“I am not just a teacher to my students; I serve as a financial and mental health counselor, a career counselor, a coach, a cheerleader, and many times a surrogate parent. Students would likely say: ’Mr. Simmons taught me a great deal about life. He challenges us. He cares about us and about what he teaches.’ “

Mark Simmons teaches automotive & diesel technology at Springfield High School in Springfield, Oregon. Simmons discovered his love of the trades early and brings a wealth of diverse work experience to his teaching – working on a farm and servicing agricultural equipment as a sixth grader, at an automotive shop in high school. He served the United States for six years in the Air Force, servicing fighter jets and working on the F-117 Stealth in the First Gulf War. After leaving the air force, Simmons worked in private aviation for nine years before feeling the call to service again. Beginning as an educational assistant at a local high school, he obtained an Associates Degree, a B.S. in Technical Education, and a Master’s Degree in English to Speakers of Other Languages. He found his calling as the automotive and diesel instructor at Springfield High School, and has served his community in this position for twenty years.

Simmons developed a comprehensive automotive pathway that empowers students to shape what and how they learn. He provides many learning opportunities for students, like field trips and even selling cars they repair/rebuild. The money earned from these car sales comprises 90% of the auto shop’s operating budget. Simmons also hosts an “open shop” once a week where students build projects and catch up on work alongside their family. Simmons’ message is clear: this program is not just a class, it’s a community.

Simmons goes above and beyond to support his students, making sure they have what they need to learn, and to become successful in their future careers. His program has even sold cars to students at salvage prices, then helped them complete repairs so that they had reliable transportation to school and to work. Students in his program can earn college credits and shadow local professionals who may provide students apprenticeship opportunities. Program graduates often enroll in the local community college trades program and are heavily recruited into private trade schools or factory automotive and diesel training programs.

Simmons’ class leads to positive student outcomes. According to data collected by the school, students who complete two or more CTE classes are twice as likely to earn a high school diploma. In his application, Simmons said that former students often visit him to tell him about the opportunities they were qualified to pursue because of his program. For Simmons, it’s a great feeling helping his students find a career path they’re passionate about.

“I love watching students accomplish tasks and projects they didn’t think they could complete. I teach at a low-income school where most students have had little to no opportunity to explore any vocational trade areas before high school.”