It would be a mistake to think of schooling that builds technical skills as a pathway through a dead-end education to a dead-end job. That may have been true 50 years ago, but a lot of things that were true 50 years ago aren’t true today.
The mission of the Hudson Valley Pathways Academy (HVPA), a small publicly funded secondary school on Mary’s Avenue in Kingston, is to graduate students with both technical knowledge and real-world skills. In a world as rapidly changing as ours, that’s no small ambition.
The labor demand is there, particularly in the Hudson Valley’s diminished manufacturing sector. Just as jobs in the new manufacturing have become much more challenging, the sector, ironically, is having more trouble recruiting young people.
The HVPA brings businesses, schools and colleges together to help students prepare for success. The innovative program emphasizes one-on-one education and a high level of student engagement and experiential learning. It involves six years of schooling, four in high school and then two years at a college (“an early-college academy,” one speaker called the program).
Each of the state’s 33 P-Techs, as they are called, involves educational collaboration and the participation of an industry partner. In the Hudson Valley, there are also P-Tech schools in Poughkeepsie, Newburgh, north Rockland, and two in Yonkers. Adding one grade a year, the P-Tech in Kingston will soon be entering its fourth year, the first time it will have four cohorts in the ninth through the twelfth grades.
At HVPA, located on the new SUNY Ulster campus at the former Sophie Finn School, Ulster Boces is the school’s regional lead, and SUNY Ulster the main college connection. The focus of HVPA is on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills. The Council of Industry of Southeastern New York is the lead industry partner.
The breakfast meeting at HVPA Friday morning April 21, was alive with anticipation. It was an important occasion. The 50-plus students in the school were hosting their mentors, the people from the Council of Industry with whom they were likely to work and learn from for several years (“the same folks will travel with you”). Principal Jonah Schenker pushed the tray bearing bagels, cream cheese and orange juice from breakout room to breakout room down the single hallway.
Frank Falatyn and Jessica Porter of Fala Technologies in Ulster, designer and builder of tools and systems, were there. So was Jim Quinn of Allendale Machinery, a distributor with locations in New Jersey and on Long Island for Haas Systems, the largest machine tool builder in the United States. Count in Mike LoDolce and Mark Harris from LoDolce Machine Co. Inc. in Saugerties; Melinda Beuf from Wolf-Tec in Kingston; Robb Engle from Sono-Tek, the maker of ultrasonic spray systems in Milton; Richard Croce Jr. and Thorn Winter from Viking Industries, the corrugated-container manufacturer in New Paltz; and Roger Stinemire from the Kingston plant of Arconic, manufacturer of special alloys for the aviation and auto industries.
Also at the event was Phyllis Levine from the Manufacturing and Technology Enterprise Center in Highland. Not to be forgotten was the man who had played a major role in getting these representatives of the new manufacturing industry together, New Paltz resident Harold King of the Newburgh-based Council of Industry.
The participants were there to eat bagels and talk with each other. Since they were all there to discuss what their relationship would be, sometimes for multiple years, the talking agenda made sense. What did they want to achieve together? This wasn’t the entire agenda. They also broke into small groups of students, mentors and teachers termed “dream panels.” What were the students’ dreams?
Then everybody crowded into the largest room. The mentors were there, as were principal Schenker and his teachers and staff members. The students, previously arranged into subgroups in three separate rooms by the three grades they were in (nine, tenth and eleventh), arranged themselves inside a single loose circle in the room. They asked questions and participated.
The atmosphere in the room was less a hierarchical environment than a shared community. “Life experience is important, too,” Schenker reminded them, “not just smarts.”
The business people were the mentors (“a person you can trust and look up to”). The principal and the teachers at the P-Tech school were the facilitators. The students were the mentees.
This wasn’t your father’s public-school classroom. It probably wasn’t your mother’s, either. As one of the students had explained it at a recent formal hosting at the facility, “P-Tech isn’t simply a school. It is a community, a family and a home, bound by friendship, familiarity and loyalty. I am so immensely proud of those I’ve embarked on his journey with, and P-Tech has allowed me to be proud of myself.”
Some school districts have been extremely supportive of HVPA, building extensions to their own existing programs. Kingston recruits twelve students annually for the alternative public school. Rondout Valley sends two per year. Others districts, not so much. Some districts have yet to send one student its way. A student, parent or guardian can express interest to a guidance counselor, but the district must support the application.
P-Tech serves students whose college aspirations may be at risk for many reasons. P-Tech is the bridge that helps make their success possible.
What kind of education do our kids need in a disruptive world and a challenging new economy, where all entities move and nothing stays in the same place, as the Greek philosopher Heraclites argued 2500 years ago? Thinking outside the box becomes essential. Innovation must be constant. The making economy in particular is in constant flux.
“Today’s world is interconnected,” said a sheet of paper passed out at HVPA describing an Ulster Boces Global Scholars Academy. In partnership with Education First (EF) and The Asia Society, HVPA and its partners were offering up to ten college credits at SUNY Ulster in English, political science and economics “to offer learning opportunities based on global competencies.” Among other things, “Students will learn to investigate the world beyond their immediate environment and recognize their own and others’ perspectives.” They’ll be exposed to a variety of career opportunities and b able to diversify their professional networks.
The jobs of the future will require new global skills. In 2018, some 1800 international students will meet in Germany to discuss technology at a global leadership summit. Seniors participating in the HVPA global program may be eligible to attend next year’s summit.
Principal Schenker, who was brought up in New Paltz and was a teacher in Brooklyn and a principal in Pine Plains for several years, reminded the students that they could complete up to 30 or even 35 college credits of the 60 needed for an associate’s degree while still at HVPA. Schenker expects practically all his students to get their two-year associate’s degrees. And it was clear that many of this particular at-risk population wouldn’t end their education at that point.
To me, that doesn’t sound at all like a dead-end education leading to a dead-end job.