By Jennifer L. Warren
MIDDLETOWN – Just imagine being able to receive a college diploma before being granted a high school one?
For Twelve Newburgh Free Academy P-TECH Students, that exact scenario became a reality on Thursday, May 23 at Orange County Community College, where they were awarded AAS (Applied Associate) Degrees, in the fields of Cybersecurity and Computer Networking. Seven graduates started their unique journeys four years ago; while the other five took a five year road. Regardless of the time, each student had the special, unforgettable opportunity to not only receive a solid academic high school and college education, but accrue priceless real world job experience in the process.
Tracing back to 2014, the P-TECH program, the first of its kind in the region, partnering Newburgh Free Academy (NFA), Orange County Community College (OCCC) and IBM, was designed to prepare students for a career opportunity, immediately upon leaving high school.
The whole concept centers upon providing high school students with training for jobs that will be immediately available, such as the computer-based ones pursued by those at the NFA Campus. The three way partnership, made possible by a federal grant (students-their families don’t pay anything), allows selected students from a lottery system, to attend all three sites. Additionally, they are matched up with mentors, take workplace tours, practice job interview skills, and can do a paid internship at the IBM Fishkill location, where two of them are currently working. It’s an academic triad like no other, producing amazing results.
“What makes this so special is the partnership, putting real skills into the process and being assigned a mentor as well as early college entrance,” said Kevin Rothman, NFA P-TECH House Principal. “We here are able to give our students the unique support they need to success.” He added, “It really helps students determine what they want to do at an earlier age also; they see these fields exist, and no matter what they want to pursue in the future, it can only benefit them to practice these incredibly important technology and professional skills.”
One of those graduates, Matthew A. Stridiron, is tangible proof of how successful the program has been. Receiving his degree in Cybertechnology, he is excited to put it to use as soon as possible. His two years at OCCC, combined with two at NFA and an internship at IBM, taught him priceless lessons.
“Most high schools are typically in one building, but we can go up to four different buildings (two NFA sites) during our seven hour day,” explained Stridiron, moments before his college commencement. “I really liked working with the IBM mentors; you need to know what you are doing at all times, and it was very interesting and helpful to learn about things like hardware and software policy.”
Perhaps even more than the semantics of his major, Stidiron is leaving his P-TECH experience with a host of even deeper intangibles he can apply for many years to come, regardless of his chosen career path.
“I saw how each school has its own ideas, and what can happen when they all get involved and learn from each other,” said Stridiron. “This idea can be applied outside of school too, and it’s just so interesting how a school like this can really improve Newburgh in so many ways, having us all come together.”