Mary Zaleski

Director of Communication Services

Sarah Davis

Communications Specialist

OS Blog


It’s a Tuesday morning and Oakland Schools’ Teacher Joel Massarello is hard at work, pacing the floor of the Oakland Schools Technical Campus Northwest (OSTC-NW) auto repair shop and diligently checking in on each of his students.

One group is replacing worn out door pins on a Mustang. Another is inspecting a BMW that wouldn’t start earlier in the day. A third is tinkering with a four-cylinder engine, learning about basic disassembly and assembly procedures.  

This is the Automotive Technology class where students from Oakland County districts come, as a simple explanation, to learn about maintenance and care of vehicles. However, Massarello’s class is so much more than that.

In fact, Massarello is so good at his job, that he recently was a second-place winner of the 2019 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence. The 2019 prize drew nearly 750 applications from 49 states and included three rounds of judging, each by a separate independent panel of experts from industry, education, trades, philanthropy and civic leadership. The field was narrowed this summer to 50 semifinalists. The application process, which included responses to questions and a series of online video learning modules, was designed to solicit each teacher’s experience, insights and creative ideas about their approach to teaching and success in helping their students achieve excellence in the skilled trades.  

Day to day, Massarello’s students – there are 30 in the morning session and 27 in the afternoon session – learn about automobile repair by fixing vehicles that have been donated. They also work on requests that usually come from the elderly, disabled or low-income individuals.

“They start out on donated vehicles from the public and then I transfer them over to the customer work,” explained Massarello.

Massarello’s classes, like many at the Oakland Schools Technical Campuses, also focus on getting the students working at local businesses all while earning important certifications that will either help them get a job or get paid more at a job after graduation.

Students in the automotive technology program have the opportunity to earn six different certifications. The recent publicity Massarello has garnered from winning the Harbor Freight Award has also upped the class’ profile among local businesses. Massarello said once the news broke, businesses started calling him eager to work with his students.

“Right now, I have five or six students out working and that is a lot for this point in the school year,” explained Massarello. “Usually by the end of the year, I have six to 10. We’ve had businesses of all varieties calling from dealerships to independent shops to parts distributors. It’s all about providing opportunities for the kids. They get excited, then feel they have something obtainable.”

This is the first semester Clarkston High School student Shane Flanagan, 16, and Holly High School student Jameson Anderson, 16, have been in the Automotive Technology program and both are extremely pleased with what they have been learning.

Flanagan said he found studying how car braking systems work to be very interesting while Anderson keyed in on comprehension testing. Both agree Massarello is a unique teacher. Whether it’s asking a student about an upcoming football game or providing advice on how to fix a family car, Massarello enjoys interacting with the teens.

“He’s very good at connecting with his students,” explained Anderson.

Anderson and Flanagan were both at the assembly held at OSTC-NW to surprise Massarello. Representatives from Harbor Freight showed up at the school, wheeled out a brand-new toolbox for Massarello and handed him a check for $50,000. Thirty-five thousand goes to the school’s Automotive Technology program and $15,000 to Massarello personally.

“It was a really big surprise. It was just really cool. When your teacher has done all these great things, it makes you feel good about the program,” said Flanagan.

Like many educators at Oakland Schools Technical Campuses, Massarello has actual field experience in the subject he teaches. He started out as a master technician at a dealership and worked his way up to supervisor. An ex-coworker mentioned a job opening to him teaching at Oakland Schools Technical Campuses and he decided to make the career change. Massarello has an associate’s degree in Applied Science and Automotive Technology from Motech and Madonna University, a bachelor’s degree in Occupational Safety and Health from Madonna University, a secondary teaching certificate from Wayne State University and a master’s degree in the Art of Teaching from Wayne State University.

“It’s been a great career so far,” said Massarello. “I love working with the teenagers and watching them mature from a junior or senior to working in the real world.”

Massarello’s goal is to make purchases that will have a lasting impact on the program. His first priority is to get five or six toolboxes – one at each car bay – so the students can have their own tools to utilize. Currently all the students grab tools from a community chest, which creates some issues if more than one student needs a particular tool or if someone doesn’t put the tool back in its proper spot. He’d also like to purchase a new air conditioning system that will show the students how to repair air conditioning and potentially a new alignment hoist.

“I feel honored I won because there are so many talented instructors here at Oakland Schools and many of them have coached me along the way,” he said. “It truly is a team effort because everything I learned has been from those around me.”

Any students, parents or local businesses interested in learning more about the Automotive Technology class at OSTC-SW, email For information on all Oakland Schools Technical Campuses, visit


Sarah Davis is the Oakland Schools’ communications specialist.

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