Back in the day, an out-of-the-way section of Staples High School was devoted to “shops”: automotive, electrical, metal, wood. Students — well, male students — learned practical skills there. Some learned trades.
Over time — following a national trend — enrollment decreased. Counselors steered students to more “academic” pursuits. The shops were converted to other uses. One remained; it was devoted to boat-building.
In the 17 years since Mike Sansur arrived at Staples from Ansonia High, he’s revamped the curriculum. With help from counselors and former principal John Dodig, he created courses that teach hands-on skills, while integrating STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) into his projects.
And it’s not just boys who flock to Sansur’s classes. His room is filled with girls. (A few doors down, the culinary kitchens — formerly “home ec” — attract plenty of guys. That’s another story.)
Sansur’s goal in revamping the program (now known as “tech ed.”) was to encourage students to unearth talents, learn lifelong skills, and discover further courses of study or career paths.
One example: a mock-up of home electrical wiring. Students create and test AC/DC circuits, learn how circuit breakers work, and apply their knowledge to special projects.
Shane Lozyniak created especially complex circuitry — and earned a full scholarship for electrician training. He and a classmate wo worked with him are both now employed in a field they love.
In bridge engineering, students compete to research, design and construct a bridge that will hold the greatest amount of weight using the least amount of materials. Results are often “amazing,” Sansur says. Students will email him over the weekend with ideas. A number go on to engineering careers.
For those who are interested in architecture or construction management, Sansur offers this option: design and build a model house.
Another favorite activity involves small engines. Students learn automotive technology — including the use of appropriate tools — by dismantling an engine, identifying every part and each function, rebuilding it and mounting it on a test stand. And, of course, getting it to work again.
Former students often tell Sansur how much tech ed. has meant. They ask to be guest speakers, describing their career paths. This month Hunter Duffy — about to graduate from college with an engineering degree — will visit.
Yet whatever goes around, comes around. In the same room that was once the auto shop, Sansur is designing a unit covering basic automotive skills: jump starting a car, changing a flat tire, checking vital fluids, interpreting dashboard signs, and other important life skills.
But he’ll add lessons on the transformation underway in the automative industry, from fossil fuels toward electric cars.
That’s tech ed., 2022-style. For all his male — and female — students.
Congratulations Hunter. Of course I remember you back at GFS when you were just learning to read. I’m glad to hear that you’re graduating and coming to give back.
I LOVE this so much. I visit Mike’s class as often as possible. It is such a pleasure to watch the students learn valuable and transferable skills. We have a skilled labor shortage and just like Shane, I hope more students can utilize this class as a means towards a potential lucrative career. By the way, Shane recently built his own tiny home in the country and sold it for a profit. His goal at such a young age is the purchase his own home nearby. Go get em kids!
Back in the day, the classrooms across the hall from the “shops” in the I-building were devoted to “Drivers-ed” classes. For a small fee, one could also sign up for the requisite “behind-the-wheel” training to qualify for a Drivers License – a critical “rite of passage” for a Westport teenager. (I was even able to take one lesson in an aging clunker of a station wagon with manual transmission!) Are these options still part of the Staples curriculum?
Driver’s ed is no longer part of the Staples curriculum. (We got a quarter credit for taking the class.) It’s now all done by private companies (and maybe through Continuing Ed too).
I am so pleased that Dan posted this story. I have so much respect for Mike Sansur. When I shared with him that, in my opinion, skills curricula like the ones he inherited would be gone shortly unless they were changed to promote critical thinking and problem solving, he agreed and enthusiastically began to revamp the program. Mike is a very intelligent, creative, student centered teacher. Anyone who has read anything about multiple intelligences will understand the benefits and necessity of having courses like those in Tech Ed in a high school like Staples. Kudos to Mike Sansur for inspiring students to be creative problem solvers.
Sixty years ago I attended Brooklyn Technical High School. It was and still is an elite academic institution. In those days students were prepared for both going on to college, as well as learning about the trades. Inside the school of 6,000 students and eight stories was a foundry, aeronautics lab, home construction lab, machine shops and much more. Today much of the space has been converted to support modern day STEM activities, but the idea is the same as this Staples: Prepare students to succeed through a wide variety of career paths and academic opportunities. Great to see. Ed
Is any of this available via Continuing Education courses?
Good question, Dick. One of the best things I did long ago was to take a few year’s worth of woodworking via Westport’s Continuing Ed program. The evening class was offered at Long Lots which was a Junior High back then. I think the instructor’s name was Mr. Hand. What a great guy he was. I learned enough to become reasonably skilled at home repairs and to be able to talk knowledgeably with contractors. It served me well.
AJ Hand was a noted woodworker and writer. He contributed to many woodworking and hobby magazines, as I recall. His 3 sons were exceptional athletes at Staples.
The mention of building a model bridge reminded me of a class I took at Staples in the 1966 / 1967 school year called Engineering (offered as an alternative to physics). We built model bridges and I remember learning about electrical circuits, relays etc. One of the most interesting classes I took at Staples. Nothing I needed for my future endeavors in accounting, but a very interesting and mentally stimulating class.
Thanks Mike & John
As a student I enrolled in wood, metal and auto shop. I loved every minute of it and am so excited that more and more of our students are finding their way to tech ed.
When I attended Staples, (1949 – 1953) the “old” high school building (no longer there; it was along Riverside Avenue closer to the train station) was where all the shops were located.I don’t think there were legal impediments to a girl wanting to take “wood shop” or something, but girls were actively discouraged. It was Home Ec, so they could grow up to be good little wifeys.
Where I lived then, Shop and Home Economics were required subjects in order to graduate from 8th grade to high school. (This was just before grade levels were reconfigured and junior high was added between elementary and high school. Junior high generally was what middle school is now.) I wanted to take Shop class so that I would be able to use tools properly to make basic repairs to future residences wherever I happened to be. Being handy is a good thing. However, girls were not permitted to take Shop. We were required to take Home Ec. The Home Ec teacher required us to learn what she considered to be the most vital recipes to feed a family. We would be graded and had to pass in order to graduate to high school. White sauce was deemed the most important (perhaps if she had called it bechamel it might have had some allure). Then custard, and two other things that I have blocked for good reason.
However, throughout elementary school we were taught American and world history and in 8th grade were required to pass a Civics course in order to graduate to high school. Is American history a required course in CT? It also might be time to require a Civics course if that is not already so. Not just here, everywhere.
Congratulations to my colleague Mike for the important education he continues to provide for Staples students! Very impressive!