Kevin Lester is the collision repair and automotive refinishing instructor at Gaithersburg High School, located in Montgomery County, Md. Over the 25 years that Lester has been the teacher, he has averaged 40 students in his level 1 class and 20 for his level 2 class. Prior to his tenure at Gaithersburg High School, Lester worked in the industry as a body tech and a painter. He also installed auto glass and worked in upholstery shops during the summers.
Lester has a high success rate for student placement in collision repair facilities. He attributes this to the relationships he has built over the years that he has been at the school.
At the beginning of each school year, Lester calls area facilities and asks them what they’re looking for when they want to hire a helper — and he takes this feedback to heart when he plans his lessons.
Prior to COVID, Gaithersburg High School was a fixed training site for I-CAR classes. Every Thursday night, Lester would stay in the evening for the class. The I-CAR instructor would introduce him at the beginning of class, and he would speak with the different trainees during breaks and after class in his lab. He would give each trainee a business card and invite them to come back during the day to talk to his students. Lester did not get paid extra to stay — he just did. Also, he did not have to show everyone in class his lab and explain what they were doing week after week — but he did. His excitement for his program is contagious, and it has ignited the local collision repair community to rally behind their school.
“Hosting adult I-CAR classes at Gaithersburg High School allows people from the industry to see our program and the tools and equipment that we have,” says Lester. “We have come very close to matching what professional body shops have.”
From donating used equipment, parts, materials and time spent talking to his classes, the support that he has from his local industry community is inspiring.
The I-CAR PDP EE curriculum is Lester’s choice for preparing his students for a career in collision. During the first year of instruction, he combines each module in the curriculum with his hands-on activities. At year’s end, the students sit for the course exam and, upon passing, earn the I-CAR Pro Level 1 Non-Structural certificate. His students then have the opportunity to complete the Pro Level 1 Refinishing course of instruction in Level 2.
Respect and Admiration
I’ve had many opportunities to talk to Lester’s students throughout the years, both while they were in his class and after they graduated and were at local repair facilities, and I have witnessed the level of respect, admiration and gratitude they have for him. They learned far more than how to fix a fender or paint a hood, including:
- When the class (or work) starts, the phones go away.
- Unless you’re early, you’re late.
- Uniforms are meant to be worn with pride.
- Tools and equipment are to be respected and cared for.
- There is pride to be earned in a job well done.
When asked about obstacles he faces, Lester notes that while jobs are plentiful for helper positions, “many students do not have a driver’s license because they are unable to afford driver’s education or a vehicle to drive” to get to work.
When he is not teaching, Lester enjoys fixing old motorcycles, finding new projects to work on and spending time with his family. He has been married to Beth for 25 years and has a 20-year-old daughter, Madison, who is attending the University of Maryland Baltimore County to become a social worker.
Lester is grateful for all the support he has received from his industry partners. From the speakers in his classroom to the shops that donate items that he needs, he is always humbled by the help that he gets. He is especially grateful to Spanesi for updating his equipment at no additional charge and working with his school so that he could have Spanesi’s Touch virtual glasses as a new piece of cool technology for his students. Thanks to the company’s generous donations as well as updates and support from Car-O-Liner, Lester can continue to train and grow the next generation of technicians.