A school that embraces a trendy model – locating next to firms, potential employers
NEW YORK – They brainstorm in conference rooms equipped with whiteboards, use high-end computers and equipment and are given free breakfast and lunch.
Except these are no startup workers. They are students at an unusual New York City public high school embedded inside a technology and manufacturing hub with more than 400 companies at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. It was developed with industry leaders to teach real-life job skills that would lay the foundation for the next generation of workers in a city where the tech industry is flourishing with the expanding presence of Google and Amazon’s plans to build a large campus in Queens.
While classrooms in New York and elsewhere have increasingly focused on preparing children for jobs in a tech economy, the recently opened school, Brooklyn STEAM Center, has taken it one step further by locating itself next to companies where students might actually work. It is one of only a handful of programs in the country that are situated in a workplace.
“Our ambition is that it will be a next-generation model for career and technical schools here in New York City,” said David Ehrenberg, president and chief executive officer of the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corp., a nonprofit that manages the city-owned, 300-acre waterfront site where battleships, like the USS Missouri, were once built.
The Navy Yard already has an onsite job center, but Ehrenberg said the school will help ensure that more local residents have the necessary technical skills and training for the jobs being created there. The program offers students a chance to show what they can do. “Instead of learning on paper – and maybe you forget it, and maybe you don’t – you put your hands into the work,” Jordan Gomes, 16, said.
On Tuesday, the schools chancellor, Richard Carranza, and other city leaders will officially open the school’s $17 million home at the Navy Yard, about two weeks after students moved in.
The STEAM Center – standing for science, technology, engineering, arts and math – grew out of a pilot program to increase career and technical education opportunities among Brooklyn high school students. Today, 221 juniors and seniors spend half the day at other high schools taking required academic classes, and the other half at the center specializing in one of five tracks: design and engineering; computer science and information technology; film and media; construction technology; and culinary arts and hospitality management.
The students apply to the center and are selected by their high schools. There is no minimum required gradepoint average or test score. About 93 percent of the students are black or Hispanic, and 74 percent are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced lunch.
In New York, the STEAM Center is one of only two schools at a workplace; the other, Aviation High School, offers classes at LaGuardia Airport. “We’re certainly looking for more opportunities for our students to be as close to the industries they are studying as possible,” said Phil Weinberg, the Education Department’s deputy chief academic officer for teaching and learning. Citywide, there are 301 career and technical programs – 47 opened in the past three years. In total, the programs enroll about 64,000 students and train them for careers ranging from software engineer to harbor master.
Still, some educators and parents have raised concerns that such highly specialized programs are a form of tracking that can lead students to focus too early on a particular job or career and be steered away from college.
The STEAM Center was developed by Kayon Pryce, the founding principal, along with Ehrenberg and Dr. Lester W. Young Jr., a member of the state Board of Regents and a former city education official.
Pryce said most students planned to go to college.
The school’s advisory board is mostly made up of industry experts who have shaped the curriculum, given lectures and hosted company visits. Students have been placed in 63 paid internships, half of which were with companies in the Navy Yard.
The emphasis at the school is on being relevant in a modern tech world. Students master design, engineering and construction skills by transforming two shipping containers into smart homes. Computer science students wired the new computer lab; now they maintain the network and troubleshoot problems. Film and media students recorded podcasts, and shot and edited a commercial promoting the school.
The school also teaches soft skills – or what Pryce calls “21st-century success skills” – such as the importance of showing up on time, responding to emails and getting along with coworkers.