Want to close the skills gap? P-TECH's model could be the answer.
This story is the fourth in a six part editorial series exploring the balance between student learning and job skills. We’re asking leaders and thinkers in education and technology fields: Can America educate its way out of the skills gap? This series is brought to you by GOOD, with support from Apollo Group. Learn more about our efforts to bridge the skills gap at Coding for GOOD.
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Mentoring has always been a very important part of my life. From childhood, through college, and even now in my profession as I mentor aspiring education leaders, my mentoring experiences have been great opportunities to learn. I am the founding principal of New York City's Pathways in Technology Early College High School, a new "turnaround" institution for grades 9 through 14 focusing on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, with partners including the New York City Department of Education, the New York City College of Technology, The City University of New York's Early College Initiative, and IBM.
Located across the street from the New York City Housing Authority’s Albany Projects in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, P-TECH is currently in its second year and has 226 students. Our students are not hand-picked, and do not take any academic examinations to qualify for their seats. But they are expected to complete requirements both for high school and for an associate degree in applied science within six years. Upon graduation, they will be first in line for jobs at IBM.
The P-TECH model is an example of what can happen when educators and employers join forces to help ensure that students not only complete postsecondary training, but also learn the skills that make them ready for the workplace. At our school, outstanding attendance rates and the development of time management skills among our students have attracted praise from parents, peer institutions, industry, and officials from New York and other states that wish to replicate our model.
Student attendance is a key indicator for educational success, and is one of New York State’s most important metrics for turnaround schools such as P-TECH. The state standard for turnaround school attendance is 92 percent. P-TECH student attendance for the 2011–2012 school year was 94.2 percent, and we have impressed upon our students—and their parents—the importance of achieving as close to 100 percent attendance as possible. High student attendance is critical both for academic training and workplace skills development—a vital component of public-private partnerships between educators and employers.
But it takes more than knowing the statistics for communities to help their children excel. Our industry partner IBM provides mentors for all P-TECH students, faculty and staff. In turn, each faculty or staff member "adopts" a student to help plan and ensure his or her success. It is important for these caring adults to be in constant communication with parents or guardians about their children’s performance. For example, parents are contacted daily before noon to alert them of their child’s absence, and we have sent staff to student’s homes after two absences to let parents know that we are concerned about their child’s education.
Another New York State leading indicator for turning around a school is the number of minutes in the school year. Based on the minimum of 180 school days, students at most institutions typically spend 64,800 minutes in school. But P-TECH students spend 81,180 minutes in school. Additionally, we provide P-TECH students with a six-week summer education bridge. The additional daily minutes and six-week summer bridge program are crucial for extending learning opportunities for all students, plus professional development opportunities for faculty and staff.
During the bridge period last summer, IBM hosted professional development opportunities for our faculty and staff to help them learn more about the technology industry. Also during the summer bridge, some students completed advanced coursework—including college classes at City Tech. As they progress through the P-TECH program, students will have opportunities for internships both during the summers and throughout the school year.
The key to P-TECH’s success has been our focus on productivity and time management, in addition to academics, as integral to preparing our graduates for 21st century jobs. In September 2011, I was presented with a plaque from the P-TECH steering committee that includes the following quotation from Dr. Benjamin Mays, former president of my alma mater, Morehouse College. The quotation reads, "It is not your environment; it is you, the quality of your mind, the education of your soul, and the determination of your will that decide your future and shape your life." Though our school is still young, we already have learned that both students and their teachers can exceed expectations when provided with caring support and opportunities to grow.
Photo of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan working with Josian Estrella, tenth grader, in an algebra class at P-TECH courtesy of Jon Simon/Feature Photo Service for IBM