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Two extra years, two diplomas and one shot at a great job

Six years of high school? Longer school days? A math and science focused curriculum? It might not seem like the ideal high school experience to most, but for Alec Miller, “It’s worth it.”

Alec is a freshman at Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Opened this past September, P-TECH is the product of a cutting-edge collaboration between IBM, the City University of New York (CUNY) and the New York City Department of Education.

This partnership grew out of the understanding that unemployment isn’t just a jobs problem, but also very much a skills problem. As unemployment nationwide hovers at 8.5 percent, IBM has more than 1,600 job vacancies that it has difficulty filling because applicants don’t have the appropriate math and science background. And as we highlighted in our 2012 State of New York Public Education report, if only 45% of New Yorkers continue to pursue secondary degrees, nearly 40 percent of middle- and high-skill jobs will be left vacant by 2018.

Speaking at a business roundtable in Atlanta, Stanley S. Litow, IBM’s vice president of corporate citizenship and corporate responsibility, spoke on the importance of closing the gap between skills and jobs and increasing college completion rates.

“Public and private sector leaders will need to work together to bolster k-12 education, give students the academic tools and workplace perspectives they’ll need to complete their associate’s degrees, and focus those degrees on growth industries supported by a strengthened small business sector.”

One way to bolster education is through public-private partnerships like the one that created P-TECH. In exchange for extended hours and an extra two years of high school, students at P-TECH are eligible to earn a free associate’s degree in applied science along with their Regents diploma and a chance to be first in line for a job at IBM.

This is what motivates Alec to trek over an hour across Brooklyn to get to school. At P-TECH, Alec learns from a curriculum developed in conjunction with IBM employees and uses the extra class time to complete online coursework at his own pace on a personal laptop that is assigned to every student.

Another perk of being a P-TECH student is that every freshman is matched with a professional mentor – an IBM employee that they meet with regularly through the program’s online portal, Mentor Place.

“The goal is to say that a high school diploma is not enough,” said Rashid Ferrod Davis, the school’s principal. “In order to be competitive, students definitely need to leave with job-readiness skills so that way they can really have a shot at middle- and high-income lifestyles.”

Just recently, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced plans to open three more early college high schools modeled after P-TECH. While we applaud the growth of successful schools that plug the gaps in the school to career pipeline, we need to make sure all New York kids have the opportunity to take part in early college high school programs. Along with expanding more schools with these options, we need to equip our kids with the funds to start college early and finish college strong.