By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Gym is the class that brings almost all the girls' grade point averages down. They don't want to change clothes, play basketball with all the sweaty boys, or yell at the big guys to stop hogging the weight machines. Coincidentally (or not), a large percentage of Automotive girls are plagued with a permanent case of menstruation, which serves quite conveniently as an excuse for standing on the sidelines during each period of physical education. So, during specific periods, Silberman closes the weight room for girl use only. And the biggest perk of all, as mentioned before: The girls don't have to wear the uniforms. The advantages to being female add up to the point that boys get jealous, but privileges do the jobthey give girls an extra reason to remain at 50 Bedford.
The privileges are a plus, but it's still hard for a girl to stay the path at a mostly boys' high school. Katrina Green entered in 2003 with 18 other freshman girls; three years later, there are only eight left from her class. The others transfer or drop out for various reasons, one being that they don't like cars, but the biggest and most preventable reason is getting a bad name for going out with too many boys or with one in particular who likes to spread rumors. Automotive is different from other schools because of the 15 car laboratories inside, but it's similar in another sense: It's a laboratory where females and males are experimenting with each other for the first time. But the ratio of girls to boys changes things around. Girls accuse Automotive boys of being the worse gossipers in all of New York: They say word of any hanky-panky will spread within an hour. Girls find that to stay the course, they must develop ways to cope, and often that method is depending on each other for advice and acquiring a strong sense of self.
Katrina Green likes to stick to herself these days. When she started at Automotive she'd stay all day long and chat with her friends in the halls. She's been at Automotive for four years and feels like she's taken from the experience all that she can. She's almost 18 years old and still doesn't have her driving permit, but she does know how to strip a car, paint it, and do a little welding. She comes to school by 7:15 and by noon she's out the door. She doesn't even go to the cafeteria anymore; she skips solids and energizes herself with a Gatorade, staining her tongue the greenish hue of antifreeze solution. She takes a subway and three buses to her part-time job the school helped hook her up with. All students, if they show interest, can get an auto-industry internship.
Katrina works for Life Quality BMW service center in Canarsie, filing service reports. She has excellent posture, exuding confidence with every maneuver. Her shoulders are back and her chin slightly upshe looks like she owns every piece of ground her sneakers touch. When she speaks, she makes direct eye contact and is as articulate as any talk show host on television. Boys know not to mess. But she wasn't always so poised. She claims that the counsel given to her by the older girls when she first arrived on campus helped her to endure until her senior year. It's all about making an initial statementdon't sit on laps, giggle too much, tug on jackets, or find yourself alone with a boy under a stairwell. Those actions will not bode well for long-term stays at Automotive.
Automotive is very protective about its girl population. Garcia roams the halls. One of his jobs as school security guard is to watch out for the students, especially the girls. Garcia looks behind staircases; that's where couples making out were found in the past. Students named one staircase in particular "the Exit," and not because it was the way to the street. The Exit was the inspiration for many nicknamessmutty buddy, smut bucket, MetroCard, superhead, video vixen, and jump-offs or JO for shortwhich caused a few girls to excuse themselves from Automotive's attendance sheets. Girls become conscious of sexual inequality right from the start: A girl is labeled a slut and a boy is a player when any rumors of necking reach other classmates.
So before Katrina's graduation, she feels it's her duty to share some of the information, which helped her get so far, with the 23 freshmen girls who entered Automotive this year.
As a mentor Katrina will give the girls advice on which boys to trust and which boys to avoid. "I tell them, 'He's a player, this, that, and the third,' " says Katrina. "Don't get with too many 'cause then you look like a 'ho."
If the freshmen are really lucky, Katrina might eventually divulge the four-year summary of what she learned about males:
1. They are immature, mostly.
2. If you came for the boys, that will change once you get to know them.
3. Younger ones can be more mature than the older ones.
4. The ones you think you can't talk to, you actually can.