Hands-on education worked for Middle College valedictorian Zach Blevins

May. 16, 2013 @ 01:38 PM

In elementary and middle school, Zach Blevins was one of those kids who pose a conundrum for educators: He was too smart.

That is, he was too smart for the traditional model of classroom education, which involves a lot of sitting down at desks. He figured things out quickly, leaving him with a lot of time to sit and wonder just when in real life he would ever apply the algebra he was learning.

“School, even though I didn’t ever really enjoy it, has always been easy for me,” Blevins said.

His classmates complained, he said, and he just did exactly what his teachers told him to do and made 100s.

For him, school was simple. And that was the problem.

“It bored him a lot,” said Zach’s mom, Pamela Blevins. “Until the middle college, and that challenged him.”

Blevins’ parents pushed him through elementary and middle school, patiently explaining to him there were some things in life you just had to do. Then he was accepted to the Caldwell Career Center Middle College, a non-traditional school with a heavy, hands-on emphasis on career and technical education.

Blevins started out on an electronic engineering track, because he had always wanted to work on cars. Then his sophomore year, he needed a filler class and signed up to learn about residential wiring.

To put it lightly, that went well.

“He just soared with this electrical stuff,” Pamela Blevins said.

Blevins wound up placing three times in regional and state competitions for SkillsUSA, an organization that aims to equip high-school students with marketable workforce skills.

Then he drove to Boone to apply for an internship that quickly became a paid apprenticeship instead.

Will Knight, the owner of Climate Control in Boone, had reached out to the middle college looking for an intern. After interviewing Blevins, he offered him a paid job on the spot.

Blevins spent his senior year going to school in the mornings, then working from 1 to 4 at Climate Control.

For most students, that would’ve been too tough a balancing act. Blevins is ranked first in his class.

That didn’t surprise his parents, who have seen their son’s determination in play since he was a kid. He started saving for a car when he was 13. He made one B in his life, when he missed the A by only a tenth of a point.

“That boy sets his mind on something, it’s going to be more than done,” Pamela Blevins said. “It’s hard to hold him down.”

Now, Blevins is graduating from the middle college with an armload of college credits. He’ll attend Caldwell Community College & Technical Institute for two semesters and be done with his associate’s degree at 18.

Blevins wants to keep working in the electrical field – and wants to stay at Climate Control, at least for a while. The job has provided exactly what he wanted and didn’t get as a kid: variety.

“It’s always something different here,” he said. “I’ve never seen two of the same things, ever.”

Zach Blevins isn’t bored anymore.