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P-Tech Students, IBM Mentors Mark End of Year With Engineering Project

By Sonja Sharp | June 3, 2013 9:34am
 Students at Crown Heights'   Pathways in Technology Early College High School and their IBM mentors celebrated a successful second year with a friendly engineering competition. 
P-Tech Students Have Fun With Physics
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CROWN HEIGHTS — When she started high school, Elisabel Herrera hated math.

By her second year, she had mastered high school math and was moving on.

"I passed my Regents in 9th grade in January," said the 16-year-old P-Tech sophomore. "By the beginning of 10th grade, I was done with all of math." 

Harrera is a pretty typical student at Brooklyn's Pathways in Technology Early College High School, a 2-year-old Crown Heights high school that has already won big fans in Albany and Washington D.C. Like many in her class, she breezed through her high school requirements in a matter of months and began taking college-level courses this spring. 

"It's weird — I always said I like English and I hate math, but I always did well in math," Herrera said. "I already knew I was strong, I just had to concentrate."

There's no lack of concentration at the school, whose high-performing students will graduate with an Associates Degree in addition to a Regents diploma. The much-lauded model brings together the DOE, CUNY, the New  York City College of Technology and mentors from IBM, who came for a celebratory visit and a little friendly engineering competition on Friday, May 31.  

"I wanted to get involved in the school and have direct contact with the students," said IBM mentor Martin Laird, 42. "I had a mentor in high school — it seemed like a natural thing to do." 

Unlike many of the city's top performing high schools, P-Tech doesn't test for admissions. Instead, it draws neighborhood kids like Alec Miller, 16, and Michael Blanchard, 15, who, like Harrera, are both already nearly finished with their high school requirements. 

"I've had some students complete all three high school math courses in one year," said teacher Jamilah Seifullah. "For some, they'd have three hours of math in a row." 

If that sounds challenging, imagine summer school taught by rising sophomores. 

"I wanted to have students teach," Seifullah said of the program. "It was a combination of English and Geometry — we have the ability to try things that haven't been done before." 

Those things have caught plenty of attention outside the school. President Obama mentioned P-Tech by name in his most recent State of the Union address, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo has promised to open more schools like it across the state. 

"I look at many of you — why should you be employees? Why shouldn’t you be the employers?" Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz challenged students at an assembly with their IBM mentors. "Not enough of us create the businesses that will create the jobs of the future, and that is you." 

The Brooklyn gymnasium erupted in applause.