115 years of Danbury Education: Reflecting on the history and evolution of Danbury High School

Discussing the changes and continuities of the students and staff of DHS.


Lila Schlissel

16 of the Danbury High School graduating classes pictured in the front lobby.

Lila Schlissel, Contributing Writer

Since its founding in 1906, Danbury High School has moved its location from White Street to Clapboard Ridge, nearly quadrupled in size, and grown a new building every few years. Over one hundred years after its founding, alumni and staff members reflect on the major changes that have occurred, and the persistence of student determination throughout all of those changes.

For one, the population of the City of Danbury continues to increase, year after year, and the population of the high school is no different. Over the last ten years, hallways have grown more packed and classrooms a bit more cramped, despite the addition of the new G building. 

One thing that hasn’t changed is the diversity of the student body: the size of DHS accommodates students from different ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic backgrounds, representative of the real world. 

2001 alumnus and Spanish teacher Dilenia Gonzalez says “It’s [a] great representation of what the world is like… it’s very accurate because of our diversity in every aspect- socioeconomic, ethnically, racially, even religiously, I feel like, when you go into the real world, there’s no culture shock…That’s one of the reasons why I stayed in Danbury.”

However, there’s also a unique spirit of the student body that hasn’t changed, and that unifies the population.

“Students banded together to better their education… we thought we were really being wronged as a student population and did a good job of having conversations with administration,” says 2012 alumnus and history teacher Kevin Williams, describing his experience within the DHS student body.

Not only does this diversity and spirit enable the experience of different perspectives, it is also what makes DHS a place of many opportunities: because of the range of students, there is a wide range of interests.

“It’s simply due to opportunity and diversity; you can sink or swim here pretty much all on your own, and that is a great [and] valuable learning experience…I think that’s beautiful,” says Williams.

It is possible to find a place for everyone at DHS, from Geography Club, to Robotics, to the ski team. 

“The many electives we offered was a natural match for the diversity of the student body. We were recognized by other districts for our plentiful options,” says Deb Stence, an educator at DHS from 1991-2021.

However, in more recent years, teachers have noticed a bit of a change from their time as students here in the form of technology.

Gonzalez says, “It’s a generational divide…and technology plays a big role. Students are just more easily distracted.”

This has changed the energy of the student body: it makes learning harder, with students reliant on the internet and “instant gratification” in order to produce results rather than figuring things out and learning important problem solving skills.

“Learners are among the crowd but many have lost the curiosity that once was a value of the majority,” says Stence.

The motivations of the student body faltered for a period of time:

“People were generally more apathetic towards everything…whether that was attendance at sports games or spirit week participation, or just, in general caring about the school community, I thought [it] was going downhill,” says Williams, describing his experience in his first years of teaching at DHS.

But participation in school spirit has also been looking up- especially coming out of the pandemic, students are craving more involvement in the school community, and their enthusiasm has shown.

“I don’t know if it’s because you didn’t have school for two years and those are really formative years of your life, but everybody seems to be really into spirit week…Especially engagement in the 2021 year,” says Williams.

This is just one way that the Danbury spirit has been rejuvenated, in addition to the boom of club involvement and after school activities, attendance at football games as the season draws to a close, and the participation in after-school events. This apathy shown by students in past years seems to have been reset: after having lost so much involvement in the school community over the past 18 months, students are craving those experiences, and it has shown in their enthusiasm to be involved.

Historically, the community at DHS has played a key role in the formation of world view and perspective: it enables unique perspectives and developments.

“Danbury High School made me a creative thinker that was able to listen and take other people’s opinions into consideration,” says Williams.

Especially after returning as staff members, further perspectives present themselves into the impacts of the high school; new experiences expand the lenses of returning alumni.

“I think as an educator, you forget what it’s like to be a kid… and over time, you feel what it’s like to be a kid again,” says Gonzalez, describing her experience as a returning alumnus.

However, growth that occurs at DHS doesn’t only happen in the student body, but also within faculty. Spending time among and involved with the students is revelational:

“As long as there are students eager to learn, I will have a place to belong,” comments Stence on what her 30-year experience teaching at the high school taught her.

However, the impact and opportunity of DHS is not simply reflected in the past: it also goes into the future. After reflecting on their experiences as students and educators, staff alum were asked what words of wisdom they would have for posterity:

“If you stay within the community, fight for the community,” says Gonzalez, advocating for the continued support of the Danbury Public School system.

DHS has been and continues to be a diverse and unified community, with a distinct spirit and an enormity of opportunities. Through 115 years of education, it continues to provide students with those opportunities and impact the lives of its students.

Williams summarizes it well when he said, “Carpe diem. Seize the day. You are given more… things to get into at this place [that] if you want to make it something, make it something.”