The Front Lines of Education
Hudson Valley P-Tech Leads The Way
By Jodi La Marco
Known as P-Tech, the Hudson Valley Pathways Academy is cultivating a new generation of local, skilled workers. Through P-Tech, students who may not have had an opportunity to earn a college diploma are given the chance to obtain one for free. Participants who complete P-Tech’s six-year program graduate not only with a high school diploma, but with an Associate’s Degree in their field of study. What’s more, the academy partners with local industries offering real-world, hands-on training. Over the course of the program, students cultivate relationships with potential employers which can lead to job opportunities after graduation.
“We did our first class four years ago,” said HVPA Principal Jonah Schenker. “The majority of our students will be setting out to finish an Associate’s Degree in an additional year or two after their formal four years of high school. Outside of the college degree, P-Tech was built to be a partner with the work force to eliminate the skills and workforce gap in this country, specifically here in Ulster County.”
The first P-Tech was launched in Brooklyn, and there are now a total of 33 such programs being implemented across New York State. Other P-Techs are popping up across the country as well. “The model that we’re utilizing for workplace learning, which really focuses on minimizing the impact on small to mid-sized companies in rural areas, we’re seeing that replication in other P-techs. I’ve been working with other states—Indiana, Texas—on what that looks like,” said Schenker.
What allows the program to ultimately connect students with job opportunities, said Schenker, is a triad partnership between high school, college, and industry. Upon entering the program, participants are considered college students. The academy is housed in SUNY Ulster’s Kingston satellite building adjacent to Kingston High School, and was the first P-Tech in the state to be situated on a college campus. The setting allows students to take college courses in a real college setting.
As their education progresses, students work with area employers who have the potential to provide them with jobs after they graduate. “Our strongest attribute at the Hudson Valley Pathways Academy is our integration with workforce,” explained Schenker. “All of our students, from day one, are integrating with workforce partners. In the first two years, students complete 16 different one month long challenges. Each of those challenges is with a different local partner, culminating in presentations to those partners.”
In their third year, those same students participate in 10-week courses through which they are educated on topics such as project development, project management, and lean manufacturing. “Then in their fourth year—this year—we’re opening up paid internship opportunities. The goal is that when these students exit, they will be first in line for these jobs within the county,” Schenker said. “Four years ago that was in theory, now we have industry partners who are telling students, ‘When you finish, you come see us. We have a job for you.’ What we’ve created for the industry folks is a six-year interview process. That piece has been foundational in our work.”
Hudson Valley Pathways Academy was made possible by a state grant awarded to Ulster BOCES, which named Kingston City Schools as its fiscal lead for the program. “We were awarded that grant and we began building the school, which includes the planning year prior to actually bringing on our first class of students,” said Schenker. “Initially, the concept was considered in four Hudson Valley counties. What we wound up doing was paring down and launching a program in Ulster first. SUNY Ulster really took the lead for the initiative from the college side, the Council of Industry led by Harold King took the lead from the industry side, and we created the school side. Because Kingston was the fiscal lead on the grant and their superintendent, Paul Padalino, was a stakeholder and believer in the mission and purpose, it made sense to look at Kingston as a home. They were and are our largest supporter in terms of sending students to the academy. Kingston really looks at this program as an extension to their program. Rondout Valley was also at the table and part of that initial group in terms of sending students.”
Although the target is six years, some students are able to graduate in just five. “We have a number of students who are on track to do that. Right now, the completion rate for a community college is about 33 percent. Even if our students take the traditional four years to complete high school and an additional two years to complete college, that will thrust us into a top ten percent completion rate,” said Schenker.
While not all students complete the program, HVPA participants sometimes use their experience as a springboard to other opportunities. “We have some students who, after their completion of high school, are planning on applying directly to a four-year school. We have a couple of students who are deciding to go straight into the workforce. All of those are victories and wins,” said Schenker. “Although we would like to have our students stay for six years, having a student complete their high school requirements—taking with them 25 or 30 college credits, and being placed into a well-paying job—is a victory.”