BEDFORD — Local educators got to see breakthrough education reform in action when they traveled to Kingston, New York, to tour two P-TECH schools earlier this week.
P-TECH is a high school model that integrates high school and college classes with work-based and project-based learning. Class sizes are smaller and students will graduate with a high school diploma and an associate’s degree. The model extends high school from the traditional 9-12 grades to 9-14.
A group of 16 Lawrence County people, 12 of which were from North Lawrence Community Schools, went on the trip to see if there is potential for such a model here. Also in the group were 16 educators from Ivy Tech Community College, the Indiana Department of Education, Perry Central, Wabash City Schools and Indianapolis Public Schools.
Shelly Burnside, an English teacher at Bedford North Lawrence, was one of three NLCS teachers on the trip.
“Hearing the students share their stories proved that their P-TECH experiences were life-changing,” said Burnside in an email interview. “Many were previously intimidated by larger class sizes, disconnected from the curriculum and experienced social challenges. The small classes, atypical classroom settings, community involvement and early college experience all contributed to their growth as a student and as a person.”
Burnside said she can see components of P-TECH working in Lawrence County, but a P-TECH school here won’t look exactly like the P-TECH models in New York.
“The geographies are different, the state funding is different, the state’s legislative support is different and the cooperating partners are different,” she said.
Seeing P-TECH in action, she said, allowed stakeholders to better understand the concept.
“As a teacher, my reflection focused on meeting the needs of the students, addressing the required Indiana state standards and logistics like class size and room size,” Burnside said. “Some of the teaching techniques are already happening in our school, so that was a positive affirmation. I believe all three teachers left with innovative ideas that we can put into place with what we are already doing. Incorporating industry-recognized certifications or trainings within our existing classes would be a great addition.”
Todd Tanksley, principal at BNL and member of the group, said he was impressed by the small class sizes (10 students in a classroom as opposed to 30 in a typical high school) and the partnerships between the schools and employers.
“The biggest ‘aha moment’ for me was one of the speakers mentioned there are 37 P-TECHs in the state of New York and all 37 are different,” Tanksley said. “That made me feel better because we can take the model and adapt it to our needs.”
The P-TECH model is gaining traction because it offers a way of educating students who are at risk of not graduating. Another indicator of its success — attendance at the P-TECH schools is about 95 to 96 percent.
With an enrollment of 1,500 students at BNL, Tanksley said the traditional academic setting works for the majority of students.
“But there are students who it doesn’t work for, and we owe it to them to offer additional opportunities,” he said. “There are kids we aren’t reaching that we want to reach.”
The group of educators and members of the Lawrence County Workforce Coalition left Sunday morning and returned home late Tuesday night. The group had a full itinerary of school visits and sessions with P-TECH administrators.
The trip was just the beginning of the process for stakeholders who will continue to study the issue and its potential here.
Upon the group’s return, educators and coalition members met Thursday to create a guiding committee and establish a timeline for moving forward. Joe Timbrook, career development director for the coalition, said interest is strong in adapting P-TECH for Lawrence County.
“This is the kind of model that changes the trajectory of a kid’s life,” Timbrook said. “We talked to one student who was studying HVAC, but said he might not have graduated if not for P-TECH. He is going to make $100,000 in HVAC. That’s quite a different future for a young person who didn’t expect to complete high school.”
Jenna Clark, guidance counselor at BNL, said the trip changed her perception of P-TECH.
“After seeing it in action … talking to kids, administrators and teachers was a huge benefit,” she said. “For students who can’t get their footing in a big school, this lets them find their niche in a different atmosphere.”
Some of the group had questions about the model and were hesitant that it could work here, but Clark said the trip changed a lot of minds.
“This trip got a lot more people on board,” she said.
As Indiana schools explore education alternatives, they must watch and see how the Indiana Department of Education and Indiana Legislature plans to address funding (currently the state only funds high school education through the 12th grade) and how an extended high school such as P-TECH would change how the state measures graduation rates.
“Anytime we have a new program, while the new program I have no doubt would be a great thing, there are technical, funding and bureaucracy questions that must be answered,” Tanksley said.