One day in late spring of 1973 I found myself walking around the gymnasium of
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
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
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 recuperating 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
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 crowd 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
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 session 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,
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
We even had a
roach coach make the rounds each day during break time to sell overpriced food
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"
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
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
"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
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
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
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
"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
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, 2020