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Posted: Saturday, March 3, 2007 12:00 am

El Technical, the forgotten school

In 1951, Brownsville public schools had enrollment of about 8,400, an increase of 750 students from the previous year. To meet the expected growth, Su-perintendent John F. Barron dedicated a new school at Ringgold Park.

Cummings Junior High was termed one of the most modern schools in Texas. The 30-room building was named after Joseph Franklin Cummings, the first superintendent of Brownsville public schools.

Beyond tackling the growth dilemma, the district was facing a problem unique only to Brownsville — according to district administrators, there were too many overage students in the elementary grades.

Brownsville Herald archives showed that there were an estimated 1,700 students in the schools at least three to four grades behind their age groups.

Barron and Tom Keller, who were proponents of vocational training, introduced the idea of creating a trade school, a concept that required special permission from the commissioner of education.

The idea was not embraced by all, but after Austin gave its approval, the Brownsville Technical School was no longer a dream.

Unlike the school at Ringgold Park, this unique technical school, designed to revive lagging students’ interest, was housed in the old junior high building at Palm Boulevard and Elizabeth Street.

“But not all students were overage and/or behind in grade levels” said Pedro Mendez, a former student. “Some of us chose to attend El Technical for the opportunity to learn a skill.”

The school was remodeled to fit the new type of school. The upstairs floors were used to teach academics and the basement for trade skills. “If possible, students would not be pegged to grades, but will be grouped by capability,” Principal Jesse Benton said.

The vocational curriculum introduced students to woodworking, leather crafts, electricity, mechanical drawing, weaving, ceramics, homemaking and auto mechanics.

Tech students wanting to participate in sports at the beginning were only allowed to play off-season sports. It was not until several years later that Brownsville High School coaches were convinced that Tech students were good athletes too.

Eventually all were allowed to join the regular Brownsville High School athletic program.

“The objective/goal of the school was to emphasize the relationship between academic concepts with the skill being taught and to produce a graduate with employment skills” Keller said.

From more than 1,000 applications submitted, the school could enroll a maximum of 575 students. “Judging from the number of applications, the school should be successful — if it can realize its stated ambitions,” Benton said.

Although the majority of students adjusted to the trade school concept, others were upset that they were not given a choice but to attend the trade school. Like Mel Trevino, who today owns a successful antique store in town, said, “I along with some of my classmates were caught in the school district’s rush to fill the classrooms.”

Some of the teachers who were contracted for academic positions included Mrs. Thelma Kowalski, John Anthony, Mrs. Virginia Garcia, Mrs. Mattie Barton and Mrs. Dagoberto Chavez.

The list to teach shop included Bill Waller, woodwork; Wallace Ray, auto mechanics; Mrs. Minerva Richey, weaving; Mrs. Mildred Young, homemaking; Dagoberto Chavez, leatherwork and Manuel Jaime, electricity.

“El Technical,” as it was known by students, survived up until 1958, when differences of philosophy emerged.

When John F. Barron left to San Benito and E.L. Pitchett took over as superintendent soon after, the Brownsville Technical School closed its doors for good. But not before it had expanded to regular junior high and elementary grades.

Taking the idea that was introduced by Barron and Keller, the vocational school concept was revived in the early 1970s, when the school district initiated the Coordinated Vocational Academic Education program.

Students were not crying foul play when the Brownsville Technical School closed, but the Barron-Keller idea does merit attention.

Perhaps it is time for BISD to revisit the thought of creating a professional school for the trades. A state-of-the-art magnet school for the student that is serious about learning a skill is greatly needed.

The conversation in the boardroom should be about innovative ideas and on how we can help students o meet the challenges of this ever-changing technological world.

We must go beyond standardized testing — a phenomenon that is to blame for creating a classroom atmosphere of stress. Our students are intoxicated by practicing the test, and postponing the use of imagination for some time in the dark future.

Rene Torres is a retired assistant professor at the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College.

Porter cheerleaders support every sport

Editor:

I always read the letters to the editor because most of them are informative and always bring to light facts that I need to be aware of. On Feb. 2, the letter written by Gracie Alvarado was not based on facts and this disturbed me.

The Porter Cheerleaders are coached by my daughter, Lisa Castellano. She has been the cheerleading coach for five years. She is paid $1,500 a year (as are other high school cheerleading coaches) for an entire year’s work. Other coaches working for BISD are paid anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000 for coaching one sport for a limited time. As you can see, the amount she is paid is not enough, in my opinion, to warrant her constant devotion to and worry for the cheerleaders she coaches.

Ms. Alvarado probably attended one game (or several according to her letter) where the cheerleaders were cheering at another game. There can be anywhere from one activity to four or five a night for high schools and the cheerleaders try to make as many of these events as possible.

She could have gone to my daughter to ask why this particular game did not have cheerleaders, or she could have gone to any administrator at Porter or the parent of any of the cheerleaders and she would have been given facts.

Fact No. 1. There are many games per night, and the Porter Cheerleaders attend as many as they possibly can. Fact No 2. Ms. Castellano has never been one to discriminate against male or female and being born from a feminist mother, I can attest to this fact. Fact No. 3. “Porter being Porter” does not ring a bell with me. I teach at Porter and Porter students, administrators and teachers have always gone over and beyond their responsibilities to assure that our school remains No. 1. We are proud of our school and always show this pride.

Our staff and students support each and every endeavor that our students go for. You will always see teachers, students and administrators at every event; however, we might have to choose to attend only one or two of the events each night instead of making mad dashes to attend every one.

I want to thank Ms. Alvarado for attending Porter games. Next time she has questions about the cheering squad, she can call us. We would be more that happy to sit down with her and go over all the responsibilities that our great cheerleading squad has.

Norma Linda Castellano

Brownsville

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