Paul D’Alessandro is retiring this year after working at Hudson High for 32 years, teaching the workshop class that began along with his career.
“I’ve been working in public schools for 36 years, and it’s not as common now for teachers to work at one place for their entire career, but I chose to work here for these past 32 years,” D’Alessandro says.
“David Quinn told me ‘Oh, you should work here, they need someone to run vocational classes,’ so I took his advice and applied,” D’Alessandro says. It had started out as a dropout prevention class called STRIVE, convincing students who were thinking of dropping out to stay and attend the class. It became something much more than that as the years went by.
After he graduated with a Special Education degree, D’Alessandro was hired as a special education teacher to teach vocational skills, thus creating the workshop class. The class, now connected through the Carpenters’ Union Training Facility, would help students prepare for entering that vocation.
“It’s amazing, watching them grow from knowing nothing about building to keeping an eye on them as they make their own cabinets,” D’Alessandro says. “My students usually go into the field of carpentry and woodworking, either working the wood or planning constructions.”
D’Alessandro has built many different products for customers with the help of his classes, ranging from barn doors to wardrobes and cabinets.
Since D’Alessandro is retiring, the future of the workshop is unclear. “It’s up in the air, what’s going to happen with the workshop class, but students won’t be able to get training before going to the facility.”
In addition to starting the workshop, D’Alessandro has been involved in other important school programs, such as coteaching. The STRIVE class came to an end five years ago due to the fact that students weren’t passing MCAS. At that point D’Alessandro re-entered the classroom. When coteaching, a program that brought special education and regular education teachers together in the classroom, started, D’Alessandro taught with English teacher Shane McArdle and physics teacher Kate Chatellier. He taught Academic Support and two classes of woodworking as well.
“Even though I’m retiring, every moment here was memorable for me; every success and failure, teaching with McArdle, and all the years I spent here,” he said.
“He’s a great guy, and I’m going to miss him,” McArdle said. “He helped me build a shed, built an adjustable stool for my three year old. He’s great.”
“This was a great ride,” D’Alessandro said, “and it’s something I won’t forget.”
Even though its longtime leader Robert Van Buren retired last year, the Haunted Physics Lab continued on Wednesday under new leadership from physics teachers Rebekah Whitesel and Paul D’Alessandro. The event drew scores of community members to the halls of Hudson High School, just as it always had.
Students and parents of a wide array of ages attended on Wednesday night. They were presented with nearly 15 different experiments, all showing aspects of science that are viewed as hard to believe or otherwise supernatural.
Outside, several other physics students stood by the decorative entrance to the event. Attendees paid for admission in canned goods, which were later donated to the Hudson Food Pantry. Attendees donated a total of 300 individual items.
“The boxes [of food] are so big that we need two people to carry each,” Whitesel said. “The community was very generous.”
The event itself had gone through changes since many attendees had last seen it. When Van Buren retired last year, he took with him a few of the exhibits that had been traditional hits, including the theremin, a howling musical instrument that was always a hit in his time running the event. D’Alessandro and his crew stepped up their year however and created new exhibits for the event. This list of newcomers was highlighted by the makeshift band set, made out of PVC pipe and 5-gallon buckets that D’Alessandro built.
In its first year under new leadership, the Haunted Physics Lab thrived. It equalled attendance records set in previous years, accumulated an impressive sum of donated food, and continued to enthral community members in the way that Whitesel and D’Alessandro hope it does.
“We’ve got to a point where we don’t have to do much advertising for this,” D’Alessandro said. “It just travels by word of mouth, and people come because it’s something they do. You see people who have been here or every Haunted Physics Lab for years. We’re also at a point now where a lot of the kids presenting had been here before. It’s really part of the community.”
After eight years of teaching at Hudson High, Physics and Astronomy teacher Robert Van Buren has decided to retire.
Before Van Buren ever wanted to become a teacher, he was an engineer at Raytheon in his early years out of college. There, Van Buren was in charge of training the employees to learn the new programming system. His passion for teaching was born there.
“The idea that we change from not understanding something to understanding something, and the growth of education is pretty miraculous. Whatever I can do to bring that about, I think it’s a good thing.”
The next chapter in his life was written when he took a break from engineering and went back to school to become a teacher and found a job teaching physics at Hopkinton High School.
“I was young at the time. My wife and I were newly married, we didn’t have any children, so we didn’t have a big need for a lot of cash. We really enjoyed the time off, and I enjoyed the experience of teaching,” says Van Buren.
Van Buren says he loves working with people and the subject that he teaches. “[Teaching] is a good fit. It’s like a bunch of positives lined up in a row that work for me.”
After eight years at Hopkinton, Van Buren found himself accepting a programming job at a new company that his student’s father started. He had learned programming after playing around with the Apple 2 at Hopkinton.
From there Van Buren found himself back at Raytheon, but this time for his software skills. Twenty-five years later, he found the right time to settle down and get back to teaching.
“Basically it was just the [business] trips that I had to take…they were so far and so long. I got tired of the travel and the commute, so I decided it was the right time to get back into teaching.”
Since coming back to teaching, Van Buren has made himself well known for the Haunted Physics Lab, the crazy projects he builds with his own hands, and his role as lead guitarist in the band Staff Infection.
“Mr. Van Buren shows a lot of passion when he’s teaching, and it shows with all the projects he does with his classes,” says astronomy and physics student Shane Matheson.
“He loves science. He’s always doing something that has to do with science either at the school, at home or even when we go out. He’ll figure out a way, if he learned something new, to work it into his lesson to show the kids something new,” says teacher and friend Paul D’Alessandro. “He finds ways to make [the curriculum] fresh and new every year to make it interesting,” he adds.
Some of Van Buren’s personal touches to his classes include videos, photographs and music that he shares with the class to keep the students engaged in the subject matter.
“I like to collect songs, mostly rock n’ roll songs, that have some theme that hooks up with the subject matter in the class,” says Van Buren. “Plus it’s more likely that the student will pay attention if you use a medium like that,” he adds.
Van Buren is a big music fan and was in a band throughout high school and college but had to stop once he got into the working world. When he started at Hudson in 2008, he met other teachers with the same musical passion as him including D’Alessandro and former Hudson High teacher Brian Daniels. Once they were challenged by the students to a “battle of the bands” for the Hudson Talent Show, so they came together and formed the band Staff Infection.
With Van Buren on lead guitar, D’Alessandro on bass, Daniels on vocals and others, they were motivated to win the friendly competition with the students. Within the first few months of practice, they learned about 12 songs together(all covers). They were starting to make real music and decided to not compete in the competition, but instead serve as house band that would play in the end as the voters would vote for the competition. “The battle turned into a concert,” as D’Alessandro puts it.
Since then, the band has played at numerous restaurants and events. Van Buren’s favorite place to play at is Willicker’s Restaurant Club in Shrewsbury. His favorite song to play with the band is “White Room” by Cream or anything from Eric Clapton and Tom Petty.
Besides music, Van Buren has a passion for engineering and building. He is currently rebuilding and repairing his son’s 100-year-old Victorian home. He has even made his own archery range at his house.
However, his most impressive projects happen at school with the help of D’Alessandro and the wood shop. His resume includes a five-foot-high Jacobs Ladder and a 14-foot-long wind tunnel.
Most of his projects have been for the benefit of the Haunted Physics Lab, which he took over in October 2007. The first year, 50 people came to the event. Since then, Van Buren and others have been helping the event grow by adding stations to the event. In his final year, Van Buren predicted that nearly 250 people came to the event.
“It’s the right time for me because of the reality of working in the public school system with the demands placed on teachers by the Department of Education,” explains Van Buren. “I’ll be happy to be free from that,” he adds.
Van Buren expressed his unhappiness with the Department of Education for what he called “unnecessary demands placed on teachers,” such as “insanely overcomplicated evaluation systems.” Van Buren believes that things should be kept simple. According to Van Buren, that is not happening. He believes there is too much time being spent on the new evaluation system.
Another disappointment Van Buren expressed was the poor balance of compliments and criticism coming from the evaluation system. “You want a good mix of the good and the bad; you don’t just want to focus on the bad.”
Lastly, Van Buren believes that the equipment and teaching environments are not supportive of the learning material. “We are not set up in the science department for a very good lab environment. We don’t have enough desks and equipment to optimize the process of education here.”
“I think it is a counterproductive situation right now. I hope some of those disconnects can be addressed, solved and fixed so that teachers in the future can have the same experience I had in my early years here at Hudson High.”
Despite his frustration with these things, Van Buren enjoyed his experience at Hudson High.
“It’s the family environment whereby you have a faculty that supports each other, and you have a student body that are really nice kids,” says Van Buren. “It’s sort of like a family.”
One thing Van Buren has learned from teaching is that “you never really know anyone’s real capability.” When a student exceeds expectations, Van Buren feels “hope for the future, for people in general and it also gives you a sense of joy because you see someone feel better about themselves. It’s just a good feeling all around.”
And that is one feeling Van Buren will always remember and appreciate from teaching.