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Packer Weekly: Recreational engines sparks student interest

By Claire DeJong

Working in a class for at least two hours a day, every day, for two years may not usually seem exciting, but this large amount of hours do not scare off students from registering for recreational engines. This class teaches students how to diagnose and treat multiple engines while making it enjoyable.

“Rec engines is different than any other class because you are in the lab and you’re working hands-on with engines and learning about them,” junior Seth Nordstrom said. “It’s more interesting and exciting to sit through.”

Senior Grant Nelson likes its flexibility and how much the criteria can change.

“From week to week, you don’t know what you’ll be doing,” Nelson said. “We were just rebuilding snowmobiles. And next week we will be testing the electrical components on lawn mowers and rebuilding starters.”

West Fargo is one of the only schools in North Dakota to offer a recreational engines class. The other schools that do offer it are Grand Forks and Dickinson. But even then, West Fargo is the only school offering a motorcycle program. Part of the state competition contains a motorcycle station and West Fargo has no one to compete against.

“There are a lot fewer schools in the United States that compete in motorcycles for high schools,” Nelson said. “So historically, we have done very well in motorcycles. I think we have about eight national championships.”

The students in this class are glad that recreational engines teacher Jerry Nordstrom (affectionately called “Nordie”) cares about and knows his subject well so they can work on a wide range of mechanics.

“We work on everything,” Nelson said. “We might be learning about small engines in the classroom and how they work, but we’re applying that to our own cars. We bring in our own cars and work on them. It makes it more interesting and applicable.”

A large amount of students sign up for recreational engines. While about 60-65 students sign up, only 36 students can actually be registered.

“Every year it’s a lottery,” Nordstrom said. “You get drawn out of a hat to see if you can make it into rec engines. Then there’s a waiting list. So those that are on the waiting list get first shot next year if they’re a junior so they can take it when they’re a senior. It’s crazy how many kids take it.”

Luckily for Nelson, he was chosen as one of the 36 to take the class as a junior. There are recreational engines I classes, while there is only one recreational engines II class that is open to seniors.

“The first year I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it into the class,” Nelson said. “It just matters if you have good grades and if you aren’t skipping class a lot. I think they look at those things and then the counselors decide who gets in. I know a lot of people think that Nordie chooses, but he doesn’t.”

The class is limited because of how much one-on-one time there is between the teacher and the students. Eventually administrators decided a small number was the best.

One of the students chosen happens to be Jerry’s son, who has adjusted to seeing his father in a different setting.

“It’s different because he acts different in class than at home, so it’s weird seeing a different side of him, but it’s a good weird,” Seth Nordstrom said.

Seth admitted he was nervous right away, but he said the worry went away within the first few weeks. Now Seth, along with the other students, learn from a teacher who tries to make this class as enjoyable as possible.

“Students have freedom to work and we make it fun,” Nordstrom said. “They learn a life-long skill that a lot of them go into for a living, not only recreational engines but auto mechanics and diesel. Some of these students are coming out of two-year diesel programs making $65,000 a year.”

Nelson says the success rate of how much the students like the classroom comes straight from the balance of the classwork.

“It’s fast-paced and always fun,” Nelson said. “You spend some time in the classroom learning those things that you need to know. It’s a balance of real-world application and classroom learning.”