“I love to show my students that cars can be a career or even a hobby. I love seeing the confidence in their abilities grow and the rewards they reap from a job well done.”

Jay Abitz has taught automotive and collision repair at Freedom High School in Freedom, Wisconsin for the past 14 years. He followed in the footsteps of his father, who was the automotive teacher at the school for 35 years. After earning his bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Stout, Abitz earned his master’s degree and has earned multiple certifications in automotive and collision repair.

This prizewinning automotive program hosts its own annual car show for the community with over 150 cars, trucks, and motorcycles. At the show, Freedom automotive students give tours of their facility and share what they learn in Abitz’s program. The show is typically attended by more than 500 people.

“At our show students will also give tours of our facility where people really get a chance to see what they are learning. Students show the tools, materials, and equipment they use and explain the learning process along the way. Visitors are always impressed and leave wishing they had this opportunity in high school,” Abitz said.

Freedom’s after-school auto club program brings together a number of volunteers from industry that work directly with students on cars. There are master certified mechanics, shop managers, welders, fabricators and many other volunteers who join at different times throughout each car repair.

“These volunteers have taught me a number of things over the years as well and grown my skill set and knowledge base. Being in the classroom for a living I do not get the same experiences as working in a shop, so we need the people I describe to keep us in touch with what is going on in the industry,” Abitz said. “Many of these volunteers are also FHS alumni, eager to give back to the program that gave them their start. It is so cool to see former students come back and share what they have learned out in the world, and as their teacher it is awesome to see how they have grown.’’

Abitz’s students have competed in the SkillsUSA Collision Repair contest, winning seven state championships and finishing as high as second place at nationals. His students’ work has been featured in numerous automotive publications including Popular Mechanics. Abitz’s students explore careers in a variety of trades with 100 percent entering the workforce, post-secondary education or the military upon graduation. Abitz was a finalist for the 2020 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence.

“In my classes students are challenged, they struggle, they are required to figure it out on their own. I give them experiences that will relate to the real world and teach skills like problem solving, working independently and as a team, and breaking down complex tasks for step by step completion. My class can frustrate them, seem like work, and can be rewarding at the same time. Life and school is not about what they learn on any given day, but is all about the experiences! I do my best to prepare them for life after high school to be successful people and good employees.”