Starting in the fall of 2021, students in the Rochester school district will have one more avenue through which to pursue their post-high school careers.
That’s because Rochester Public Schools recently received a $1 million grant from the Minnesota Department of Education that will go toward the creation of a school that will allow students to receive not only their high school diploma, but also exposure to career opportunities and professional development.
Called "Pathways in Technology Early College High," or P-TECH for short, the school will allow students to focus on a couple career pathways, including computer information systems and licensed practical nursing.
"Our vision for our P-TECH graduates is that they have the academic and professional skills required to either continue their education in a four-year-postsecondary institution or secure employment into entry-level careers in one of our two pathways," RPS Superintendent Michael Muñoz said in a press release.
The school will be free to students.
To some extent, the program will be similar to the existing PSEO program offered through the state, which allows high school students to finish their junior and senior years of high school at a college or university free of cost. For example, a student who completes the coursework at P-TECH would be able to graduate with a two-year degree or diploma similar to if they undertook PSEO.
The two options differ somewhat, though. Brandon Macrafic, principal on special assignment to the Rochester Career and Technical Education Center, said the P-TECH option will include benefits such as providing internships and one-on-one mentorships. Students who graduate from P-TECH are also guaranteed to be first in line for a job interview with the "community partners" involved with the program.
Macrafic said the school will also include an element of professional development.
"(They’re) not only learning the specifics of being a nurse or being a computer technician, but also the professional skills that students need to get and keep a job," he said.
P-TECH will also be a little different from PSEO in terms of its timeline. Although the program is designed to last six years, students can complete the program in less. Because of that, students can start taking part in P-TECH as early as ninth grade, rather than waiting until their junior year, like they would have to for PSEO.
Rochester Public Schools has not yet determined a location for the new school. However, Macrafic said they’re leaning toward putting it in a neutral spot rather than folding it into one of the existing schools in the area.
The district plans to accept 25 to 30 students a year in each pathway. Although there aren’t any prerequisites to participate in the program, the district hasn’t determined yet how it plans to select the students who apply in case more students apply than are available slots.
The "community partners" involved with the school so far include IBM and Mayo Clinic. IBM was actually one of the founders of the P-TECH school model in New York. Tory Johnson, senior state executive for IBM Minnesota, said the school is designed to help students who aren’t necessarily interested in pursuing a four-year degree get ready for the job market.
While it will provide work for students just entering the job market, it also will address a shortage of workers. He described two-year technology jobs as the trade jobs of the future.
"You don’t necessarily have to have a four-year degree to have a meaningful job in technology," he said.
In addition to being the first P-TECH school in the state, Minnesota is one of only 10 states throughout the country to establish such a school.
Like IBM, Mayo Clinic sees the partnership with Rochester Public Schools as a way to develop talent and address the shortage of workers. While an organization like Mayo is able to pull talent from anywhere, Director of Workforce Development Guy Finne said the clinic still relies on a lot of homegrown workers.
Finne also drew another distinction between P-TECH and PSEO, saying that students taking advantage of the PSEO option often use it as a launch pad for their four-year careers. He said P-TECH, on the other hand, is a good resource for students who may only want to pursue a two-year degree, at least at first.
"I think it’s a tremendous strategy to help create pipelines from our area high schools right to employment," he said.