Students showcase talents at Pride Night

NAUGATUCK — Exploratory education took center stage at Naugatuck High School recently, as educators reminded the community that a cash-strapped school district does not equate to a talent-strapped student body.

Displays of various special programs graced the media center and adjoining hallways, student films were screened, and an hour-long presentation of music, dancing and culinary arts capped the high school’s first-ever Greyhound Pride Night last Wednesday.

“This was a way to showcase some of the many programs and courses that give an assortment of students many opportunities to develop some skills,” NHS Principal Fran Serratore said. “We wanted to show the variety of opportunities for students. There are so many kids—we have 1,400 students here; we’re a large high school—and they all have different talents, they all have different skills, and they’re all looking for where they’re going to fit in. A lot of these programs provide that for students, and many become career pathways.”

In several cases, the school system’s financial woes were reflected by the presentations. But students and teachers proved they’ve found creative ways to contend with reduced budgets and make do with fewer resources.

Three-dimensional arts instructor Steven Kobylenski said his ceramics students have been using more “reclaimed” clay—essentially the scrap material from previous projects, which can be gathered for reuse later. Students held a raffle recently to raise money to buy new, white clay.

Antonio Martins, the student who potted at a kiln in a second-floor hallway to display the process, was working with a mixture of reclaimed, adobe-colored clay and the now-precious white material.

“We try to be as self-sufficient as possible,” Kobylenski said. “In 3D art and design, we use a lot of natural materials, you know, twigs, sticks, whatever we can find, because we only have so much.”
Kobylenski’s ceramics students, like construction and manufacturing students Andrew Curtiss and Tom Kaminski, who were stationed down the hall, sell their wares to fund their respective programs. Curtiss and Kaminski lounged proudly in two handmade, wooden patio chairs, which were the fruit of a semester’s work.

In the media center, the fine arts, cooking, business and other departments displayed posters, artwork and videography, as parents and residents explored all the specials the school has to offer.

In one corner, Jessalyn Rodriguez explained that the NHS Greyhound, the school’s newspaper, has ceased production of its print edition to cut costs. But in its place, journalism students and volunteers have harnessed the power of new media to craft a Web-only “newspaper,” where a video blog about safe driving, a podcast called “The Comfy Couch,” featuring roundtable discussion—and, of course, the ever-trusty written word—keep visitors up-to-date on school and community news.

Rodriguez said the Greyhound had covered the ongoing Board of Education budget crisis by interviewing students and feeling out their thoughts about the issue.

“I think we got students knowing about it,” she said. The paper went completely online “to keep people going.”

Serratore probably didn’t need reminding that just these programs were on the line, as school administrators tried to cut costs in a few very tight budget years.

“In these tough economic times, when education is getting cut, this is the stuff that’s threatened, and, you know, it’s important,” he said. “I know it’s numbers and it’s money and so on, but these are students we’re talking about. We’re not talking about car parts here; we’re talking about kids. They go though this once; this way once, these four years. And these four years, for many of them, creates a path to where they end up. Those unskilled jobs aren’t around like they used to be, where you could train somebody in a half an hour and they could stay in the same job for 40 years and make good money. There’s a lot of competition out there, so you want to provide all the opportunities, and education is the key.”

After an hour of open-house exploration, Air Force Jr. ROTC members, who were posted throughout the school to direct foot traffic, began to usher visitors into the gymnasium, where they were treated to musical performances, compliments of band instructor Bob Kogut and Mahlon Peterson, who directs the NHS Chamber Singers; performances of the winter color guard and dance team, the Houndettes; a competition drill by the ROTC; a hands-on culinary presentation by Diane Doherty’s students; and a recognition of outstanding NHS sportsmen and women, led by Athletic Director Tom Pompei.

“With all the craziness that’s been going on, we hear so many negative things about what’s happening in the district, so much, you know, publicity for all the wrong things,” Pompei said. “All the kids you see here tonight … are what’s great about our school and our district.”

Board of Ed. member Michelle Kalogrides said of the evening, “I think it’s great. It showcases all [the students’] hard work and dedication.”