New Pathways: Rhode Island schools embrace P-TECH initiative (East Side Monthly)

By Michael Gianfrancesco

Education is an ever-changing landscape and, in order to ensure that schools are meeting the new and more advanced needs of the world that students will inhabit as adults, institutions have sought to modify their approaches to learning and teaching. One of the more exciting and successful programs to reach Rhode Island in recent years is the P-TECH (Pathways in Technology Early College High School) initiative, which has been in place in the state for a little over two years.

Desiree Harpel, the Education and Workforce Development Coordinator for the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation, is one of the people who works with schools to help facilitate the program statewide. She says that the program forges collaborative relationships between the schools, CCRI, and area industry leaders.

“Students enrolled take college-level courses while in high school, benefit from internships and mentoring, and graduate with a high-school diploma and an industry-approved associate degree,” she says. “The P-TECH initiative creates opportunity for Rhode Island’s students and a steady stream of talented, trained workers for its businesses.”

According to Harpel, the five schools currently on board with the initiative are The Providence Career and Technical AcademyWoonsocket High SchoolNorth Providence High SchoolWesterly High School, and Rogers High School in Newport. Each has chosen a specific career pathway to develop for its student body. Depending on the program of study, students learn about computer science, nursing, advanced manufacturing, or cybersecurity.

Each school has an administrator who serves as that site’s P-TECH coordinator. In North Providence, that person is Assistant Principal Melissa Caffrey.

“These types of programs really are the wave of the future because they are bringing so many instrumental communities together – school districts, collegiate communities, and industry are working collaboratively,” says Caffrey.

Students enrolled in the program start in their freshman year and expectations for achievement are very high from the first day. Students are expected to work at a near-collegiate level in order to get the most out of the program. Opportunities are plentiful for those students with the ambition to achieve.

Kevin Cronin, the P-TECH Coordinator in Westerly, explains that “we have already had one student apply for, be accepted, and complete an internship this past summer with Electric Boat.”

In best case scenarios, students can complete an Associate’s Degree in the program’s primary field of study through a combination of college-level courses taught at the high school and others taken on one of the CCRI campuses. Robert Young, the P-TECH Coordinator at Rogers, says that this workload has no impact on their high school experience.

“Our students are taking classes at CCRI and playing sports, band, and other activities at the high school,” Young writes.

The teachers in the program are also crucial. In North Providence, one of those teachers is Oscar Puente, who handles the mathematics classes. Puente says that Summit, the digital platform through which classes are facilitated, is a major component of the program’s dedication to twenty-first century learning.

“It emphasizes a hands-on approach to learning in the context of larger in-depth projects with a strong belief in student choice and individualization,” says Puente.

Talia Santomaro, a sophomore at NPHS, is a second year P-TECH student. She says that she has had to become more independent in order to succeed in her classes.
“I had to learn how to be self-directed,” she explains. “I had to learn that I wasn’t going to have a hand to hold on to anymore.”

Students who are interested in being a part of a P-TECH school do not need to live within these districts in order to apply.

Meg Geoghegan