By Christine Graf
New York State P-TECH (Pathways in Technology Early College High School) programs have been designed to address critical skilled labor shortages that are impacting manufacturing and technology companies throughout the state.
Washington-Saratoga-Warren-Hamilton-Essex Board of Cooperative (WSWHE BOCES) was the first to offer the program locally. It is called Southern Adirondack P-TECH.
“We were one of the first 16 cohorts (partnerships) in New York state to receive a seven-year grant to create the program. We received the grant in 2013, and that was a planning year for us. Our first cohort of students started in 2014 and are graduating this year,” said Kim Wegner, lead coordinator for Innovative Programs at WSHWHE BOCES.
“There wasn’t a lot of guidance. It was a thought and idea based off a program that launched in 2009 at a school in Brooklyn. (The state) decided they wanted to expand program across state. There were some guidelines, but we built the program as we moved through it. Where we are today is not where we were six or seven years ago.”
Each of the New York State P-TECH partnerships features a three-way alliance that includes local school districts, local businesses, and one or more SUNY or CUNY educational institution. Southern Adirondack P-TECH partners with SUNY Adirondack and local businesses and school districts. The program is currently offered to students at Saratoga Springs, Queensbury, Hudson Falls, South Glens Falls, Corinth, and Hadley-Luzerne school districts.
P-TECH is a six-year program that offers an integrated high school and college curriculum with a heavy emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Students who complete the program receive a Regent’s diploma, an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree, and industry-specific credentials. The program is offered at no cost to students.
“There is no cost for anything right now,” said Wegner. “Their textbooks are paid for, a laptop is issued to them in junior year, and their college tuition paid as long as they stay within degree program.”
There are two degree programs—called pathways—for students to choose from. The advanced manufacturing pathway leads to an AAS in either electrical technology or mechatronics. The information technology/computer networking pathway results in an AAS in either networking or cybersecurity. Students choose their pathway when they are juniors in high school. It is not until they are seniors that they choose from the two degrees options within their selected pathway.
The P-TECH application process begins when students are in 8th grade. Those who are accepted into the program officially begin the program in 9th grade but are required to attend a one-week one summer STEM camp after completing 8th grade. During 9th and 10th grade, P-TECH students remain at their home schools but are required to complete 25 hours of bridge activities.
“These are basically extended learning opportunities that mostly take place after school or on Saturday,” said Wegner. “They all project based off of two pathways. The bridge activities were designed to prepare students for college classes they will take in years three and four of the program. The curriculum was developed for them to learn skills they would need before they started taking college courses.”
During their junior and senior years of high school, P-TECH students spend half of the school day at SUNY Adirondack’s Saratoga or Queensbury campus. While on campus, they take college classes taught by SUNY Adirondack professor. They also receive lab instruction from BOCES instructors.
“We built labs on campuses for the career and technical education part of the program,” said Wegner. “The IT lab has routers and switches and cables. The advanced manufacturing lab has 3D printers, lathes, thermoforming machines. They get to practice on all of the technology in the lab so that if they go out on a job shadow or an internship, they have seen all of that before.”
Students also have opportunities to complete internships with some of the many local companies that are part of the Southern Adirondack P-TECH partnership. For example, Wegner mentioned a student who did an internship at Praxis Technologies, a metal injecting molding company located in Queensbury. The student is now working at Praxis part-time and has been offered a job upon graduation.
“Our industry partners also give students challenges to work on. They give them a problem to solve. Those types of industry challenges have been invaluable,” said Wegner.
This year’s 8th grade P-TECH recruitment was in full swing when the COVID-19 pandemic brought things to a halt. As part of their extensive marketing campaign, program representatives conduct information sessions at local schools as well as at SUNY Adirondack. Because those efforts have been temporarily suspended, this year’s application deadline has been extended to May 30.
“It’s up to districts to decide how they recruit and who they offer the spots to. We provide guidelines of who the target students are for this program. If you look at the P-TECH model that it is put out by the state, they are looking for socioeconomic disadvantage, first familial college, minorities, academic difficulties—things like that,” said Wegner.
“We are targeting that forgotten middle—that kid with the 80 average. That kid that if they were engaged—if they found a passion for one of these technologies field–that it would ignite a fire in them and that they would want to be in school and do better. We’ve seen it happen multiple times.”
Although the program is in the last year of its seven-year, $2.3 million grant cycle, Wegner said they have been promised funding for the 2020-2021 school year.
“We got informed by the governor—pre COVID—that all Cohort 1 schools were going to receive the same amount of funding for 2020-2021 as they did in 2019-2020. We are expecting to get funding again next year,” she said.
When asked about the success of the program, Wegner said, “We had two students from Hudson Falls who really transformed their lives. Had it not been for this program, they might not have gone to college. They are graduating with their associate’s degrees and they are employed. Any time you have that, it’s a success. We are getting better every year at making sure that we are getting the right students in the program and better at the development of the program.”
For more information, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.sadkptech.org.