P-TECH: Early College for High Schoolers

For some kids, the end of summer means a last chance to sleep in, kick back and relax. But the Skyline High School students in the P-TECH program are busy learning what it’s like to go to college and get a job.

A Workplace Learning Model

P-TECH stands for Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools. It’s a workplace learning model designed to help high school students graduate with the professional skills required for college and careers. This educational model is based on collaboration between high schools, businesses and community colleges.

A Collaborative Partnership

The P-TECH program at Skyline is a partnership between St. Vrain Valley schools, IBM and FRCC. The program is in its third year—so the first cohort is starting 11th grade this fall. There are now 154 students in the program.

Skyline High School in Longmont

P-TECH students start in 9th grade, and take classes at Skyline—although some courses will likely be offered at FRCC in the future.  Students choose from three subjects:

  • Web development
  • Computer information systems
  • Programming

The high schoolers also receive additional support services like mentoring, job shadowing, internships, pre-apprenticeships, and other workplace experiences.

Free College

Students who successfully complete the program can graduate from high school with an associate of applied science degree—in addition to their diploma. (Depending on their course load, they can have an additional two years to complete the associate degree.)

“I’m doing the P-Tech program because once you graduate from high school you’d have two years of college already, and it would really help with getting jobs,” says Joselin Nuñez, an incoming freshman from Longmont.

New Possibilities

“The P-TECH model aims at creating opportunities for students who perhaps didn’t think college was in their future,” according to Marty Goldberg, Director of High School programs at FRCC’s Boulder County Campus. “This prepares them for middle-skills jobs in a high-paying field, and puts them on a new life trajectory they maybe only dreamed about.”

Getting In

Any student can apply—but preference is given to students who would be the first in their family to attend college. “I’d be the first one to graduate from college out of my entire family, so that is big,” says Fabiola Olivas, a ninth grader.

Teachers gauge the students’ motivation based on their application and teacher recommendations, rather than academic requirements. “We take the most motivated kids because they are the ones who make the program happen,” says Louise March, P-TECH Counselor at Skyline.

Summer Classes

About 70% of P-TECH kids participate in the program’s summer courses. Incoming freshmen do a “summer startup” orientation to get familiar with the high school, as well as FRCC and IBM. P-TECH has 58 ninth graders entering the program this year.

For the new students, the first two weeks focus on making sure they are ready to start high school. “We work on time management, organization and study skills, and self motivation,” says Traci Zakavec, a Skyline teacher. The kids also begin learning about career opportunities.

“In addition, they learn about Front Range, and what the degree options are,” adds Louise. “They also research IBM—what do they do there? What kind of jobs can I get?”

“It’s a great team effort,” says Eric Berngen, IBM’s P-TECH program manager. “Our freshman gain exposure to several different career pathways.”

Visiting IBM and FRCC

During the third week, the ninth graders finalize career research projects, and then visit the college’s Boulder County Campus and IBM’s Boulder campus. On a warm Thursday in August, groups of rising ninth graders traipsed around FRCC doing a scavenger hunt to get familiar with their surroundings.

“I’m nervous because there are a lot of new things I have to do—and since I’m also doing college classes, it’s going to be a little harder,” says Joselin. “But I’m excited.”

“I’m very excited because this is very new,” adds Fabiola. “A lot of people tell you [P-TECH is] a great opportunity, so you want to actually get started and experience it.”

Sophomore Year and Beyond

Tenth and 11th graders in the program can also do summer courses. This year, students chose between three computer-related classes. Sophomores got the additional option of teaching young kids about computers at the St. Vrain Innovation Academy.

IBM Bootcamp

Juniors were given the alternative to attend a Tech Skills Bootcamp at IBM’s training center in Boulder. “We collaborated to create a course on basic systems skills—networking, programming/coding, storage… all the way through to customer service,” says Eric from IBM.

“They’re not in a typical classroom—they’re in with the servers,” adds Ray Johnson, IBM Corporate Citizenship Manager. “This is work-based learning at its best.”

More Than Computers

Program coordinators point out that the students really grow as people too. “The juniors are role models for the freshmen,” says Louise from Skyline. “When the students finish, they know how to be around professional adults in a working environment,” adds her colleague Traci.

The Future of Education

In today’s economy, many industries—especially in the tech sector—require specialized skills. These new types of jobs don’t necessarily require a four-year degree, but they do require very particular training.

Eric Berngen from IBM believes that this is the direction education needs to go. “Business and education need to collaborate and build skills as partners.”

Learning how computers work is new territory for some of the P-TECH freshmen, but Joselin she sees it as an important skill to add. “I want to learn more about them because they’re everywhere.” Other ninth graders—like Fabiola—are already pretty familiar with computers and coding. “When I heard [the program] was technology based, I knew I wanted to get into it.”

FRCC’s Marty Goldberg adds that today’s education needs to include a new blend of intellectual knowledge, applied and soft skills, as well as real-world experiences. “That’s what will prepare [students] to succeed in the workforce of tomorrow.”

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