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.