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Hands-on learning takes new meaning for students in Mike Iavarone’s East Haven High School technology classes. (Photo by Nathan Hughart/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
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This school year, Mike Iavarone starts his fifth year teaching automotive and wood technology classes at East Haven High School (EHHS) where he’s been leading students into the future by teaching both old-school mechanical skills along with the latest in computer-programmed machining.
A teacher since 1977, Mike says he enjoys growing technology education programs, not because of the inherent challenge with the job, but because of the effect it has on students.
“I like to see the results of my efforts,” Mike says. “When I come into a program…I’m in there to teach them a skill.”
Mike says it’s gratifying to see a student take apart a rusted old lawn mower motor and learn to make it run again.
“The fun part is, they get these long faces like they’re scared and we take the engines outside and start them up. All of the sudden, that sucker runs and…what a feeling of accomplishment,” Mike says. “The expression on a student’s face is priceless.”
Another gratifying part of Mike’s job comes when he learns of students’ success in the real world using skills they learned with him.
“I’ve only been at EHHS a little over four years and I’ve already got kids taking advantage of what gets placed on the table,” he says.
Even with the joy that comes from teaching, Mike left the education business in 1986 when teachers’ salaries were down. He started his own company designing and servicing emergency vehicles.
A lifelong resident of Clinton, Mike also served in the Clinton Volunteer Fire Department where he was a marshal and a chief for a time before retiring. He returned to teaching in 2001.
Now, as he’s expanding EHHS’s technology education program, Mike wants to help his students earn apprenticeships in local businesses and encourage them to move into technical careers when they graduate from high school.
During the summer and winter, Mike works at the Riverside Basin Marina in Clinton. There, he’s hired an EHHS student who is going on to study at Lincoln Tech to learn about diesel engines.
“It’s nice for them because it provides a real education-to-career pathway,” Mike says.
He’s trying to use the work his students have picked up at the marina as an example of what he’d like to see happen more locally.
“If I can get [businesses] in the East Haven area to do this same type of thing and get these kids in doing real life work skills, that would be fantastic,” he says.
Apprenticeships, Mike says, are a great way to build students’ work ethic and give them experience in the workplace.
When he arrived at EHHS from a stint working in Rocky Hills school system, Mike says the shop equipment was out of date and in some cases bare bones.
“I came in with a vision. I’m like a bull in a china shop. I wanted to turn both programs around and we’re doing that,” Mike says. “East Haven has been very supportive of the program.”
Before Mike came in to redevelop the program, the school only had a basic wood shop and auto shop.
“[We] bought commercial grade computer numerical control (CNC) equipment so we could take that simple wood shop and bring it to the present-day level,” Mike says. “I don’t believe in what’s called educational type equipment.”
So instead, Mike purchases the same kinds of equipment used industrially, giving the students real life experience in the classroom.
The new CNC program enabled one EHHS student to build a new podium for the school. His worked was presented before state legislators in May at the K-12 Educational Technology Exposition.
Grant money allowed Mike to add specialized computers to the program and to continue to grow their access to technology.
“We’ve taken it beyond what you might see in a normal comprehensive public high school and in some cases beyond what you might see even in a technical high school to provide those students the opportunity to experience everything if they went right out of my classroom into industry,” he says.
The program has grown to the point where faculty members have begun to trust the automotive students with their vehicles. Superintendent of schools Erica Forti even brought in a Jaguar with a laundry list of mechanical needs in to be tuned up.
Mike says he’d like to see the program continue to grow, both in terms of community engagement and getting more kids into the classroom.
“We get kids chomping at the woodwork to get into these classes, but there’s only one of me,” he says.
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