Your Alma Mater could have been called Prigmore’s Swamp High School. Or Inian’s Ferry High School. How about The Landing High School? Or Hub City High School? Fortunately, the town fathers way back when decided not to call our rowdy colonial town any of those names for too long a time. They stuck with New Brunswick, out of respect for the House of Brunswick from which the ruler of Great Britain at the time was descended. We did not come by the name New Brunswick High School right from the start. The story is more complicated and more interesting than that. So is its proud history—your history. The following paragraphs may help you to explore the birth, development, struggles, and triumphs of a dear old High School whose first motto was “No Better High School.” That High School—the home of the Zebras; the home of the Blue and the White—is still yours. And will always be.
On October 23, 1812, the City of New Brunswick purchased a lot on Schureman Street, an old Rutgers College building, to be used as a school. This is the first documented account of a movement towards a free public school in New Brunswick. This school opened in 1814 with 143 pupils. Certain sources argue that the idea for a truly free public school came to fruition when, in 1850, a local druggist, Charles P. Deshler brought the idea for a public school system back from New York City. The next year the “old jail lot” was purchased, along with two other lots for $2,350.00 in order to start work on the Bayard Street School. Progress was swift and for good reason. The school census in 1851 showed a total of 1,754 children in the city with ages ranging from five to eighteen eligible to attend school. However, only 757 were receiving instruction. Thus, architect John Hall was paid $100 to design a three-and-one-half-story brick structure. It opened in 1855.
The first mention of a High School in New Brunswick appeared in the Board of Education’s annual report of 1866-67. In the large three-story brick building on Bayard Street, the second and third floors were to be used by the “High School Department.” This High School consisted of three grades. The first year’s course of study (C) included Etymology, Reading, Spelling, Grammar, Arithmetic, Penmanship, and U.S. History. The second-year (B) offered Algebra Trigonometry, Physiology, Bookkeeping, Rhetoric, Geometry, and Constitution of the United States. The final year (A) consisted of Chemistry, Natural Philosophy, Astronomy, Botany, American Literature, Latin and Universal History. Compositions and declamations were required of all students once every three weeks. The A and B levels had a drawing lesson each week.
In 1868, plans were made for a four-year High School with course offerings to prepare students for college or business pursuits. This plan was adopted in 1869. The school day back then ran in two sessions from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., and from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Physical Education was conducted during a daily 15-minute recess. Corporal punishment was forbidden by an act passed by the State legislature at this time; however, the New Brunswick Board of Education complied with it for only a month. Because of an increase in insubordination and mischief, the Board restored corporal punishment due to a loop-hole in the law. Tardiness was another problem at the early High School. To help rectify this situation, a fence was built with gates that were locked at appropriate times to keep late students out. The average cost for educating a student in the 1860s was just under $14 a year. By the end of the decade, the High School enrollment had surpassed 86 students. On July 1, 1869, the first High School graduation was held. Six girls and one boy were honored. Katie McCoy was declared the Valedictorian with a 98 average.
Students and teachers had much to complain about at the Bayard Street School—especially in the winter. Although the first High School was heated by four hot-air furnaces, these were not adequate for the coldest months of the year. In the winter of 1872, the classrooms on the second and third floors were so cold that stoves had to be placed in each room. Also, the school was getting overcrowded. There was a call for a new High School to be built.
A site for a new school was selected along Livingston Avenue. The homeowners in the neighborhood opposed construction there because they wanted the area to remain strictly residential. By 1875, the Livingston Avenue High School was built on the controversial site where the Roosevelt School now stands. This structure served as the High School until 1915. An unusual feature of this building was its fire escape—a circular tube that students enjoyed sliding down. In 1876, the Evening School was started at the new High School. In 1877, the High School Library was started and bolstered later by the George W. Deshler Memorial Collection of 178 volumes. In 1882, the Hale Street School for African American students was closed and all its students were admitted to the schools in the city. In 1883, recess was dropped in favor of “setting-up” exercises. The same year a professionally printed literary/news periodical, The Advocate, was started by three High School students who all later became ministers. This student publication lays claim to being the first of its kind in the nation! Its roots go back even further than 1883. In 1856 there was a periodical of sorts entitled “The Public School Journal.” There was a four-page newspaper at the Bayard Street School in 1858. At the Livingston Avenue High School, The “L.A. Echo” was created. In 1880, the name of the periodical was “The Eagle.” In 1881 and 1882, the name reverted to the “Echo.” Along with the establishment of the literary/news periodical, The Advocate (which was renamed The Spectrum in 1982), an Alumni Association was also established. In 1887, the first African American student, Edward L. Voorhees, graduated from the Livingston Avenue High School.
Manual training courses were introduced in 1909. These included at High School level Home-Making, Cooking, Dressmaking, Millinery, Drafting, Drawing, Woodworking, and Metal Work. In 1911, a Parent-Teacher Association was formed. The following year the Student Council, oldest of its kind in the State of New Jersey, was formed. Its primary function back then was to see that the honor system was observed during examinations. Also, around this time, a mid-year graduation plan was adopted and the first such class to graduate was in 1922. This plan lasted until 1940. The first school ring design was authorized in 1913.
In 1914, a push for a new High School began and another controversial site was selected. The opposition this time came from many who thought the site was “too far out in the country.” The new High School building was occupied in the last semester of the 1915-16 school year. It possessed 30 classrooms and an auditorium that could seat 800. The cost of construction was $305,312.93. No business in town was willing to provide lunches to New Brunswick High School; therefore, the P.T.A. assumed the responsibility for two decades. When the new High School first opened it housed 512 students and 17 faculty members. In 1916, the first Summer School was offered. The following year the Girls Athletic Association was founded, five years after the Boys Athletic Association became official.
In the good old days of High School sports competition, the official motto was “No Better High School.” More often than not the High School teams lived up to the school’s motto. Three decades (1910’s, 1920’s, and 1930’s) stand out as watershed years. Of course, rivalries stretched back to the late 1800s and into the earliest years of the 1900s. None was more intense in those formative years than the rivalry with Rutgers Preparatory School. Out of this sports competition in baseball, football, and later, basketball came the age-old mystery of what came first—the Zebra or the stripes? The time is right to finally solve the mystery.
NBHS athletes have worn blue and white stripes on their uniforms in one fashion or another since at least the early 1880s. Back then, and for many years thereafter, the Hub City High School’s documented use of blue and white was in the ADVOCATE. The blue stands for “truth” as in “true blue”, and the white stands for “purity” as in “pure white.” The ADVOCATE, from the turn-of-the-century days, contains drawings of basketball and football players wearing stripes. When legendary coach, Chet Redshaw, was asked about the origins of blue and white stripes on team uniforms, he said the inspiration came from other teams at the college level that was using school colors in stripe fashion, especially on football jerseys.
Since color was not used in the early years of the ADVOCATE, all such pictures were in black and white. This may be a clue connecting the stripes on the uniforms to the stripes on a potential mascot. By the 1920s the zebra would have been the logical choice for a school mascot. In 1922, the ADVOCATE became more like a newspaper; however, the following year it came out in a literary periodical format. The name of the new High School newspaper in 1923, and for some years thereafter, was the ZEBRA. Back then a joke that became a classic one was going around: “What’s black and white and read all over?” Answer: “a newspaper.” And: “What’s black and white and red all over?” Answer: “an embarrassed zebra.” Hence, a logical name for a newspaper in the minds of the students. The newspaper’s name is the earliest official reference to a connection between NBHS and zebras.
Sometime during the 1920s, the NBHS sports teams were referred to as the “Zebras.” The first time is still in question. In 1920, the football team was still referred to as “the blue and white,” in articles in the ADVOCATE. The same reference was made over and over again in sports team articles throughout the 1920s. Also, the “Blue and White Club” was often mentioned. It is also interesting to note that during this decade there were several athletes whose surname started with the letter “Z.” Among them where Zoller, Zablinski, Zimmerman, Zack, Zabolinsky, and even “Zolky” Rossinsky. The abundance of the letter “Z” at this time in names may have had an impact on the mascot decision.
In April 1927, the issue of the ADVOCATE the first documented use of the mascot name occurred. In a basketball article about a tournament game won by NBHS over Battin HS, 33-23, this concluding reference was made: “Not bad for the first game (of the tournament) but a little improvement wouldn’t go so bad. How about it. Zebras? The mascot name was used twice more in ensuing articles about other games. The last one stated: “Nice work, Zebras. Keep it up!” After that, the rest of the articles on games reverted to “the blue and white” reference.
The Zebra mascot has been around for many decades and several generations. It has been displayed proudly on banners and such in our school and in our community. The blue and white zebra is part of the great sports tradition here in New Brunswick. There are seven high schools in the nation that have a zebra mascot. However, only one has a blue and white Zebra. Even in mascots, NBHS stands out as unique.
In the first month of the fall semester in 1926, a student writer for the sports department of the ADVOCATE predicted an unforgettable year for the “blue brigade” football team. He stated: “Our football team last year lost but one game and was without a doubt the best that ever represented the school. Our basketball team was one of the four schools left in the state tournament . . . losing but four games during the season. The baseball team also lost but four games and won for the school its first County Scholastic League title. The track team also made a good showing and finished second in the annual county meet. . .” Not until 2003-4 would such success in athletics be duplicated. The football team in 1926 went undefeated and won the State Championship. The prediction came true. Seventy-seven years later the feat was repeated.
Other sports highlights included a State Championship garnered by the Zebra ice hockey team in 1930. Six years later a fine Zebra football team played a highly touted Miami-Edison High School squad from Florida. At this NBHS Homecoming Game, the blue and white won 14-0 in front of 7,000 fans. They went international in December of that year, besting the Mexico City Institute Politecnica National team 34-0 before 6,000 spectators. The Zebras were undefeated in 1936 during the regular season but lost the State Championship. Andy Beno and Nick Krauszer were named to the State Football Team that year.
In the early 1930s, the school motto “Knowledge for Service” and the school seal were adopted. During the Great Depression enrollment reached 1,800 students; therefore, a staggered schedule was adopted. The school day included ten periods instead of the original seven. After the withdrawal of the Highland Park students, the High School converted to an eight period day. In 1934, Driving courses were started. In 1937, the school newspaper was renamed “Brunswick High-Lights,” so that the term “zebra” could be used to refer to athletic news.
The first addition to the New Brunswick High School occurred in 1941. There was such opposition in the community to adding a new gym, but the call from the students prevailed. In the late 1940s, a Distributive Education room was equipped through funding from the Sears-Roebuck Foundation. Also in the ’40s, a Driver’s Education training car was provided by a local Chevrolet agency. In 1945, one-story addition to the High School was completed. In 1950, a Public address system was installed at a cost of $3,200 paid for through profits from High School variety shows and other dramatic productions.
The 1950’s at NBHS proved to be a decade of growth, both in school enrollment and various programs—especially extra-curricular activities. Distributive Education, the Junior Red Cross, Allied Youth, Acapella Choir, seasonal and theme dances, Junior Retailers, Faculty Frolic variety shows, Youth in Government, music concerts, Student Council, Teen Timers Canteen, the club program, Teen Bandstand appearances, Field Day, Class Carnivals, the School Band, Forensic League, night baseball, and so much more added to the vitality of the school community.
In 1961, P.A.D. students recommended that a new High School be built to address overcrowded conditions in all the city’s schools. The High School had been built for 1,200 students and in 1961 there were 1,600 attending on a three-shift day. In June of the same year, the Board of School Estimate appropriated $3 million for construction of a new High School consisting of 67 classrooms for grades 10-12. In 1963, the construction of the present High School started. The following year, the School at 1125 Livingston Avenue received its first students. The Class of ’65 was the first to graduate from here.
The late 1960s was the start of an era of student activism especially for minority groups in the school population. This led to workshops on issues, suggestions for changes in policies and programs, new course offerings, and plans for North Brunswick and Milltown students to attend school elsewhere. In 1970, split sessions returned to New Brunswick. Juniors and Seniors attended the morning session and Sophomores attended the afternoon session. One step towards alleviating the overcrowding was the opening of the Gibbons School on the Douglass College campus. This experimental alternative education program, open to New Brunswick High School students only started at the beginning of 1973 and continued for most of the ’70s. Also, in 1973, all Health and Physical Education classes became co-ed. The 1970s proved to be a transition period from the decades of old High School traditions to the times of new attitudes and outlooks. The school climate stabilized by the Middle of the decade. And Student Council made a comeback at the end of the ’70s.
The 1980s heralded a new beginning with an emphasis on academic achievement. The expression “School of Excellence” was used. Many revisions were made in course curricula and course offerings. New programs to help achieve greater academic success were started. A shining example of such programs was the Peer Group Leadership Project that trained Seniors to help incoming Freshmen make the transition to High School. Close-up, RIME and Rutgers Upward Bound also became successful programs of excellence. This new thrust can be traced to New Brunswick’s Task Force on Education that was created in 1981. The leadership of the Hub City’s public, non-public, and vocational schools seeking to improve the quality of education by addressing workable solutions to common problems. In 1988, the School-Based Youth Services Program began. It proved to be a Task Force success by offering programs such as special counseling, socialization activities, and recreational facilities to ensure that certain students graduated from the High School.
The 1990s started as the “Dare to Dream” decade and it proved to be just that. Another successful program was added in 1994. JROTC was launched. This program continues to prepare students to become better citizens, via training, competition, and community involvement in order to develop discipline, pride, self-confidence and leadership potential. Lakeasha Malvo became the first student on the Board of Education. By the end of the decade, Block Scheduling was instituted and students could complete a course in a semester. A Distance Learning Lab was established that offered link-ups via telecommunications with other schools and organizations. Select students who participated in the Project First Robotics competition and garnered Rookie Team of the Year honors. Advanced Placement courses in Physics and Biology were offered in 1999. The Health & Science High School also opened.
On the eve of the new millennium, an emphasis at the High School was placed on computer technology. Each classroom has been provided with such equipment. The School Management Team was able to invite the Coalition of Essential Schools team into our school at this time in order to carry out the tenets of Whole School Reform. In 2001, additional Advanced Placement courses in Mathematics and Social Studies were added to the course selections for students. Several students excelled in demonstrations of skills and talents in such venues as the Central Jersey Crafts Fair, the Play It Smart Program, and JROTC. Also, the School Base Program opened a Teen Health Center for High School students.
In 2002, the Zebra football team came within a field goal of winning the State Championship, and the soccer team went undefeated in their division during the regular season. Many successful activities occurred during the celebrations of Hispanic Culture Month and African American History Month. The highlight of the year was the Theatre Arts Program presentation of “Once On This Island.” The singing, dancing, and acting on the auditorium stage were superb. A once fine annual tradition had returned to the High School after being absent for several years. In concert with the stage production was the rebirth of music classes and the successful production of student work on CD’s, both from the classes and the spring production.
In 2003, the Theatre Arts Program repeated last year’s triumph on stage with their production of “West Side Story.” Also, the Archival Research Department discovered the other six Zebra high schools in the United States and started corresponding with them and swapping mementos. Plans for the construction of a new High School were unveiled. The projected completion date at the Route 27 site was September 2007. The school population was once again increasing dramatically and a larger facility was needed. The plans include renovating the present High School and using it as a Middle School. Finally, the Zebra football team fulfilled its promise, took care of business in a manner that would have made Chet Redshaw proud by going undefeated during the regular season, and winning the State Championship!
A new era in the history of New Brunswick High School began in January 2010 when the current high school building opened. The 400,000-square-foot facility, constructed at a cost of $185 million, is located on Route 27. The previous high school building is now the home of New Brunswick Middle School.
WHAT WILL YOU DO TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE NEXT CHAPTER IN THE HISTORY OF NEW BRUNSWICK HIGH SCHOOL?