Hudson Valley P-TECH: Getting college started in ninth grade to meet the demands of business

BY JANIE ROSMAN

There’s a segment of ninth grade students who are in college and who carry IDs: meet the P-TECH class of 2020.

The New York State Pathways in Technology Early College High School program — a partnership of Rockland BOCES, Putnam Northern Westchester BOCES, Southern Westchester BOCES, State University of New York Institute of Technology at Utica/Rome (SUNYIT), SUNY Rockland Community College and Westchester Community College — is project-based for problem-solving and prepares students for skilled jobs the business community needs.

“What makes it unique is it’s not about K-12 telling businesses what’s important, it’s about businesses telling us what they need,” Rockland BOCES Assistant Superintendent for Instructional Services Dr. Charlene Jordan said.

Students are dually enrolled in both the high school and college, and maintain ties to their school district, earning a Regents diploma, an associate’s degree and work experience. Having the same classmates for six years gives some a sense of security and eliminates the “who will be in my class” feeling some students feel each September.

One motivating factor is that business partners are very engaged with the students.

“I don’t want kids to think they have to know what they want to be when they want to grow up,” P-TECH Principal Natasha Shea said.

More important is building a relationship. “I tell them to pick someone they can learn from as a professional since that person will mentor them for six years,” Shea said. “I also tell them to pay attention to who that person knows to learn about networking.”

P-TECH is mutually benefitting the students and work force by making sure students understand what it means to be a worker and a college student, and knowing they’ll have needed skills for employers when they graduate.

“They (business partners) come to school and meet with students, shake their hands, look them in the eye. Students’ confidence levels are there, and it’s hard to believe they’re in the ninth grade,” Rockland Community College STEM & Health Professions Division Chair Kristopher M. Baker, Ph.D., explained.

One business partner, OnForce Solar — which constructed the state’s first solar force field on the decommissioned capped landfill in Clarkstown — invited students to attend the site’s ribbon-cutting ceremony.  “Neil Weiss (of OnForce) spoke with students about science and math related to the project,” Shea said. “Students have really grown and learned from the experience of networking.”

Their college status is also a confidence-booster. Students had September orientation at RCC, they carry college IDs and have RCC email addresses, and “for a ninth grader out of middle school, this is phenomenal,” Baker said.

A state grant of $2.6 million enabled the program to open this past September at Orangetown Middle School, one of 16 sites statewide, in collaboration with North Rockland High School, Rockland BOCES, and RCC. The original plan was to open the P-TECH program in Rockland and in Westchester County so students who live in each county can remain there. “Oangetown gave us a wing (in its school), so we have more space than we need right now,” Shea said.

More than 40 school districts participate, and any school in those districts can send students to the P-TECH program. Students enrolled are from East Ramapo, North Rockland, Nyack, Ramapo Central, South Orangetown and Chappaqua school districts.

Tuition for the full-day, six-year program is an estimated $48,000 after state reimbursement. Districts fund the program based on the number of students from each districts and reimbursed a percentage from state aid. P-TECH tracks them and flags them differently. Since college courses begin in 10th grade, students can change programs after their sophomore year because they’re only taking two intro college courses that are the same in all three degree pathways.

P-TECH is considering enrolling students who will be in 10th grade next year.

“They have to be STEM (science, technology, engineering, math), at-risk, have good attendance, and are not meeting their potential because they need more hands-on experience, Jordan said. “The application process involves the district and parents, and ultimately, the district has to agree to send the students to P-TECH.”

A Westchester location for P-TECH will open in September on the campus of Southern Westchester BOCES, adjacent to Westchester Community College in Valhalla.

For information, call 845-680-1036 or email nshea@rboces.org