IBM P-TECH: Redefining Possibilities for a New Generation

By Rashid Ferrod Davis 

In 2011, IBM, along with the New York City Department of Education and The City University of New York, created Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH), an innovative grades 9 to 14 public school model that provides students with a clear pathway from high school to college and career.  In six years or less, students, who are not screened for admission, graduate with a high school diploma and a no-cost, two-year associate degree connected to a growth industry.  Each P-TECH school works with a corporate partner, a local community college and school district to ensure an academically rigorous and economically relevant curriculum. Hallmarks of the program include one-on-one mentoring, workplace learning, structured workplace visits, paid summer internships and first-in-line consideration for job openings with the school’s partnering company.

 P-TECH graduates are fully prepared to begin successful careers in the 21st century workplace, continue their education at the four-year College and University level and beyond, or both. By Fall 2016, the replicable and sustainable P-TECH model will encompass a network of 60 schools serving thousands of students across six states in the U.S. and Australia. Together, these schools are spearheading an effort to reform and revitalize high school as we know it.

The following is an article by Founding Principal Rashid Ferrod Davis.

Image 1
Clockwise, from Left: Alyssa Sandy, Amanda Crawford, ShuDon Brown, Elisabel Herrera. Credit: Ari Fishkind for IBM

Last June, we were proud to welcome our first six early P-TECH graduates to the ranks of educated men and women prepared for success in both the workplace and in higher education. Today, we are proud to announce that 32 more have joined their ranks – bringing to 38 the number of P-TECH scholars who will have earned their high school diplomas and associate degrees one to two years ahead of schedule. But young people graduate every spring, so what makes the P-TECH program and its graduates so unique? Why did President Obama choose to speak at our school? And why are six U.S. states, Australia and 250 corporate partners replicating the P-TECH model?

Among the answers is that P-TECH is redefining possibilities for underserved youths, and creating a new generation of young leaders. Young people from P-TECH are exploding tired notions of what those from their communities can achieve. Shown a clear pathway to success, and mentored by caring professionals, P-TECH students are not merely exceeding expectations, they are re-writing them as they re-shape the narratives of their lives.

P-TECH is redefining possibilities for underserved youths, and creating a new generation of young leaders.

Much has been written about why America needs P-TECH, and those challenges persist:

  • Only 37 percent of U.S. high school seniors are ready for college-level work in reading and math.
  • Only 20 percent of community college students complete their “two-year” program by their third year.
  • Only 6 percent of college graduates from low-income, non-white families earn degrees in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) fields.
  • Meanwhile, only 10 percent of 24-year olds from low-income families hold college degrees at all.

This is a national tragedy in light of rapidly expanding opportunities for those with the right post-secondary degrees and training. But we refuse to accept the unfortunate past as the future definition for our young people. P-TECH’s extraordinary graduates are demonstrating that motivation and opportunity can transform “potential” into success.

Below are brief profiles of our most recent graduating class:

Credit: Ari Fishkind for IBM
ShuDon Brown (Credit:  Ari Fishkind for IBM)

ShuDon Brown, 16, graduated college with honors, and will pursue a four-year degree in business administration at William Peace University. ShuDon’s paid summer internship at IBM Research sparked her passion for coding – a skill she plans to use to build a website for the daycare center her mother plans to launch.

Credit: Ari Fishkind for IBM
Amanda Crawford (Credit: Ari Fishkind for IBM)

Amanda Crawford, 17, will pursue a four-year degree at The University of Alabama on a full athletic scholarship. A champion track & field runner with Olympic aspirations, Amanda began competing for the first time while at P-TECH.

Credit: Ari Fishkind for IBM
David Calliste (Credit: Ari Fishkind for IBM

David Calliste, 18, is both a track & field athlete and a member of P-TECH’s robotics team. David developed his computer programming expertise as a member of the school’s student-led tech support group, and plans to continue in that field.

Joel Duran (Credit: Ari Fishkind for IBM)

Joel Duran, 18, learned English after immigrating from the Dominican Republic. He plans to major in computer science at the State University of New York at Albany (SUNY Albany). Joel also served as a captain of P-TECH’s baseball team.

Credit: Ari Fishkind for IBM
Elisabel Herrera (Credit: Ari Fishkind for IBM)

Elisabel Herrera, 19, learned web development during her paid internship with IBM Research. She plans to pursue a four-year degree after gaining work experience in sales & marketing, and eventually would like a technical career in the medical field.

Credit: Ari Fishkind for IBM
Geoffrey Richard (Credit: Ari Fishkind for IBM)

Geoffrey Richard, 17, will pursue a four-year degree in computer science at The City University of New York (CUNY), and plans to become a network engineer. Geoffrey credits his paid IBM internship and his “hackathon” experience developing a video game with stoking his interest in technology.

Credit: Ari Fishkind for IBM
Alyssa Sandy (Credit: Ari Fishkind for IBM)

Alyssa Sandy, 17, is headed to East Carolina University on a full athletic scholarship. P-TECH’s second Olympic aspirant is a champion hurdler who credits P-TECH’s blend of rigorous academics and activities with helping her develop her time management and critical thinking skills.

Credit: Ari Fishkind for IBM
Mia Shibly (Credit: Ari Fishkind for IBM)

Mia Shibly, 18, plans to major in fashion business management at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Working with his IBM mentor, Mia developed his User Experience (UX) design skills through a part-time job with a startup where he helped design an app. His eventual goal is to run his own business.

P-TECH’s extraordinary graduates are demonstrating that motivation and opportunity can transform “potential” into success

So, why did the U.S. President visit? And why are urban, suburban and rural communities in vastly differing state locales and economies embracing the P-TECH model? The answer is found in industries such as IT, advanced manufacturing and health care, where the demand for skilled workers outpaces supply. The answer lies in the fact that a standard high school diploma just isn’t enough to prepare graduates for college and career. Finally, the answer is our students and graduates and others like them, want nothing more than a chance to succeed.

Rashid Ferrod Davis is the Founding Principal of the Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) in Brooklyn, New York.

This article was first published by CitizenIBM

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