While many tourist destinations dread the end of summer and associate “back to school” with a season that’s wrapping up, the Gilmore Car Museum, near Kalamazoo, MI, embraces it by continuing to impact both students and communities throughout the state—and beyond.
Student admission is free for all pre-arranged K – 12 school field trips to the Museum and educators are encouraged to schedule their outings as early as possible. A group of highly motivated and creative Museum instructors combine automotive history and “STEAM” (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) benchmarks as the automobile has impacted all phases of culture.
These Museum visits become fun and memorable experiences where students become very engaged. “During these immersive learning field trips students forget they’re still in class and learning,” explains Robin Nott, renowned storyteller, retired drama teacher, and Gilmore volunteer.
For the high school student looking for more hands-on instruction in automotive preservation the Museum offers its innovative Gilmore Garage Works program, which will soon begin its 9th year.
Meeting Tuesday and Thursday afternoons within the Museum’s unique environment the Garage Works after-school program is 100% free and teaches the basics in automotive repair, tool usage and shop safety. Adult mentors, made up primarily of Museum members with long histories in the auto restoration hobby, provide 9 – 12th grade students with hands-on repair experiences on actual antique automobiles as well as exposure to welding, painting and metal fabrication.
“Our intent is not to turn out restoration professionals from the program,” states Chris Shires, Executive Director of the Gilmore Car Museum, “but rather to introduce students to experiences that we hope will motivate them to pursue further education, training or a possibly career.”
The Museum’s Director of Education, Fred Colgren, explained that program participants also learn valuable life skills–like how important it is to be on time, to be prepared for a job and how to take pride in the work that you do. “Those skills will be the longer-lasting benefits to this program,” he explained.
Garage Works is open to any 9th – 12th grade student in Allegan, Barry, Calhoun and Kalamazoo counties. An open house at the Museum for interested students, parents and supporters will take place 4:30 – 5:30pm on Thursday September 21st, with the first Garage Works session being Tuesday September 26.
In the past students have restored a 1931 Willys engine and chassis, rebuilt Model A Ford engines and worked on a number of motorcycles, a 1909 Buick, as well as learning how to run a lathe and operate a vertical mill.
“I will forever treasure my three and a half years in the Garage Works program,” says recent Otsego grad Jacob Taylor. “What 17-year-old kid could say he’s worked on some of the most prized classic cars of all time, let alone travel across the country in one?!”
Taylor was one of five Garage Works students and 3 adult mentors (pictured left) that also participated in this summer’s 2,400-mile GREAT RACE in a 1935 Packard. The team, one of only six made up of high school students, finished 98th out 148 original registrants and each automotive college-bound team member earned a $1,400 scholarship.
Education Director Fred Colgren sums it up well when speaking about the Museum’s educational focus, “I don’t think there’s a stronger payoff than the knowing you’ve made a difference in a kid’s life.”
To learn more about how you can become a part of these unique “Back to School” endeavors contact the Museum at 269-671-5089 or visit GilmoreCarMuseum.org.