A school that em­braces a trendy model – lo­cat­ing next to firms, po­ten­tial em­ploy­ers

The Buffalo News - - NATIONAL NEWS - By Win­nie Hu

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.

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