Youth Programs Help Westchester High Schoolers Build Skills

Westchester middle and high school students who want to begin building job skills have numerous programs at their disposal.

Many schools offer after-school enrichment programs in STEM/quantum computing, career and technical education (CTE) classes, and pre-apprentice programs in a variety of fields.

One of the most extensive programs is the New York State Pathways in Technology (NYS P-TECH) program. P-TECH enables students in grades nine and up to earn both a high school diploma and a no-cost, two-year postsecondary degree in a STEM field. Students gain workplace experience, mentorship, worksite visits, and paid internships. After they graduate high school, students may continue to a four-year degree or begin careers in IT, healthcare, advanced manufacturing, and other competitive fields, often at local institutions that coordinate with the program.

SUNY Westchester Community College (WCC) runs the P-TECH program at three Yonkers high schools. Lisa Santalis, assistant dean of high school partnerships, says WCC provides 24-30 credits’ worth of college classes to high school students at three Yonkers high schools. They focus on civil technology, healthcare, cybersecurity, and electrical technology. Classes are held at WCC and students attend the college after graduating high school to complete their Associate in Science degrees.

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Peekskill P-TECH Director Dr. Melanie Roman leads a planning meeting with the program’s steering committee, which includes Peekskill staff, community partners, and representatives from Ossining Schools.
Peekskill P-TECH Director Dr. Melanie Roman leads a planning meeting with the program’s steering committee, which includes Peekskill staff, community partners, and representatives from Ossining Schools. ©Peekskill City School District.

Tuition, textbooks, and other costs are covered by P-TECH. “There is no out-of-pocket expense,” Santalis says. “It’s sort of part-time high school, part-time college, and the kids get to act like college students as seniors” by leaving school early to take classes at WCC. Each school partners with a different employer. Charles E. Gorton High School in Yonkers, for example, works with St. John’s Riverside Hospital in the health information technology (HIT) program. “Students do an internship at the hospital, rotate around different departments, and job-shadow,” she says.

Getting Students to Think About Careers Early

WCC plans to offer additional P-TECH opportunities at another Yonkers school and in the Ossining and Peekskill districts in environmental studies, computer information systems, EMT, and cybersecurity. The goal of P-TECH, Santalis says, is “to get students to think about careers early on, by eighth or ninth grade, to learn earning potential, job requirements, and get a good sense of what it means to be in that career.”

Peekskill, in fact, recently received $2.7 million out of a total of $31.5 million awarded to 12 schools in New York State from the P-TECH program. The district’s professional partners include Open Door Family Medical Center, Peekskill Volunteer Ambulance Corps, Ossining Volunteer Ambulance Corps, and Sun River Health. Students in the program are eligible to receive an associate degree in a high-tech field and be first in line for jobs with participating business partners in high-wage, high-skill, and high-demand career areas.

The grant money for P-TECH will be spent on curriculum development, technology integration, workforce skills challenges, and professional development to equip educators with the skills and knowledge needed to effectively implement the P-TECH model and support student success. Resources will also fund academic and social-emotional support services for students, along with outreach and engagement efforts including marketing, information sessions, and community events to raise awareness and recruit students for the program.

Students at Charles E. Gorton High School in Yonkers can receive free EMT training through a collaboration with Empress EMS.
Students at Charles E. Gorton High School in Yonkers can receive free EMT training through a collaboration with Empress EMS. ©Empress EMS.

“The P-TECH grant serves as an opportunity to ignite dreams and possibilities. It is geared towards students who may be first-generation college students and those who are underrepresented in higher education settings,” says Dr. David Mauricio, superintendent of the Peekskill City School District. “In its inception, this grant will help the district, students, and families break barriers that currently inhibit students from pursuing their passion while completing a college education.”

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Students can choose from four pathways, including Computer Information Technology, Health Information Technology, Paramedic, and Cybersecurity, and will ultimately earn up to 60 college credits from WCC. “We are not just building pathways to success. We are igniting the flames of limitless potential within our students, and that’s exciting,” says Melanie Roman, Ed.D., director of Peekskill’s early college secondary programs.

Training High Schoolers as EMTs

Another program, offered by Empress EMS in Yonkers, gives Gorton High School students free EMT training. After graduation, students can apply to the company’s Earn to Learn Academy, where they are paid while training for a full-time job in emergency medical services. Deputy Chief Sean O’Brien, assistant director of operations at Empress, says kids come to the Empress offices once or twice a week after school to learn skills like CPR and first aid, taking vital signs, splinting, handling psychiatric and mental health issues. They’re also taught about medical privacy and workplace safety laws — “everything they need to look into a medicine career.”

Over the years, at least 100 students have taken advantage of the program and 10 have joined the company. “Two are still here. One of them took over the cadet program, and another is everything you want to see as an employee and a person,” O’Brien says. “As a kid, I never liked school, but now I love teaching. Seeing students out there putting [new skills] to use and giving my experience and knowledge to younger people is the greatest feeling.”

“We are not just building pathways to success. We are igniting the flames of limitless potential within our students, and that’s exciting.”

—Melanie Roman, Ed.D., Director of Early College Secondary Programs, Peekskill City School District

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