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Chapel Hill High School wins national automotive program award

Photo courtesy of Jessica F. Simmons.

On April 11, dozens of students, teachers and donors filled Chapel Hill High School's cafeteria to celebrate its recognition as the 2023 School of the Year for its automotive program.

The award is for a national annual competition sponsored by WIX Filters, O’Reilly Auto Parts andTomorrow’s Technician, an online  magazine dedicated to automotive students.

In addition to the award, CHHS received a celebration, a $10,000 donation and gear from WIX. Robert Ballard, the instructor of the program and winner of TT's 2022-2023 Instructor of the Year award, said the program plans to use the money in three different ways: for tools and equipment, to help the students go to a SkillsUSA competition this month and to fund the school’s new racing program.

At the event, Ballard, who also won last year's Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Teacher of the Year award, said he couldn’t express how appreciative he was of the support from industrial partners and the CHCCS Career and Technical Education program. He said the program really takes a team.

I also want to thank all the students this year," Ballard said. "It was a roller coaster ride this year, the different things that have happened and I appreciate all the students that support the program and come every day and have a great attitude, who are interested in working on cars.”

The program provides students with education on all areas of the National Institute of Automotive Service Excellence's certification, such as brakes, electrical suspension and engine performance diagnostics, Ballard said. He said the program is open to all high school students in CHHS, Carrboro High School and East Chapel Hill High School.

Daryl Benton, the vice president of sales and marketing for WIX, said the sponsors of the award are looking for programs that are helping to build the next generation of people who want to work in the auto industry. Benton said CHHS has done a great job of increasing participation.

“I think a couple of years ago, there were 35 students, and now there are over 100," Benton said. "And we know that they are teaching young people about how to participate and work and use their hands in this industry, and we think that's fantastic. And we want to support that.”

Isaiah Allen, a CHHS senior, said he joined the program in 2021 to honor his grandfather, who he considered to be a jack-of-all-trades. Since he joined, he said he has learned about the difference between transmission fluid and engine oil, basic electrical circuits, welding and fabrication.

Doug Kaufman, editorial director of TT, said CHHS stands out among all of the great schools in the country. He said a lot of what makes the automotive program at CHHS special is Ballard's impact on the program. 

“His commitment to creating a program from really where it started to when he got here has been nothing short of amazing," Kaufman said.

Allen said Ballard is a great teacher that really cares about his students. He said the recognition of the award is surreal.

“When you look at it, it's not very often that you get to be a part of something as great as this," Allen said. "I feel like I got to leave my mark here at Chapel Hill."


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