We Are the City Spotlight: JVS & George Washington High School’s Auto Shop Program

By Michelle Chen, JVS’s Senior Coordinator of High School and Bridge Programs

Founded in 1973, JVS (Jewish Vocational Service) transforms lives by helping people build skills, increase their confidence, and find high quality work. We work with people from all over the Bay Area, including adult job seekers and young people. Our High School Bridge team, in particular, partners with the San Francisco Unified School District by bringing work-based learning opportunities to local schools. We support the Auto Shop program at George Washington High School by organizing career panels, setting up field trips, and preparing young people for internships at local shops. In partnership with several San Francisco government agencies and private businesses, JVS’s STEM Auto Program helps young people find opportunities to make a living wage in the city while doing something they enjoy, and clarifies steps necessary to make their dreams into reality.

In the past, teachers shared that their students graduated from the Auto Shop program at George Washington High School without job experience or clear next steps of what to do with the skills they learned while at school. In response, our team at JVS supported students to develop:

1) A resume and a LinkedIn profile

2) Real-life skills they can put on their resumes

3) Ideas of where they want to send their resumes

4) Soft skills to ensure students are more work-ready, and better equipped to keep jobs

JVS also helps students receive vocational training at local colleges and universities, including Skyline College, City College of San Francisco — Evans Campus, and Universal Technical Institute, and at companies including Cruise Automation, Tesla, and Topology Eyewear, which are taking automotive technology and manufacturing into the future. JVS also provides students with paid opportunities to work at, and be mentored by, employees of SFMTA, SF Toyota, Don’s Auto Body, Integrity Automotive Services, Lombard Auto, and more.

During the 2019–2020 school year, we had a record-high number of women taking Auto Shop classes, and we were excited for what could happen in a field where women are historically underrepresented. We held workshops and career panels, and in January 2019, we launched our 3rd cohort of JVS automotive spring internship program where students received in-person job-readiness skills training and 60-hours of auto internship experience. January 2020 began no differently: spring internship started, but then in mid-March shelter-in-place came suddenly for SFUSD, and for JVS. By mid-March of 2020, everything shut down: internships shut down, classes shut down, the city and the world shut down. Then, everything went virtual: classes, summer, and the 2020–2021 school year. JVS had to completely shift our services and programming to be virtual.

With the sudden shift to virtual learning, we had to go back to the drawing board to think about what our students needed, and how we could make a difference in their lives. For us, the health and well-being of a student and their family is a top priority. We firmly believe that students can’t learn and focus if their basic needs aren’t met.

To address the most pressing needs, JVS staff made calls and asked our students about their mental health, rent, food, and bill needs. As a team and across the organization, everyone remained compassionate, people-centered, and steadfast. In total, with help from DCYF and special grants, JVS provided more than $160,000 in COVID emergency funds to youth participants and their families.

With the future uncertain, supporting students as they learned about the opportunities available to them became more important than ever. We converted work-based learning into online opportunities full of career panels, informational interviews, mock interviews, digital literacy, and more. One student even said, “I’m so glad I did this program. I learned so much. My friends did a computer science internship, but I think what I learned is even more valuable.” Receiving this kind of feedback inspires us to keep going and design programs that support our young people for the future ahead of them.

Since the 2021–2022 school year, we’ve been able to go back to in-person learning. Our in-person career panels, field trips, and internships were able to restart. There were a few bumps in the road, particularly the Omicron surge during the holidays, which resulted in a lot of students and teachers being out sick. Fortunately, flexibility and thinking outside of the box when it comes to how to be there for our young people is what we are all about! We’re so privileged to be able to establish opportunities for our young people and give them the tools to navigate their post-secondary education.

The City of San Francisco is one of the few cities in the United States that has a Department of Children, Youth, and Families, and we are thankful for the funding we receive from DCYF to provide students with paid opportunities that support them as they explore what they might want to do in the future. Funding like this enables many more people to graduate high school with a clearer direction of where they want to go. The partnerships JVS has with different companies and City agencies remind us that we are lucky to live in a city with folks invested in helping San Francisco families and students thrive.

We feel absolutely privileged to be able to support the Auto Shop at GWHS! With JVS’s support, on-the-job experience gained through internships with our partners, and our focus on ensuring our students graduate from the program with a resume that will get them in the door, our students have gone on to universities to study engineering and business, vocational schools for automotive training, apprenticeships in skilled trades, and part-time jobs in the automotive industry while studying to receive necessary certifications.

We believe the Auto Shop program trains up and gives students the opportunity to move towards the future they see for themselves. We hope this program can be multiplied in other school districts around the country. We want to continue to increase our students’ exposure and access to careers that are right for them.

We are excited to support George Washington High School’s Auto Shop as they host their first auto show on Saturday, April 23! The event celebrates the 10-year anniversary of the reopening of the only public high school Auto Shop in San Francisco. Join us from 10 am — 3 pm and see students showcase the skills they’ve learned and what they do in the Auto Shop! This is a fantastic opportunity for San Franciscans to discover this gem here in our own city that is creating pathways to living wages. Admission is free for the public! Visit this link to RSVP for the Auto Show on Facebook page, and while you’re there, give the George Washington HS — Auto Shop Facebook page a Like and a new Follower!

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SF Department of Children, Youth & Their Families

Making San Francisco a great place to grow up, DCYF has led the City's investments in children, youth, TAY and their families since 1991. www.dcyf.org