask me about car four or five years ago, I couldn’t tell you a thing.” 

Now, he plans to attend a technical college to further prepare himself for the workforce, and he already has a head start due to the Automotive Training Academy as well as the certification and internship opportunities offered through HCISD. 

“My main goal is to have my shop, but to also leave a footprint in the automotive industry,” Puga said. 

Harlingen CISD graduates students college, career, and community ready by preparing them for their futures through strategically crafted curriculum and programs. 

That’s why the district created its Academies, educational programming, and pathways offered to high school students.  

The district’s Automotive Training Academy provides students with an opportunity to earn industry certifications at no cost. Tracks within the academy include collision repair services, automotive technology, and diesel and heavy equipment technology. 

“I really do enjoy my job here, and I try to show it as soon as they come in through the door,” Mr. Serna said after teaching his class in January. “At the end of the class, I make sure to tell my students to have a great day, and I look forward to tomorrow. They come in with respect, and leave with respect.” 

The mutual respect for one another is evident in the students’ work ethic in the classroom and dedication to learning as much as possible before graduation. 

“It’s good for students to learn inside the classroom, but when it comes to the hands-on (lessons), it also gives them critical thinking skills,” Mr. Serna said. 

On average, the cost of one semester of junior college or trade school amounts to about $1,800. At HCISD, however, students have the opportunity to complete courses offered at a junior college and technical trade schools at no cost to students or their parents. 

“Here at HCISD, we are super proud to provide our students with choices and opportunities necessary for long-term success,” said Superintendent Dr. Art Cavazos. “Specifically, our academies have been graduating students with nationally recognized certifications and knowledge they need to enter into the workforce.” 

High school students may enroll in the academy courses at their home campus. The courses may be added to their school day schedule.

For more information about the Apprenticeship Academy’s seven pathways and courses, visit or contact HCISD directly at (956) 430-9530.

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