CTE Success Stories: An HVAC mechanic who beat the odds

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

When Luis Maldonado first heard about the HVAC & Refrigeration Technology CTE program at Edison High School, he was simply passing his lunchtime with a friend who was already in the class.

“For lunch we’d hang out in the shop and he’d teach me what Mr. Zimak had taught him,” Maldonado recalled.

This preview of the HVAC coursework led Maldonado to visiting CTE teacher James Zimak’s shop regularly. At the time, he thought CTE courses were a graduation requirement, so he signed up for Zimak’s class.

“After I was enrolled in the class, I was told it’s not a requirement, [but] I stuck with it,” he said.

“I thought it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”

While in the CTE program, Maldonado was exposed to three areas of study. The first year focused on safety and theory. The second year focused on implementing that theory and reading more in depth. By the third year, Maldonado was doing hands-on work in the classroom.

Maldonado also took state tests to get credit for his work. He passed the NOCTI exam and graduated from Edison in 2014 with an EPA license, which allows him to work in the refrigeration field.

Maldonado, 19, is now an HVAC mechanic at the Philadelphia Water Department.

“I enjoy it. The HVAC field is ever-expanding and, with the Water Department, I get to keep on top of that.”

Maldonado said he landed the job through connections that his CTE teacher had. Maldonado and several other students interned in the Water Department while in high school, working once a week. Just a week after graduation, Maldonado said, they all had job offers.

Maldonado credits his experience in the CTE program with getting him to where he is now. He said some did not expect him (or anyone in the program) to get a job in the field because they were so young or lacking experience.

“We beat the odds, and I’m really proud of that. I’m really proud of myself to have gotten this far.”

Michaela Ward was an intern at the Notebook.