As I sat down to watch the State of the Union on Tuesday evening, carrying the usual skepticism that is owed to political oratory, I was hoping for new ideas that would guide the country towards progressive change in a second term. Although I work in a school, I listened for talk of education as well as climate change, gun control and foreign policy, among the myriad of topics covered in such a massive speech.
“Now at schools like P-Tech in Brooklyn, a collaboration between New York Public Schools and City University of New York and IBM, students will graduate with a high school diploma and an associate’s degree in computers or engineering. We need to give every American student opportunities like this.” (http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/02/12/us/politics/obama-state-of-the-union-2013.html?hp)
P-TECH, or Pathways in Technology Early College High School, is a new school in its second year of operation in Crown Heights, in the Paul Robeson High School building. The idea, as the President explained, grew out of a collaboration between IBM, the NYC Department of Education and the City University of New York. Students begin in 9th grade and have the opportunity not only to earn an associate in applied sciences degree, but also to gain meaningful work experience through internships and a sequence of work-based learning activities developed jointly between the partners, including the school’s staff. Having worked on the school’s design dating back to an internship at the DOE’s Office of Postsecondary Readiness, I later transitioned to a role as a community coordinator at the school. I now teach social studies and coach the campus’ soccer team…only 3 years after my own graduation from college. I left college in May 2010 with a BA, entering an uncertain and challenging job market. Through some luck, I met a DOE official who hired me, one thing led to another and I have been working on P-TECH ever since. I feel deeply caught up in the school’s development–it is my main, really only, professional achievement, and I could not be prouder.
The school is special because it is not based on the competition inherent in other parts of the President’s education agenda. We are an open enrollment school, with students who cover the whole range of NYC public school students. With our legacy class of students in their second semester of what would be 10th grade, over 60% of students are enrolled in college courses, including computer science, speech and engineering technology. A white man from Connecticut, I led the school’s recruitment efforts for the first two classes of students, meaning I met nearly all of our 227 students before they arrived at the school for their first day.