by William Sampson
North Bennet Street School
embraces trade school roots
Nation’s oldest trade school takes on the 21st century challenge
of vocational education.
It’s still called North Bennet Street School even though its address is now on North Street, still in Boston’s historic North End.
Among woodworkers it is a storied school
famous for spectacular workmanship
and attention to detail. But perhaps less
known, North Bennet Street School is
the nation’s oldest trade school, founded
in 1881 to train immigrants for skilled
hand work in Boston factories of the day.
With a multi-disciplinary program, a
dedication to private funding and career
training, and leadership from a newly
appointed president, the school today
embraces both its history and the role it
has in shaping the careers of its students.
Those careers cover woodworking-re-
lated fields such as cabinet and furniture
making, carpentry and preservation
carpentry, violin making and repair,
and the last hands-on piano technology
program in the United States. But the
curriculum also include bookbinding,
jewelry making and repair, locksmithing
and security, as well as a host of continu-
ing education programs. It’s all summed
up by the school’s motto: “A good life
built by hand.”
Sarah Turner, North Bennet Street’s
new president, proudly reports that of
96 students in the school’s 2019 graduation class, 82 already have been placed
in jobs. High job placement is actually
demanded by school creditors, requiring
at least 70 percent placement each year.
Turner, who previously was dean of
the Graduate School at Cranbrook Academy of Art, points out the high level of
craftsmanship that North Bennet Street
School is known for, but she makes a
distinction between it and schools more
devoted to art and design.
“This is a trades school,” she said. “It’s
a different culture. You’re expected to be
on time. It’s not like art school.”
“Before our students walk in the door
for their first class, we are already thinking about the skills and connections they
will need to get a job within their field,”
says Turner. “Going beyond the bench,
we work with students to shape their
business and marketing skills, price their
products and services, connect them to
our diverse international alumni net-
Now in a 64,000-square-foot facility on North Street, but still in Boston’s historic North End neighborhood, North Bennet Street School’s
classrooms feature lots of natural light and extreme attention to detail.