One day in late spring of 1973 I found myself walking around the gymnasium of Annapolis Junior High School (AJHS) trying to decide which courses I would prefer upon beginning tenth grade the following fall. It was one of the final days of ninth grade, which had been by far my least happy year in school. Living in Mayo, Maryland, I and my fellow neighborhood ninth graders should have attended Southern Senior High School (SSHS) in Harwood, Maryland, where our predecessors had gone for ninth grade, but overcrowding caused the Anne Arundel School Board wizards to decide that for at least that year, we would remain at AJHS for another term. Historically, kids from my area went to AJHS only for seventh and eighth grades and then switched to SSHS.
Annapolis, being the capital city of Maryland, was significantly more urban than the rural areas to which SSHS type people were accustomed. The clientele was much more aggressive in the big city. Sure, we had our "red neck greaser" rowdies in the southern part of the county, but at least their parents would whip them if they got caught getting into trouble. The north county parents, we believed at the time, must have been rewarding their kids for daring to challenge authority. I was looking forward to getting out of AJHS after eighth grade, and was devastated when I learned I would be returning for ninth.
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Jeanie Graves, Annapolis High senior, practices hair setting techniques learned during a three-year cosmetology course in Annapolis.
Koons Ford point department supervisor Phil Brown oversees Archie Brown's work in the body shop. Archie is a senior at Annapolis High.
Annapolis High School senior Jackie Middleton works with Miss Nunley, food food services instructor, to master cooking, skills, to use at home and work.
Mike Guy, 10th grader from Annapolis Senior High, works with carpentry instructor Marv Holland at the Lincoln Vocational Center in Annapolis.
Working under the hood of a car, Tom Rachels of Severna Park High School says the auto mechanics program is the reason he didn't drop out.
To make matters worse, AJHS was overcrowded, too, so the school went on split sessions where the Annapolis area students had classes in the afternoon and we had ours in the morning. The bus picked us up at a little before 6:00 in the morning and returned us by about 1:30 in the afternoon. The ride was about 40 minutes each way.
Getting "jacked up" in a bathroom, locker room, or on the sports field was a regular occurrence. I learned to not drink anything all day long so as not to have to use the bathrooms. Somehow three years passed without my being physically abused, but a few of my friends got beaten up and robbed. One kid I knew had his head bashed in by a gang hailing from a housing project on the other side of a tree line next to the baseball fields. He have as much money as his attackers thought they deserved, so they took the cutting board project he was carrying from woodshop and doinked him with it. He spent the rest of the school year and summer recouperating in the hospital and needed to repeat ninth grade. Click on the thumbnail image to the left for the front page article reporting on the attack. A tall chain link fence with barbed wire at the top was installed shortly thereafter.
Given all that background information, you might reasonably conclude that no force on Earth could cause me to voluntarily spend any more time in school in Annapolis. However, that aforementioned day in the AJHS gym found me being attracted to a special display which had been set up by the folks who ran the building trades vocational center for high schoolers. The college-bound croud formed lines eager to get admitted into tenth grade algebra and pre-calculus courses, chemistry and biology, American literature, and archeology. Eschewing at the time any white collar aspirations, preferring instead to work with my hands and my head, I permitted myself to be lured into the Electrical Vocational program.
Having always been a tinkerer of things mechanical and electrical, the opportunity to spend my high school years learning about electrical theory, the National Electric Code, and performing hands-on wiring of motors, controllers, and residential and commercial wiring was very appealing. The only hitch was - you guessed it - doing so would require spending half of each school day in Annapolis at the Lincoln Technical Center. It would also require once again catching an early bus that drove many miles to pick up the relatively few students who were in the vocational program. After classes ended around noon, another bus ferried us all to Southern Senior High School where we attended various other requisite classes in order to meet graduation requirements. Fortunately, and it was no small part of the draw for me to the electrical vocational curriculum, the classroom portion of each day's seeion fulfilled requirements for math and science. Our instructor, "Russ" Lorenson, himself a licensed electrician, taught us all we needed to know about Ohm's law, magnetism, Thévenin's and Kirchhoff's laws, etc. For half the school day we were treated more like fellow construction workers than high school students. There was always colorful language, a hot pot of coffee and a limited amount of cigarette smoking was allowed inside as long as no one complained - which no one did. Political correctness had no home in our vocational classrooms.
We even had a roach coach make the rounds each day during break time to sell overpriced food and drinks.
One entire wall, compliments of the carpentry troops next door, of the electrical room was a mock-up of typical house construction complete with door and window openings. Teams of guys drew up wiring diagrams and parts lists according to specifications, did all the wiring, and generated parts and labor bills. Our instructor, whom we addressed by his first name (not typically done in the 1970s), would create problems that we needed to troubleshoot and correct. The same was true for the motor control and industrial automation circuits we would wire up and get working. We also learned how to rebuild AC and DC motors, properly solder and tape wire splices, and how to properly route and install cables and metal and PVC conduit.
During the second half of year two, the carpenter class built a bungalow-size house inside the building, with the masonry guys providing a brick facade on the front and a fireplace. The plumbers roughed in the pipes and we electricians roughed in the wiring during construction, and then did the trim-out work (installed devices and fixtures) once the walls were done. Interestingly, there was no class of drywall finishers, so the sheets of drywall were nailed on but no joints were finished (other than the ones finished behind the building by potheads).
The third year, senior year, those of us who remained in the program went to our high school classes for the first half of the day and then left for work release the rest of the day. I got a job working for Bausum & Duckett Electric (B&D) in Edgewater, Maryland, where most of the time I ended up doing stockroom work and delivering parts to job sites. B&D was one of the largest electrical contracting companies in the county. Another fellow Electrical Vocational classmate of mine, Caroll W. (aka "Skeeter"), who came from Annapolis Senior High School and built an incredibly souped-up big block '68 Camaro, also worked there with me. He came up with an unofficial slogan for the company which all the "real" electricians loved but were forbidden from using outside the shop: "We're Bausum and Duckett. If we can't fix it, f*** it."
It was a great experience from beginning to end. We had guys from many high schools in the county, and everyone got along... most of the time, anyway. The vocational school incorporated not just the building trades - electrical, carpentry, brick laying, and plumbing - but also auto mechanics and body repair. It even had programs for hair stylists and food service (cooks). The article below from the February 3, 1973 edition of the Evening Capital newspaper, where my father worked as the manager of the classified advertising department, reports on the programs. It was written the year before I began there. My best friend at the time, Jerry Flynn, was a year ahead of me and was in the auto body repair course. He was a true artist with body putty and a paint gun. In fact, Jerry painted my 1960 Camaro SS.
Contrary to the implication by the writer that most guys who were in the vocational education program were only there as an alternative to dropping out of school, all of the ones I knew were there because they wanted to learn the construction trades or car maintenance - not a last-ditch effort to stay in school. After graduation, I went on to work for two other electrical contractors before entering the U.S. Air Force in November 1978 to be an Air Traffic Control Radar Repairman. Four years later after separation I went to work as an electronics technician for Westinghouse Electric in Annapolis. After moving to Vermont for another job, I completed my BSEE at the University of Vermont in 1989. Thirty-one years later, here I am.
"It keeps them in school"
February 3, 1973
335 students like learning in vocational ed program
They're building a house, fixing fenders, preparing sandwiches and creating, hair styles. Some of them say it's the reason they've stayed in school and not dropped out. All of them say they enjoy their work and plan to use the knowledge and skills they are acquiring after graduation.
Who? The 335 high school students in the Annapolis area who are becoming skilled craftsmen through a vocational training program conducted by the Anne Arundel County Public Schools.
They take courses in English, history and math at their home schools during half of the school day and spend the other half in vocational classes at the Lincoln Vocational Center on Chinquapin Round Road (for auto mechanics, carpentry, masonry or electricity), the old Shaw Building (for auto body and welding), or Annapolis Senior High School (for food services or cosmetology).
As Gair Neitsche, a Severna Park High School student currently enrolled in the auto mechanics program, put it: "I wasn't interested in school, wasn't doing very well, but I've been around cars for a long time, this program is good experience, with someone around to answer your questions, tools to use that you could never afford to buy. I'm enjoying this. I'm going to use it."
Another auto mechanics student, Tom Rachels of Severna Park High School said "I've waited for years for this program. I wouldn't have finished school if there hadn't been something like this. The more effort you put into it, the more you get out of it."
Richard Johnson and Bob Cook are instructors in the auto mechanics course in which 87 students are enrolled. Harrell Spruill teaches an additional 48 youngsters in the auto body and fender courses. Like other vocational education programs, these courses combine "book learning" with practical experience. During senior year, the top students are eligible to participate in a work-study program in which they hold part-time jobs and get paid by their employers. Three work-study students in this year's senior auto mechanics class have been offered fulltime jobs after graduation.
"In addition to learning a marketable skill, the kids are taught to get along with people," according to vocational counselor Dick Peret. "We try to instill self pride. I think they work harder because they know people are judging the program by their performance," he said.
One local employer who shares this feeling is John S. Riley, service department manager at Koon's Ford. "The boys we've gotten from the program have done very well," Riley said. "They get to work on time. They have good working habits. They are very cooperative."
"They have helped us tremendously in the amount of service work we can do. Actually, these boys work harder than kids we could hire off the street who hadn't been in a program like this one," he said.
Perry Meyett, a work-study student, is enthusiastic about the program. "I think it is the greatest there is. I've been here over a month and hope to keep working here. I even do a little better in school now," he said.
"I'm tired from working I stay home at night and do my homework," he added. Meyett, a member of Annapolis High's wrestling team, finished second in countywide competition last year.
Ralph Jones, a graduate of the masonry program, works as a bricklayer. "I got a skill out of the program and knowledge," Ralph said. "It really taught me something, but I would have finished school anyway." Ralph is a former centerfielder for Annapolis High's baseball team.
Leder Johnson, another graduate of the vocational program, received his diploma from Bates High School in 1969. "I heard about the program during junior high school," Leder said. "The masonry trade was what I wanted to do to create and build things. And now I'm doing it." Today, he is employed as a bricklayer in Annapolis.
"Doc" Jones teaches masonry. His students are building a retaining wall at Annapolis Senior High School and helping to build a house inside the classroom at Lincoln Center. The house is a joint project of the masonry, carpentry and electricity classes. After the masonry boys lay the foundation, Marv Holland's carpentry students do most of the work. "They read the blueprints, put up the walls and ceiling, lay floors and do the finished woodworking. It takes about a semester to complete it." Holland said.
Mike Guy, a tenth grader from Annapolis Senior High, is looking forward to his apprenticeship in carpentry after graduation. One of 37 students in the carpentry program, Mike said, "I wanted to work with wood, to learn a trade that would let me work with wood. This program is a good way to get that skill." Last year, the carpentry class restored the concession area at Annapolis High's athletic field and paneled the program's administrative offices in the old Shaw Building.
When the carpenters have completed the frame and are ready to wall the house, members of Russell Lorentson's industrial electricity class wire it. Dan Carver transferred from Arundel High to Annapolis because of the industrial electricity course offered here. Thirty-four boys are currently enrolled in the program.
"I was going to quit if I hadn't gotten into this one," Dan said. "There wasn't anything in school I wanted. Now I'm learning to wire a house. It's a life career. I can still go on to be an architect if I want to. I almost made the honor roll."
"When my friends heard I was learning cosmetology in school, they were sorry they didn't have a program like this one," said Linda Shellman, an eleventh grader who is studying cosmetology at Annapolis High.
Asked about her plans after graduation, Linda said "If I'm good enough, I'll take the state board exam. If not, I'll go to a beauty academy and take the state test when I'm ready."
Mrs. Huddleston and Mrs. Holland, instructors at the cosmetology lab in Annapolis Senior High School, give their 65 students practical instruction and background in theory to prepare them for a test by the Maryland State Board of Cosmetology after graduation. Before taking the test, the girls must have 1,500 hours of combined practice and theory in cosmetology. A student can meet that requirement by entering the program at the beginning of the tenth grade and maintaining a good attendance record.
Jane Bowen, a junior at Annapolis High, recently took second place in a contest for beauticians sponsored by the Maryland Board of Cosmetology at the Baltimore Civic Center.
"I was surprised that I did so well in the contest," she said. "I hope to finish the course. I don't find it difficult. the important thing is to pay attention in class, and that's not hard if you are interested."
Jenny Graves will be the first graduate of the three-year course. The Annapolis High senior chose the program at the beginning of her freshman year because she liked doing her friends' hair.
Jenny admitted that she found the theory sessions somewhat difficult "You really have to put your mind to it," she said. To become a licensed cosmetologist, she must pass the state board exam, which she plans to take after graduating in June. If she wanted to open her own beauty shop, she would have to serve a year's apprenticeship and another year as a junior manager. After completing this two year requirement, she could become a senior manager and open her own shop. Miss Graves may not follow that route, however, she has expressed an interest in teaching cosmetology.
Across the corridor from the cosmetology lab, Miss Nunley holds classes in food services for 30 junior and senior high school students. Bruce Wells, a senior, is working part-time at the Harbor House in Annapolis. Jackie Middleton another senior, claims that she enjoys the program because she likes to cook and can use the skills. "It isn't hard because I am interested," she said.
Paulina Porter, a junior who moved to the area from New York, finds the course helpful because "they teach you things that you need to know when you want to get a job. It's something you can use now."
"Something you can use" is the key to most student's interest in the vocational education program. Not every student can see the usefulness in studying academic subjects. Not every student choses to go to college.
"I was never an academically-inclined kid myself," admitted John Killian. Killian directs the program in Annapolis under the supervision of vocational administrator Bill Otto.
A former shop teacher, Killian said, "I could work with kids in shop because there was an informal atmosphere. I could help develop other interests, develop an interest in math, for instance, because it applied to what they were doing."
The real significance of this program, as Killian sees it, is that it saves kids. "It saves them from dropping out of school," he said.
"The kids in this program can become something," Killian said. "They have no trouble getting jobs. My only regret is that we can't accommodate each child who wants to get into the program."
In addition to the trade and industrial program at Annapolis, the local school system maintains a vocational technical center in Glen Burnie, and a few courses are offered at Southern High School. Distributive education, office education, data processing, health occupations and cooperative occupancy programs are available to students in all senior high schools in the county. Homemaking programs are available in all junior and senior high schools.
Posted January 21, 2019