The high school-college hybrid that jumpstarts careers

NEWBURGH, N.Y. — By his own account, Oscar Tendilla was a horrible middle school student, unmotivated and indifferent. Last month he became his family’s first college graduate. He now has plenty of career options, no debt and a diploma from Cornell University.

The 21-year-old son of Mexican immigrants relishes the tale of his turnaround. “I did poorly in middle school because I didn’t care,” Tendilla told me. He credits his rising ambitions to encouragement from his teachers at his Brooklyn high school, part of what was then a relatively new and untested high school network known as Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH).

Tendilla’s unlikely rise from muddled middle schooler to Ivy League graduate — he became valedictorian of Brooklyn P-TECH’s third graduating class in 2017, while also earning an associate degree from the New York City College of Technology (City Tech) — is explained in “Breaking Barriers: How P-TECH Schools Create a Pathway From High School to College to Career.” The new book was written by Stanley Litow, a former vice president of IBM and architect of the school model, and journalist Tina Kelley.  

“If you tell these ninth graders that you are going to be college students, and this is the path you are going to take, those who are really searching will hook on and believe in you.”

Rashid Ferrod Davis, principal, P-TECH Brooklyn

So many here-today, gone-tomorrow models in education don’t stick around, but P-TECH’s model, now in its 10th year, directly links students from historically underserved backgrounds to colleges and careers, with paid internships and intensive mentoring. Students have six years to graduate high school and obtain an associate degree for free, in an early college model that is becoming increasing durable, as new research shows.

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