By Jennifer L. Warren
NEWBURGH – Kyle Villano wanted to learn more about technology and yearned for something different than the traditional high school experience. Ameesah Cotten was seeking to be a part of the inside rather than consumer part of technology. And Alana Harris aspired to delving into real world learning experiences.
All three found their answers, and with them memorable niches, unforgettable educational journeys, as well as solid blueprints for their collegiate and job careers at Newburgh Free Academy’s P-TECH program. The culmination of all of their past four years (including summers) of hard work came to fruition earlier this week when they, along with 38 other of their P-TECH classmates officially received their high school diplomas. Carrying the distinction of being part of just the sixth class in its history, some of this year’s graduates have been with the unique program since its inception. Offering 4, 5, and 6 year tracks, P-TECH allows students the authentic opportunity to graduate with both a high school diploma as well as Associates in Applied Sciences Degree with an emphasis in either Computer Networking or Cybersecurity. A three-way partnership with the Newburgh Schools, SUNY Orange and IBM, the breadth of P-TECH’s impact on young people extends far beyond the classroom. Harris is quick to cite small projects, such as Mousetrap Cars in science class and airplane movement calculations in Calculus as well as other hands-on learning as some of her fondest high school memories. However, she is also deeply grateful for so much more beyond the core subject knowledge.
“P-TECH prepared me for life after high school by exposing me to college life and its setting at OCCC,” explained Harris, a basketball player as well as student-coach on NFA’s All-inclusive Team who spent one of her summers in Thailand as part of her P-TECH venture and is headed to SUNY Farmingdale with a major in Business Analytic in the fall. “It’s made me more responsible as well as confident with public speaking and many other important professional skills.”
Similar to his classmate Harris, Villano, both a Boy Scout and Eagle Scout who has earned high academic honors in his concentration, Cybersecurity, has mined priceless skills and confidence in his abilities, along with a more fine-tuned vision of his future plans from his P-TECH tenure.
“P-TECH has helped give me a basic introduction to Cybersecurity, so that I’m now prepared to jump into more details,” said Villano, who is set to pursue a Bachelors Degree in Cybersecurity at Mount Saint Mary College this fall. “Also, the summer internships have exposed me to what it is like to work in the real world, really helping me a lot with what to expect and be prepared.”
It’s that solid foundation for not only future collegiate studies that many P-TECH students allude to as what distinguishes P-TECH from other programs but also how it positively transforms you as a person.
Cotten, actively involved in her NFA basketball and volleyball teams as well as music program as a clarinet player, has been a longtime volunteer with Mclymore, an organization aimed at bettering the community as well as-like Harris- a student-coach for her school’s All-Inclusive Basketball Team. She has applied many of her P-TECH skills-such as working as a team player, goal setting, time management, and organization details- directly to these pursuits.
“P-TECH prepares a person for life; you become aware of the skills you need to be successful at a much earlier age, and this allows you to truly be able to become an expert in your field,” said Cotten, who is going to major in Public Health and Information Technology at Colby-Sawyer College in New Hampshire. “I’m now way more confident in public speaking with all of the experiences I have had here with it.”
After four years, filled with high school, college and real world working experiences, all three recent NFA P-TECH graduates (who earned not only high school diplomas this month but Associate Degrees last month) were filled with nothing but appreciation for every moment for having such a multi-layered, specialized, and one-of-a-kind secondary school education opportunity. Each has a genuine desire to return to his-her alma mater, speaking to students and offering tangible proof of P-TECH’s effectiveness. For now, it’s a time to celebrate, as they await the next chapter of their lives.
“It just feels so great to be graduating,” said an excited Harris. “It’s especially so, getting two degrees right around the same time; I’m so happy I chose this school.”