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St. Vrain's third P-TECH class getting a head start through summer classes
August 2, 2018, 9:00am | St Vrain Valley School District
By Amy Bounds, Daily Camera
By Amy Bounds, Daily Camera
Incoming freshmen at Longmont's Skyline High went on scavenger hunts Thursday to familiarize themselves with the Front Range Community College Campus.
They need to know their way around because they're starting a workforce readiness program that combines high school with two years of community college classes with a focus on technology.
The tour was part of a three-week orientation class for incoming freshmen in the Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools, or P-TECH, program, at Longmont's Skyline High School.
"You can transfer that to a university and maybe be the first one in your family to graduate from a university," said incoming junior A'ishah Fregoso, who's interested in cybersecurity. "You can find a career. Everything in the future is going to be based on technology."
St. Vrain, in partnership with IBM and Front Range Community College, was chosen by the state in 2015 as one of first two school districts to offer the program.
About 125 IBM employees volunteer as mentors, working one-on-one with students and helping with afterschool tutoring and workplace visits.
Students who successfully complete the program — they have up to six years — graduate with an associate degree in computer information systems and the opportunity to interview for jobs at IBM and other tech companies.
Skyline's program will enroll 58 incoming freshmen when school starts later this month, with a total enrollment of 154 students.
Students must apply for the program, with preference given to students who would be the first in their family to go to college.
They don't need a certain grade-point average or to have completed specific classes in middle school. Instead, using teacher recommendations, the program is looking for motivation.
"It's designed under the premise that all kids can be successful with the right supports," said Ray Johnson, IBM's corporate affairs manager.
For the orientation class, students visited both Front Range Community College and IBM, and learned more about the program's pathways and preparing a career presentation.
The pathway options for students are programming, database administration, and web design and development.
IBM also led a design-thinking challenge and a cybersecurity presentation for the incoming freshmen.
The program also provides summer opportunities for students who already have completed a year of more in the program, in addition to the summer course for incoming freshmen.
Incoming sophomores could choose from two classes or to work as mentors in the district's Innovation Academy for elementary students.
Juniors had two class options, a Front Range Community College web development class and a Technological Skills Bootcamp at IBM.
The 13 incoming juniors taking the skills class at IBM — worth a half a high school credit — worked on equipment in the company's training center.
The new class, developed by IBM, includes components of the training program for new employees.
"These are all things we would look for when we're hiring," said IBM's Andy Kniese. "They could see something here that could really spark a hunger in them and decide 'this is what I want to do.' "
The incoming juniors said the two-week IBM class has been one of their favorite P-TECH experiences.
"This gets you more in the work environment," said Kerly Baltierrez. "It's hands on. I feel like I've learned a lot."
The juniors, the first group to enroll in Skyline's program, consider themselves guinea pigs. They said it's not always easy being the first class as the school figures out what works best, but they appreciate the opportunity.
"It's free college," said Juhziel Llamas.
He said the biggest challenge is managing "high school and college and being a teenager."
To help students with the demands of being a college student while still in high school, Skyline teacher Traci Zakavec worked with IBM to create a guided study skills class that's half study hall and half workplace success lessons.
Students learn about time management, dress codes, communication in a professional environment and leadership skills.
"A lot of these students got labeled with they can't, and now they are," Zakavec said. "We have lots of kids being successful."