High school turns failing students into college grads

November 10, 2015, 7:16 PM 

 
BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- It may look like a traditional high school, but from the moment students like ShuDon Brown enter the P-TECH classrooms in Brooklyn, the expectations are different.

"I got my high school diploma and two-year associate's degrees by the time I was 16," said Brown. "I am just thankful for the program."

The high school, which opened in 2011, is part of a program called Pathways in Technology (P-TECH). Students can earn a high school diploma and associate's degrees in six years. But it's not easy. A third of the freshman arrive unprepared for basic high school math or English.

"It really becomes different when you have the student sitting in front of you reading at a third grade level, and you need them to read a ninth grade text," said Principal Rashid Davis.

"We are honest about where students are. We allow them to be honest but we know where they are is temporary."

It's an intense schedule. In year one, teachers focus on improving students' weakest areas. The school day is 8:30 a.m. - 4 p.m., two hours longer than most schools. There are before- and after-school study sessions, and six weeks of summer school classes.

By year four, the results show. Seventy-four percent of P-Tech students have met college readiness standards, compared to 39 percent statewide.

"The longer we can include them in this new culture we are creating, the better chance they will have to be successful," said Davis.

P-TECH is in the heart of Crown Heights, a part of Brooklyn where more than 25 percent live in poverty. The school is a public-private partnership between the New York City Department of Education, the City University of New York, and IBM. The tech company helps shape the curriculum to teach skills that are in demand in the workplace, and P-TECH graduates are first in line for available jobs at IBM.

"This isn't about feel-good philanthropy," said IBM Vice President Stan Litow. "I don't think there is a problem more significant and standing in the way of U.S. competitiveness, than closing the skills gap and this gets right to that core problem."

Eighteen-year-old Radcliffe Saddler is a P-TECH graduate, now working at IBM making more than $50,000 a year.

 "Three months ago I was in high school and now I am working at a Fortune 500 company," said Saddler.

Davis said the stakes are high. "When I think about the reality of where we live in central Brooklyn, and 50 percent of men of color being unemployed, we're talking about saving lives."

With 85 additional P-TECH schools being planned around the country, educators hope to save thousands more lives.