Technical High Schools Celebrate 100 Years Of Change
Their Evolution Over The Years Has Been Remarkable
Grace E. Merritt
November 14, 2010
When Connecticut opened its first two technical schools 100 years ago, they were more like factories than schools.
Students had to "punch in" for their eight-hour day. Classes were held year-round, six days a week, and the focus was single-minded: learning a trade. Very little time was spent on academics.
"The only purpose these schools had 100 years ago, even 50 years, was to get these kids ready for the work force," said Richard Cavallaro, principal of Wilcox Technical High School in Meriden.
These days, the state's technical high schools have evolved in ways students at the first schools in New Britain and Bridgeport never could have imagined. They offer classes in forensics, aeronautics, dental surgical technology and dozens of other trades, a far cry from the original menu of toolmaking, plumbing, carpentry and general machine work.
And while they still have shops, technical schools today look and act more like traditional schools, with a curriculum that includes foreign languages, Advanced Placement classes and clubs, sports and honor societies.
The original two schools have become part of a network of 17 around the state serving 10,000 students, making it the largest school system in Connecticut. To celebrate the 100th anniversary, the technical schools will bury time capsules and hold other commemorative events through the end of the year.
During its first 40 years, the technical schools focused on job-skills training. There were 27 trades for boys to choose from and three for girls: hairdressing and manicuring, dress-making, and cafeteria and tea room management.
Some schools taught skills tailored for nearby manufacturers. The Danbury trade school, for example, gave a course in hat-making and hat-finishing, while other schools offered watch-, clock- and instrument-making.
In 1918, the state's trade schools pitched in on the war effort, with enrollment spiking 150 percent at the Bridgeport trade school specializing in shipbuilding.
In the past 12 years, the schools have focused more on academics and technology. Despite all the changes, the essence of some trades has stayed the same.
"Many of the trades are the same trades that have been here all along," said Mary Moran, principal of E.C. Goodwin Technical High School in New Britain. "We started with an automotive program that would have focused on very basic motors. These days, the motors for our lawnmowers are more complicated. Today, we use computer analysis to diagnose engine problems."
Courant Senior Information Specialist Cristina Bachetti contributed to this report.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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