ActivePaper Archive Driven to succeed working on big machines - Reading Eagle, 2/21/2019

Driven to succeed working on big machines

Grayden Keller of Orwigsburg is first Schuylkill Technology Center student to complete four-year diesel program



Schuylkill Technology Center instructor Thomas Buff praises Grayden Keller for his accomplishments and the opportunities likely down the road. “Grayden's is an awesome success story,” Buff says.


WITH SIX kids to raise, Alicia Keller, Orwigsburg, is a mother who has plans for her kids. As her son Grayden was growing up, she noticed he had a love for all things mechanical. Whether it was trucks, tractors or automobiles, Grayden loved to tinker.

With a sharp mind and talented hands, Grayden rebuilt old tractors, refurbished old trucks, and spent his days outside working on vehicles.

There was no doubt what Grayden wanted to do with his future. The problem, as Alicia found out, was getting him into a mechanical study program as soon as possible.

Grayden, a student at Blue Mountain, wanted to start at the Schuylkill Technology Center immediately upon entering ninth grade.

Unfortunately, Blue Mountain had opted out of the new ninth-grade program made available at the STC. Grayden would have to wait until 10th grade.

But that hurdle didn’t stop the Kellers. Week after week, meeting after meeting, Alicia was there, equipped with facts, figures and information to support her cause. Then-superintendent Robert Urzillo was strongly opposed to changing the program at the district. School board members backed him. Keller continued her fight.

Finally, after gaining support from the STC and the Pennsylvania Department of Education, the district made a concession and permitted Grayden and 11 other students to attend the STC beginning in ninth grade.

Getting hired before graduation

Fast-forward 3½ years, Grayden has completed his senior academic year a semester early and has been offered a co-op with Sherwood Freightliner, a Freightliner dealer in Drums.

Started in 1942, Freightliner Trucks is an American truck manufacturer and a division of Daimler Trucks North America. The division is known mainly for the heavy-duty class 8 diesel trucks it offers, as well as class 5-7 trucks.

During his three years at STC, Grayden has carried an above average GPA, finishing as a member of the National Technical Honor Society.

Grayden chose cyberschool in ninth grade to accommodate his college prep studies. In 10th grade, Grayden qualified to work in a co-op program at the Orwigsburg Service Center. Along the way, Grayden won first place in the Skills USA district competition last year, and second place in the state competition — the only junior to compete.

He was accepted at University of Northwestern Ohio, earning a partial scholarship in diesel mechanics.

His instructor, Thomas Buff, is as excited about Grayden’s opportunity as Grayden is. Grayden is the first student to complete the four-year diesel program, and Buff has been there since the beginning.

“I am so proud of him,” Buff said. “There are so many jobs out there, it’s amazing.”

Grayden must still attend STC one day a week to complete his PA State Inspection Certification but will work at Freightliner Tuesday through Saturday. The dealership will also train him for two years, paying him $20 per hour to earn his SP2 certification. Not bad for a kid who just completed his senior year of high school.

The STC has a great track record, Buff said. “We have one student working at R&J Transportation, and five interviewing at PennDOT.”

“Grayden’s is an awesome success story,” Buff said. “It really goes to show what kind of opportunities are available and what the school offers. We are the best kept secret in Schuylkill County.”

Buff says enrollment at the school is growing. Almost all their shops are full. He attributes that to the quality of the students graduating from the programs and the job market in Schuylkill County.

“College is great for some kids,” Buff said, “but I think that if more students saw what opportunities there are in technical jobs and what a kid like Grayden will be making now and can potentially make with his certifications, their jaws would drop.”

Support from parents and community

Both Buff and Grayden give many kudos to his parents and mentors.

“She’s (Alicia) great,” Buff said. “Support from a parent like that is so amazing. If it wasn’t for her, Grayden would haven’t gotten here in ninth grade and wouldn’t have had this incredible opportunity.”

“My mom never quit,” Grayden said with a laugh. “They said no to her multiple times, and she kept going back.”

Grayden gives a lot of credit to Fran Vidzicki, owner of Orwigsburg Service Center.

“They are the ones who really got me here,” Grayden said. “Mr. Buff does a great job with the students at the school and the one-on-one with Frannie (Vidzicki) was really special. He went above and beyond what he had to do.”

Of course, Grayden deserves most of the credit. Buff says that he’s self-driven and really wants it.

“I’m excited by the opportunity,“ Grayden said. “Dealership jobs are about as good as it gets; that’s what every mechanic aims for. I can see myself retiring there.”

But if it doesn’t work out, Grayden can still choose to go to University of Northwestern Ohio with his scholarship money.

Proud mom

“He is in the first class of students who have had the opportunity to attend STC all four years of high school,” Alicia Keller said. “He has done tremendously well, and I am proud to say that he is the first Schuylkill County kid who has been accepted into Freightliner’s co-op program.”

Alicia also has advice for the school district.

“I think they can do better for their STC students by giving them more tech time,” she said. “They should discontinue year-round single subject retention which my son was able to avoid because he chose to cyberschool. Had he been a traditional student, he would have not had this incredible co-op chance.”

Both Grayden and his mom feel that their efforts were worthwhile. Grayden will go on to pursue a rewarding career, and Alicia will go on to the job of raising her three more children.

Contact Janis McGowan: 570-385-7358 or