For Hands-On Learners, The “Wright” Choice

Every student has their own style of learning.

Nick Mathias is a hands-on guy. Last year at Staples High School, he loved Mike Sansur’s Technology Education class. They built things in what was once called “wood shop.”

Recognizing Nick’s passion for doing and touching, guidance counselor Vicki Capozzi suggested he look into J.M. Wright. He was intrigued.

The Stamford school — one of 15 in Connecticut’s technical education and career system — offers 9 career education programs: automotive, carpentry, culinary arts, digital media, electrical, health technology, information technology, plumbing and heating, and tourism, hospitality and guest services management.

Students alternate one week learning jobs of the future, and another week of academics. They come from 8 Fairfield County towns. In 17 years at Staples, Capozzi had never sent one from Westport.

“Kudos to Nick’s parents,” Capozzi says. “They wanted to learn more.”

Nick Mathias

The usual path to Wright Tech begins with an application in 8th grade. Accepted students spend freshman year rotating through all 9 trades, then select one to concentrate on beginning as sophomores.

Nick applied during his freshman fall. His first choice was carpentry, but there were no openings. There was a spot in plumbing and heating though. He took it, and entered Wright Tech as a rare midyear transfer.

It was a big decision — but a great move.

Nick — a Star Scout with Boy Scout Troop 36, and an active member of his Saugatuck Congregational Church youth group — is thriving, both academically and socially.

He has learned all about commercial plumbing. Now he’s studying residential plumbing. He’s learning how to install sinks, showers, boilers and sewage pumps.

“You can’t outsource plumbing,” he says of his future trade. “I’m really passionate about this.”

His teachers combine theory with practice. They let students work at their own pace.

Just as importantly, they prepare teenagers to work independently, and solve problems, in the workplaces they’ll soon join.

“They treat us like they’re our bosses,” Nick explains. “They make everything realistic, so when we go to a job site we can function on our own.”

His teachers’ mantra: “Do a job the same way you’d want it done at your house.”

JM Wright Technical School.

Capozzi is thrilled to hear Nick’s feedback. She says that Wright Tech is an excellent place for “kids who like to tinker. Not everyone wants to sit in a classroom all day.”

Nick notes that Wright Tech encourages students to consider college. But, he says, “if you don’t want to go, you don’t have to. You’ve already got the skills you need to have a good job.”

She urges middle schoolers who may be interested to begin the process in 8th grade. Bedford, Coleytown and Staples guidance departments and school administrators will do all they can to help.

Nick is still only a sophomore. He’s unsure what he’ll do 2 1/2 years from now.

“I may go into engineering,” he says. “College would be important to learn how to manage a job site, or a full construction job. I may start out at a community college. I don’t know yet.”

He has plenty of time to figure that out. In the meantime, he’s happy where he is.

Nick, his parents and the guidance staff at Staples are happy to talk to anyone who might be thinking of all that Wright Tech offers. They know there are many ways in life to learn.

And many paths to success.

7 responses to “For Hands-On Learners, The “Wright” Choice

  1. As you might guess from the video you posted that I created, I was involved in Wright Tech after I retired from 39 years of teaching in Westport and Staples High School. I was there for a month in their Media Departmant as a teacher. It did not work out for me as they couldn’t pay because of a conflict with my teacher retirement income. But more interestingly, I was able to get one of our outstanding Staples media students a job as my replacement. Allison Rice took over for me as head of the Media Department. She had had years of professional experience in the media world and was a great addition to their program. Imagine having three years every day of media training with her with all that experience!

    Having a wife who was a Staples guidance counselor for 20 years, I know how much Westport parents prefer a college experience for their children. However, how many times have you caught yourself saying, “I have a great plumber.” Or, “I have a great electrician.” The trades are not for everyone but for some young people the trades offer a wonderful career path including good income and good security. Being myself the son of an expert mechanic and electrician, I can attest to the viability of these trade paths.

    Also, one of the great Staples teachers heads the administration at Wright Tech. Justin Cosell – the grandson of Howard Cosell!!! – has been at Wright Tech for some years now and can be contacted with any questions.

    I wish Nick Mathias the best of luck with career path and choice. Great article Dan! You always come through each day with some interesting articles!

  2. Victoria Capozzi

    Dan. Thank you for this post. It warms my heart knowing Nick is thriving at Wright Tech.

    • And it warms mine to know kids are still thriving under your guidance at Staples. Westport is lucky to have you, Vicki!

  3. Bill Strittmatter

    Nick is absolutely right about one thing, you can’t offshore plumbing or HVAC work. With manufacturing jobs being displaced by either technology or offshoring, skilled trades are one of the few places left for decent blue collar pay.

    And, unfortunately for millennials/current college students, the recent pandemic driven extended work from home explosion has taught employers that a whole lot of white collar jobs don’t actually require one to be in the office. As a former colleague in HR told me, if you can do reasonably do your job from your house, someone else can probably do it from a lower cost state or lower cost country.

    May not happen overnight but doesn’t bode well for future white collar job opportunities. Skilled trades (and medicine) may be the last opportunities for decent compensation at some point.

  4. Best of luck Nick, the college experience will not be returning to what it once was. One takeaway, Nick made this decision for himself, while in Jim’s comment he references what the Westport parent prefers for their child, not what the child may prefer.

  5. I am so glad that Nick has found his niche. By learning both a trade and academics, he will have many avenues to choose from when he graduates.

  6. My sincerest thanks and a great big shoutout to Victoria Capozzi, Dan Woog, Jim Honeycutt and all who recognize the brilliance and value of Wight Tech and technical education.

    As the principal of our CT School of distinction, it is rewarding to see the efforts of our students and incredible staff recognized in such a personal way. From my arrival in 2017, I have worked tirelessly to create excellence at Wright Tech. Our enrollment has grown by 25% in 3 years as we currently stand at 450 students and continue to grow. I could not be prouder. I hope that all parents will consider #wrighttech as a potential for their child. Take a look at our website for information on applying:

    Excellence is an attitude borne out by the commitment of dedicated professionals for all our students. Nick is doing well and it’s wonderful to see the spotlight on Nick and his supportive family.