By Melanie Lekocevic
Capital Region Independent Media
RAVENA-COEYMANS-SELKIRK — The RCS Class of 1973 returned to its old stomping grounds Saturday for its 50th reunion.
The reunion weekend was filled with activities that enabled alumni to celebrate their memories and make some new ones. There were plenty of hugs to go around as old friends reunited, for some of them for the first time in decades.
One of the highlights of the weekend was a visit to RCS High School, which the former students said has changed greatly since their high school years.
Food Services Director Doug Porter hosted a tour for about 20 alumni from the Class of 1973, taking them through the entire high school and pointing out the district’s new features and changes.
Members of the Class of 1973 were surprised at all the changes that have been made since they walked the halls of RCS.
“The whole district has just grown so much,” said alumnus Tom Domery as he gazed at the renovated high school auditorium.
The swimming pool was built in the mid-1990s, a former gym was turned partially into a band room and a new gymnasium was built in its place, and facilities like a social-emotional room where struggling students are assigned to receive special attention didn’t even exist 50 years ago.
The former school library was transformed a couple of years ago, through a grant, into a Career Café, Porter said.
“Nobody was using the books so they decided to make this a Career Café, where gentlemen and ladies who run businesses —farmers, electricians, engineers, any kind of business — can come in and visit with our students and talk about that specific career and get them enthused about going down a path,” Porter said.
Next door, there is a distance learning classroom equipped with a giant screen where students can take classes that may not be offered at RCS, but are offered elsewhere in the country.
“In here, students can learn from a teacher in Minnesota, for instance,” Porter said. “If there’s a teacher in Minnesota that has a great class, the students can learn from outside this school district. The teacher appears on the screen and can teach 1,000 kids from around the country.”
The changes in the district are far from skin deep.
Diana Albright, now Diana Burns, remembers when female students were not allowed to take shop class. Now, 130 students — including girls — are able to take vocational and technical classes to prepare them for post-high school careers. And shop class is open to all comers.
Girls’ sports? They weren’t even a thing before Title IX was passed in 1972.
Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in education programs and requires that all students, male or female, be given the same benefits and opportunities.
Burns said Title IX opened doors for RCS High School’s female students, but change took time.
“As girls, we could only use the gym at night because Title IX just came in,” Burns said. “We were the first girls’ volleyball team and we had to come back to the school at night because the boys could use the gym any time they wanted. We had to have our parents drive us back at 8 or 8:30 at night and thank God for our gym teachers — they would come back and we would practice.”
In the early 1970s, girls could take home economics and boys couldn’t; by the same token, boys took shop and girls were prohibited from that class. Nowadays, all students can register for all classes.
Those early prohibitions, however, put limits on what some students — particularly girls — could pursue.
“My aptitude was in math and engineering, but I was told I couldn’t do that,” Burns said. “I don’t think people realize how in 50 years, how much has changed. Title IX came about and it just opened up people’s eyes.”
And today, Burns’ daughter is, you guessed it, an aerospace engineer.
Alumna Melanie Collins strolled the high school’s hallways and was surprised at how much things have changed.
“I’m surprised at the magnitude of education that can happen in this building now,” Collins said. “They expanded the learning — it’s just amazing to me that there are so many opportunities for the students that we didn’t have, but we didn’t know that we didn’t have them, so it’s all good. The technology was not there, the communications were not there, and the opportunities were different in that era. It’s nice to know that the opportunities have expanded and minds have expanded.”