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July 18, 2014     Post-Gazette
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July 18, 2014

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-Page6 POST-GAZETTE, JULY 18, 2014 NORTH BENNET STREET SCHOOL North Bennet Street School Founder Pauline Agassiz Shaw The North End hosts the North Bennet Street School, which is much more than a school, it is almost a state of mind. Since its inception in 1881, NBSS has been the first and strongest al- ternative to main- stream education. Founded by Pauline Agassiz Shaw, this vocational school has always embodied the North End essence of social support and tol- erance. As a matter of fact, the location of the school was no coincidence, because it was meant to help immigrants to overcome linguistic and social barriers in order to become an integral part of the United States of America. NBSS has al- ways provided preparation for a wide spectrum of different industries, in order to fit everybody's preferences and longing. Currently the choice is between eight different courses: Bookbinding, Cabinet and Furniture Making, Locksmithing, Carpentry, Preservation Carpentry, Jewelry Mak- ing, Piano Technology and Violin Making. Nowadays this is certainly an institution that is going well, but if we time travel back to the past, we will understand what was the starting point, the real purpose in Pauline Agassiz's mind. The 1880s didn't depict an idyllic scenario, with ineffectively balanced immigration & education rates and highly marked social inequality. We are talking about 25 million immigrants com- ing from Europe at the end of the 19 th century and an education rate equal to 65% among those who later will be called "WASP" and only 35/0 among the remaining huge part of "New Ameri- cans." How it often happens in the complex plot of history, factors were characterized by a lack of a clear distinction between cause and effect: were social differences due to educational differ- ences, or was the education rate somehow influ- enced by social inequality? No one can say. This troubled historical framework played an important role influencing NBSS's creation. Im- migrants couldn't afford the luxury of spending time and money in academia, and simply needed something that allowed them to get by and (maybe) learn sufficient English necessary to communicate. They had to care about surviving, before thinking about living. And thus came into play Pauline Agassiz Shaw, with her brilliant and visionary idea of giving these people an alterna- tive, a chance. And so in 1881, the year President Garfield passed away and Pablo Picasso came into the world, in Boston's North End the North Bennet Street School was born. Agassiz wanted her students to learn skills More than a Century of SodaSupport by Eugenio Faina essential for specific trades, nowadays the courses' features would without a doubt meet her expectations. The Bookbinding course lasts 2 years, hosts just 16 students and is mainly focused on producing binding structures, provid- ing an overall teaching about pro- cessing techniques for a variety of materials, including leather, pa- per, cloth and vellum. Furthermore, procedures in order to guarantee better and more enduring books are taught, as well as necessary proficiencies to handle with ability craft tools. After a first year of general introduction to bind- ing, the second ismuch more focused on the artistic and polished side of the industry, edu- cating students about attention to details and finishing. Also students interested in Cabi- net and Furniture Making will have to sit and learn in NBSS's non-tradi- tional desks for 2 years before be- ing able to truly be skilled enough to venture them- selves into the furniture world. The course, pres- ently taken by 39 students, is based on the pres- tigious tradition of 18 th and early 19 th century American furniture. An integral part of the pro- gram will be making students aware of the im- portance of quality material, as well as enhanc- ing their artistic traits. Locksmithing and Security Technology is a course that requires for obvious reasons the clearest police record of all, and guarantees to its students (by now they are 16) a 360 degree- education about locks and domestic safety, focus- ing on theory and in loco reparations. It shares the one-year-course format with Carpentry, a stimulating program which lays its groundwork not only in personal skills, but also in teamwork, essential when it's a matter of accomplishing magnificent works in little time. That's why, with just 13 students, it's one of the most limited courses in NBSS. It requires a gen- erous amount of professionalism, since it con- siders working for demanding customers, whether it be about building or renovating. Quite similar is the biennial course of Preservation Carpentry, whose 26 students will soon face the bureaucracy and contractors. Top precision and accuracy are necessary for a single mind to take into account several different factors such as: the environ- ment, historical resources and security regulations. Most creative ap- plicants can ben- efit from Jewelry Making and Repair, in which accuracy of appli- cation of many tools on various materials is taught. Creat, fix and pol- ish: these are the keywords that 26 students will have to keep in mind for the next 2 years. Musical instru- ments lovers can choose between Piano Technology and Violin Making and Repair, two courses that teach essential proficien- cies for tuning, re- pairing and regulat- ing these elaborate strings. The first part of the program will be focused on this, but it will be integrated with a final course of rebuilding and ad- vanced and cus- tomized regula- tion. Piano Tech- nology is divided in basic and ad- vanced, both one- year courses, while Violin Mak- ing and Repair will train its 12 stu- dents for no less than 3 years. Originally the institute also provided students with a basic general education, nowadays, it is limited to vocational education, and the only non- manual subjects are business setting and finan- cial strategy, considered essential to set up per- sonal businesses and/or be more aware about the professional world Unlike what some might think, students' impact on the professional world during their first years after graduation is not more incisive than mainstream schools, but as Nancy Jenner, Director of Communications and Strategic Partnerships of NBSS said, just "different." Nancy also adds that NBSS's purpose is not to find their students employment, but to provide them adequate skills to stand out with personal- ity in the industry that they choose. Moreover, employment rates change depend- ing on the specialization, being for instance Locksmithing and Carpentry more sought-after than Bookbinding and Jewelry Making, courses which are more likely to be set as personal busi- ness. Of course this matter varies depending on the time and economy, and for this reason NBSS's program is in continuous updating, for example 1980's Watch and Clock Repair (1986) and Camera Repair (1981) has been removed from the schedule making way for Preservation Carpentry and Bookbinding considered more sought-after by students and employers. Federal and State financial aid is available and there is also a "Merit Scholarship," which is pro- vided by the school itself for the most outstanding applicants, regardless of their financial means. The North Bennet Street School is a symbol of a nation, the United States of America, which makes diversity its strong point. They will keep fighting the crusade started by Pauline Agassiz Shaw. Even if they already won. Visit NBSS at http-// addi- tional information.