P-TECH Launches at Northglenn High School

Revitalization of the School and Community Continues

On a recent sunny Colorado morning, a group of community members, business leaders, educators, and students found themselves sitting inside a former natatorium. Not a swimsuit or a pool towel were in sight, however. Instead, the group was surrounded by an inviting, modern space filled with biotechnical equipment, the latest laptop computers, and new 3-D printers. You see, what used to be the pool at Northglenn High School, a school in the Adams 12 Five Star Schools district, has been transformed into a place of opportunity.

The gathering was for the announcement and celebration of Colorado’s newest P-TECH school, located at Northglenn High School, which will enable the school to launch a program called EC@N-STEM. Through the new program, NHS will be able to provide students with a clear pathway to not only a high school diploma but also an associate’s degree in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) field and relevant professional experience.

P-TECH has seen incredible success in places like New York and Chicago, thanks to the leadership of IBM, which founded the school model. Colorado Succeeds and our member Ray Johnson of IBM have worked closely with Adams 12 throughout the P-TECH application process, and we’re thrilled to see this model now replicated in three districts throughout the state: St. Vrain, Falcon District 49, and Adams 12.

The P-TECH (Pathways in Technology Early College High School) model on which EC@N-STEM is based is different from other programs in that it gives students the opportunity to attend one school from 9th grade through two years of post-secondary, all at no cost to the student. Students who graduate from the program then can choose to continue their studies at a four-year college or enter the workforce, relying on the relevant skills they gained as well as the industry connections they made to earn a well-paying, middle-skill job.

An essential component of the P-TECH model is a strong collaboration between three key partners – a school district, one or more employers, and a higher education institution. On hand at the NHS celebration were the visionary partners involved in bringing EC@N-STEM to Northglenn: Adams 12 Superintendent Chris Gdowski, Level 3 Communications Regional President of North American Operations Brian Harvey, and Front Range Community College President Andrew Dorsey. Each spoke about their excitement surrounding the opportunity to directly map the skills students gain at school to the needs of Colorado’s businesses.

During his keynote speech, Colorado Succeeds President Scott Laband emphasized the importance of these partners and leaders to the success of the P-TECH program: “For too long, these groups [business, K-12 education, and higher education] existed in silos. P-TECH breaks down those silos and unites them as three legs of a stool. This stool supports students and ensures that they have opportunities to succeed through meaningful pathways that lead to high school diplomas, industry credentials, college degrees, and high-skill, high-wage jobs.”

An even more importantly than that. They create pathways to engagement. And we know that engaged students become engaged citizens. Leaders who contribute to their community, participate in our democracy, and repeat the cycle for their children.”

Expectations are high for the new P-TECH program, as Brian Harvey of Level 3 Communications noted in his remarks, “We look forward to standing up here two, three, five, six years from now and talking about the success of the program and hopefully how it has radiated outside of this community and into the rest of the communities in Colorado.”

Transformation Through Education

After all, there’s more to this story than the launching of a new school program. It is also about the transformation of a community. In 2012, Northglenn High School had more students choosing to opt out of the school than to enroll in it. The school’s graduation rate was in the 60s and the achievement gap between minority and Caucasian students was significant.

Leaders from the school and district faced these challenges head-on and began to make plans to transform NHS into a comprehensive STEM high school. As a result of the intentional and strategic approach taken to convert the school into a place of inspiration, NHS now boasts a graduation rate of 84%, including a Hispanic graduation rate that has increased by 10% since 2012. In fact, minority students outperformed their Caucasian peers by 3% in the past year, according to Sharee Blunt, EC@N-STEM’s founding principal.

The transformation of the school is evident not just in its graduation rates, but in how it is perceived by the greater Northglenn community. Where once its enrollment numbers were dwindling, Northglenn High School now has a lengthy waitlist, as well as one of the highest rated school climates in the district.

“This place has changed so much over the last number of years as we’ve brought STEM to be the focus of the school. Now, we’re doing things in engineering and biomedical services,” said Gdowski. “There have been lots of changes in the physical space here and a lot of change in public education in general, which is really what P-TECH is all about.”

Nowhere is the change more evident than in the students’ prospects for their future. As Blunt noted, “With the addition of P-TECH to our current STEM education, our underrepresented student population will be afforded the opportunity to chase their dreams free of that financial obstacle that they’ve faced in the past.”

Two students in particular shared their individual stories of transformation thanks to the STEM programming available at their schools. Julisa Acevedo, a current 8th grader at STEM Launch and an incoming NHS STEM student in the fall, put it this way: “Here I am, standing in front of all of you as a person who is confident in herself and who is a true leader. All of that is thanks to STEM. … Although the future is unpredictable, as I continue on this path, I know that STEM Launch and P-TECH will help guide me to more opportunities that will help me prepare for what’s ahead.”

Northglenn High School STEM senior and head Norseman William Vovan added, “Northglenn exemplifies the pursuit of the best education, providing each and every student the tools to become the very best person they can be. … I can truly say that Northglenn High School has succeeded in bringing out the best in me.”

Colorado Succeeds will continue working with all of our members to expand P-TECH in Colorado. If you want to learn more about P-TECH or get connected with efforts to open a school, click here.

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Colorado Succeeds