PCC graduate’s journey highlights importance of community
His life’s passion never was in doubt: Cars have occupied most of Jonah Leyva-Scott’s time and attention since he was in grade school. Given that interest, PCC’s successful Automotive Service Technology program was a logical next step after Jonah, now 22, graduated from South High School – and he already knew the department chair, James Cordova, through a family member and from seeing each other at car shows through the years.
In this case, however, there were additional considerations: Jonah was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, a form of autism, when he was 8 years old. It requires accommodations to suit his learning style. He easily retains any information presented to him but takes a while to process it. He also can become hyperfocused on specific details or subjects – cars, for example.
Jonah’s mother, Susan Leyva, and her husband, Darryl Scott, approached this new wrinkle as they’ve approached everything with their three kids – as a team. Susan functioned as Jonah’s primary day-to-day advocate with teachers and administrators.
Once settled into the rhythm of each school year, Jonah embraced the routine and excelled. He graduated in the top 50 of his class with a gold cord, exemplifying the truth in his simple theory: “People need to be taught according to how they learn.”
He wanted to go to college but knew it would need to be in a supportive environment that allowed him to learn at his pace. Enter Cordova, who tells every prospective student that the AST program is a family.
“Our most valuable asset is our students,” Cordova said. “We want them to know we’re here for them. If they’re committed to the program, we’re committed to helping them any way we can.”
Jonah succeeded academically at PCC – his focus and attention to detail are ideal traits for the automotive service profession – but discovered something perhaps even more important.
“He was wanted,” said Darryl. “It really opened him up a lot.”
“It was important to me to get a degree and I could achieve that because of the students and staff at PCC,” Jonah said. “It was easy to feel like I belonged and could be successful. I met some students and staff that have become great friends.”
To say the Leyva-Scotts bought in to the AST vision is probably an understatement. Cordova calls Susan “the mom of the program.” Whether through community outreach, fundraising, or cooking food for events, she and Darryl were fixtures once their son became a PCC student.
Susan became a campus fixture for another reason: She enrolled in PCC’s business program. When she and Jonah were studying or doing homework, Darryl would handle dinner preparations and whatever else needed to be done.
In May, Susan and Jonah graduated together with Associate of Applied Science degrees – both with honors and as members of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. Jonah earned six certifications in specific automotive fields in addition to his degree.
“The only reason we got through school was because we did it as a family,” said Susan. “We had support at PCC and support at home.”
They’re not done, either. For now, Jonah spends a lot of time working on the cars he has at home – a Cadillac, two El Caminos and two cherished Volkswagen Beetles – but he’s interested in the new electric vehicle program Cordova will be offering next year and is considering getting a bachelor’s degree. Susan plans to take PCC’s entrepreneurship courses to add to her business degree. Darryl, who recently retired, is also thinking about taking classes at PCC.
“We see what it did for Jonah,” said Susan. “We feel so comfortable here, helping and being students. The automotive program just sparked things (for us).”
Cordova sees the ripple effect that Jonah’s experience created. When he talks about it, he sounds as proud as, well, a family member.
“Susan and Darryl started out supporting their kid,” he said, “but their educational journey didn’t stop with Jonah.”