NKC Schools' Jack Stow A Real Vehicle Care RockStar

NKC Schools’ Jack Stow A Real Vehicle Care RockStar

This automotive instructor is teaching kids about more than just repairing cars.

We all have at least one teacher who sticks out in our memories. Maybe it was that wacky one whose antics made learning fun, or perhaps the instructor who made subject matter so interesting that you can still recall the lessons years later. For many of the students and alumni of Missouri’s North Kansas City Schools, that memorable teacher is Automotive Technology Instructor Jack Stow. Stow himself teaches with the methodologies his favorite instructors used. Of course, he’s put his own spin on them, updating with the times in the hopes that that knowledge will resonate with his students and be further passed down through the ages.

Jack Stow and students with project car for SEMA

To learn even more about Stow and his teaching methods, watch this video!

Beat Up Old Ford

Stow grew up in Kansas City, and his father was part owner of a Dodge/Plymouth dealership in Macon, Missouri. Because of the family business, Stow’s first car was supposed to be a Dodge Challenger. After turning 15 in 1981, he had saved up $1,100 to buy either a V8 Challenger or ’Cuda. Unfortunately, he couldn’t find one. Instead, Stow came across a 1972 Ford Mach I and purchased it — to the everlasting shame of his father.

Jack Stow's 1972 Ford Mach 1
A teenage Jack Stow with his 1972 Ford Mach 1.

However, that ’72 Mach 1 proved critical to Stow’s education and his future.

The following spring, his high-school counselor, Larry Blackwell, saw Stow driving his “death-trap Mach 1” and told him about the new auto tech program the school district had started, thinking it would be a good fit for him.

Stow spent the next two years off-campus learning from master technician Bob Vetter, and it was in these courses that he finally figured out what he wanted to do with his life. “He took my maturity level up. He made me realize that I could do something that I love for a living. And he let me realize that I could be good at doing this and I could make a living doing it,” Stow says.

At the same time, when Stow bought the Mach 1, it had a safety recall notice on it. So, Stow took it to the nearby Bill Wood’s Ford dealership to have it serviced. There he met J.B. Helm, who became a mentor to him, which then led to getting Stow a job at the Ford dealership after he graduated high school. While Stow’s father had had plans for his son to work at his own dealership as a tech, Stow stayed with Bill Wood’s Ford for years, becoming a die-hard Blue Oval fan. Then, at the turn of the century, his life took a new course.

North Kansas City Automotive Technical School Class of 1984
Stow (third from the right) with the North Kansas City Automotive Technical School Class of 1984 and instructor Bob Vetter (far right).

“In the mid ’90s, I was still very close to my former high school instructor, and he was coaching me along to take over for him as the instructor of the program I teach now. Between those two amazing men, [Vetter and Helm], I learned the trade of automotive repair and, eventually, teaching automotive technology,” Stow recounts.

In the spring of 2001, Stow officially joined NKC Schools and taught alongside Vetter for a semester to get a feel for the program. Then, at the beginning of the following fall semester, Vetter left him so he could make the course his own.

Show Me the Way

According to Stow, it’s much easier to fix a car than to teach. “I have a strategy that fixes a car. I have a flow chart. I have my symptoms, my codes, whatever. Every kid’s different. The hardest part of my job is homing in on what does this kid need? How does this kid learn? There’s just never a carbon copy,” he admits.

Stow’s continuing goal is to give each of his students the “aha!” moment of maturation he had in his shop classes. For that reason, he runs a live shop, bringing in real vehicles, including those of students’ family and faculty members, to foster a sense of accountability in their learning.

“That’s a huge part of my program. When something comes in, treat it just like your mom’s car, because you’ll treat that better than you’ll treat your car. So, everything that comes in is of that importance. You take a hubcap off, don’t flip it so it’s going to get scratched. I always try to think: What’s my best practice? From start to finish the two years that I’ve got them, that’s the goal is to think about the best outcome.”

Hand-in-hand with the idea of responsibility and care for others is charity — another life skill he wishes to teach his students. For instance, inspired by a friend’s devastating experience during the fires that erupted in Maui, Hawaii, in August 2023, Stow initiated Project Maui, which involved his students repairing a car to be sent to the island to aid the community as part of its ongoing cleanup and rebuilding efforts.

the student team in charge of Project Maui
The student team in charge of Project Maui and the completed 2014 Chevrolet Captiva project.

Stow’s class worked with Heartland Chevrolet to pick up a 2014 Captiva for just $500. The car needed timing chains and some other general work, so it proved to be a great learning experience for the students.

But then came the issue of getting the car to Maui — and that’s where Stow had to do some out-of-the-box thinking. “If you don’t dream big, you don’t do big,” Stow declares, and with that mantra in mind, he took a chance by reaching out to General Motors (GM) corporate through Heartland Chevrolet to see if the company could help. GM told Stow that for a relatively small fee of just $1,200, GM would use its own shipping lanes to get the car from Kansas City to California to Oahu.

Stow has been blown away by his students’ response to the project. “They’re excited. And it means a lot more to them than even I knew, talking about being able to help somebody that they likely will never meet … an investment that they might never see the reward of, but they know it’s there,” Stow relates.

Of course, this isn’t the first time Jack’s students have proven to be outstanding. In 2020, WIX Filters, in conjunction with Tomorrow’s Technician, named CTEC Automotive of North Kansas City Schools the 2020 School of the Year due to the initiative the kids showed during an unprecedented time by continuing to learn and grow their knowledge, even going so far as to create a student-driven YouTube Lab. Stow notes that the award opened doors and provided countless opportunities for the school’s automotive students — especially since the future of the program at the time had been uncertain. But despite the headwinds the program has gotten in recent years, there are industry-wide issues that leave Stow worried about being able to teach students what they need to know for today’s repairs. Stay tuned to learn more about Stow’s view of automotive education as it stands today. 

Jack Stow, School of the Year 2020 award
Stow at the award presentation for 2020 School of the Year.

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