Top Teacher 2020: Brian Hassel

Photo by Tessa Marie Images

In 2020, these Top Teachers went above and beyond in a time of crisis. 

Brian Hassel is part of the technology education department for Downingtown High School West.

School traditions are important to Brian Hassel. It’s why he helped students stage their end-of-year art show in a virtual format. “The seniors in that department have taken three or four years of art, and that’s kind of their culmination,” says Hassel. “That’s their big event.”

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The art department isn’t his everyday focus, though. A trained carpenter, Hassel has been teaching students at Downingtown West for 15 years. Under his tutelage, they learn the ins and outs of newspaper layout, yearbook design and furniture craftsmanship.

Since joining Downingtown West, Hassel has made a concerted effort to attract more interest in technology education programs. The increased demand for such classes has led to a second workshop space and two additional course levels to pursue. Enrollment in the program is now at more than 250 students annually.

Related article: Top Teacher 2020: Susan Pennacchia

When the pandemic hit, Hassel tailored his online lessons by interest. “Where we lost that hands-on [side], we did gain a little bit of a different perspective from the discussion side,” he says. “As a way for me to become a better educator in the future, it was eye opening.” When schools closed, Hassel and his English department colleague were less than two weeks from their yearbook production deadline. They finished with four days to spare. “Luckily, we only had about 30 pages left,” he says.

With no spring sports or clubs, the yearbook’s size had to be cut. So Hassel proposed using the money they saved toward mailing the yearbook directly to students. “Yearbooks have a big life for about two weeks when you get them, and then they just sit around and collect dust,” Hassel says. “But 10, 15, 20 years from now, you’re going to pick it up. It’s a piece of history.”

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And after a tumultuous year, Hassel wanted to preserve that piece of history.

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