Last year’s graduating class of 2017 marked the 80th class to graduate from East Haven High School, after the first class graduated in 1937. Over the years, things have changed: from the building to sports to pride to academics. To step back into the past and get a look at how the high school has changed, we have interviewed three teachers and administrators with longtime ties to East Haven: Mr. Johnson, Mrs. Harkins, and Mrs. Carangelo. Mrs. Harkins graduated in the class of 1978 and Mrs. Carangelo in the class of 1977.
The First Class
Before 1937, students in East Haven had to attend New Haven schools. Mrs. Carangelo’s father, Kenneth Hartlin, was a part of the first graduating class of East Haven High School. He played varsity basketball and was Captain of the varsity baseball team. 1937 was a year of firsts. Some unique things at East Haven High school during 1937 were that clubs took place during school in 7th period on Tuesdays or Wednesdays, there was a “traffic squad” that basically directed hallway traffic in between periods, a ski club, and a Yale Model United Nations.
East Haven High School started at 200 Tyler Street in the center of town. Mrs. Carangelo and Mrs. Harkins said that the location of the Old High School was important because you could walk anywhere. There was a movie theater and the East Haven “mall” with many more stores than it has now. The High School also had many more students now than the average class size now. Mrs. Carangelo’s class of 1977 had about 500 students. To accommodate more and more students, the building kept evolving and undergoing construction. At one point from construction, Harkins and Carangelo, recalled there were split sessions with half of the students attending school in the morning from about 8am-12pm and then the other half attending an afternoon session from about 12pm-4pm. Even though the old high school was a much larger building than the high school now, Mrs. Harkins, while working there as a teacher, remembers the staff doing things together more because of the closeness of classrooms in the building and having many things to do closeby. In September of 1997 East Haven high school was moved to its more suburban and isolated campus at 35 Wheelbarrow Lane.
School Spirit & Sports
Harkins and Carangelo could not stop mentioning school spirit! Mrs. Harkins said that sports were a big part of East Haven High School having the best coaches and players in the state, highlighting Coach Crisafi role in the sports arena. Both Harkins and Carangelo were involved in sports while in high school. Mrs. Harkins was captain of the cross-country and track teams and was on the Pom Pom squad. Mrs. Carangelo was the first color guard captain, co-captain of the volleyball team, and a part of the drum core. There was also the band, along with majorettes or baton throwers and color guard which was not what it is like today at EHHS. It was a very formal activity complete with firing of guns and presentation of the fla
g, like you would see in a parade. Not many field and facilities on campus, had to use middle school track and memorial field. They both mentioned that there was more involvement in
sports and teams were full. They also said there were more sports for girls - they both tried out for the new field hockey team. A big part of sports was and continues to be East Haven’s rivalry with Branford. Harkins and Carangelo both remembered teens from East Haven and Branford painting “the rock,” behind Starbucks in Branford, during the night, in blue and yellow for East Haven and red for Branford. The next day of the big rivalry game the fan bus would go right by it and whoever had their colors on top “won.”
Students 40 Years Ago
Looking back on their years as Students at East Haven, they shared memories of their East Haven High School experience. Mrs. Harkins said, EHHS was always a special place even back then. It was a learning community that students looked forward to attending every day because that is where kids had the opportunity to be involved in clubs and sports, to socialize, and most importantly, to get an education. We were proud of our school and community. Kids wanted to be in school. In fact, I had perfect attendance all 4 years!” They both recalled the “horrible gym uniforms.” Mrs. Harkins said that they had to wear what were basically rompers that would have violated today’s dress code. Boys had to wear jumpsuits for gym. Mrs. Carangelo remembered a big moment being when she was first allowed to wear jeans to school in eighth grade. Mrs. Harkins also mentioned that they had to swim at gym, saying that students of today should not complain about Gym when students in the past had to wear uniforms and swim during their PE class. They mentioned the high school having distinct groups, like “Jocks,” who would wear their letterman sweaters, and the “Gear Heads,” who would hang out around the auto shop. Even with these distinct groups Mrs. Harkins said that it was funny because they all still felt like a community that belonged together. Harkins said that the administration always cared, the principal would wait in the Country Kitchen, a restaurant in the center, to catch kids skipping and bring them back to the high school. There were many different classes including Ancient History and a music class about Bob Dylan. There was also much different technology from today and there were business types of classes: shorthand, typing, typewriter. It also seems like students were less controlled and got away with more. Students could also wear costumes on Halloween. They recalled class jokes or senior pranks like stink bombs, chickens being released on the third floor, stealing the school bell and giving it back at graduation, as well as putting things on the flag pole. Mrs. Harkins was a member of the National Senior Honor Society and co-editor in chief of the yearbook. Mrs. Carangelo was a member of the Senior Executive Board and the Youth Research Council.
They Came Back
Mrs. Harkins, Mrs. Carangelo, and Mr. Johnson all attended East Haven High School and then came back to teach here. Mr. Johnson has been teaching at EHHS for 21 years and came back because of “pride in [the] community and a chance to give back.” He currently coaches baseball at the high school. He also said he loves “just bumping into alumni and recalling some of their favorite stories and experiences both in and after H.S.” Mrs Harkins has been a part of the EHHS staff for nearly 36 years, teaching science for 32, and now serving for her 4th year as assistant principal. In the past she has coached cross country and track and has been the advisor of some clubs. She taught many levels of Chemistry and has written the curriculum for some of the new science classes like Marine Science, Forensic Science, and the CSI class. She has worked with some of her former teachers and now with some of her former students. She is “proud to say that Mr. DeNuzzo was [her] former student!” She also expressed her belief that “teaching is the most rewarding profession as we have the opportunity to make an impact on the life of [a] child.” Mrs. Carangelo was raised in East Haven, but lived in Florida for about 30 years before coming back home to teach Special Ed. a few years ago at EHHS. Mrs. Carangelo also helped to plan her 40th year class reunion this year. It was held on Saturday, November 25th, at Amarante's in New Haven. She said that there are people coming from Florida, Virginia, and possibly even California. With a little less than 110 people set to attend along with three class advisors, one being Mr. Narracci’s father, attending, food, a live band, and many old photos the night will be one to remember.
They all clearly love their community and what they do.
Mrs. Harkins' Classroom at the Old High School decorated for Christmas
Currently at EHHS
Fast forward to EHHS now. Today much has changed. Students now carry around cell phones, do their work on chromebooks, and communicate on social media. There are classes in media, digital design, and 3D modeling. The building and class sizes are smaller. The high school is no longer in the middle of things. There are completely different fads. Mr. Johnson says today the High School is “more structured, which has both positive and negative consequences.” Mrs. Harkins adds, “Teaching and learning have changed over the years I have been here. Kids and teachers face more challenges than ever before. Developing engaging, rigorous, authentic, differentiated lessons for ALL learners takes research, time, collaboration, and professional development in order to ensure that we work to prepare our students for college or the workforce.” But some things remain the same. East Haven still has a rivalry with Branford and the Comet is still alive. Overall there has been a decline in school pride in the past. However, in recent years, there has been a resurgence with more pep rallies and students at games and other events. Even with its ups and downs, East Haven remains an improving and prideful community.
Video by Adam Perrotti.