/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/legitimescn_706567.jpgWhen I first spoke with the educators at BTECH during SAPPHIRE NOW one year ago, the doors hadn’t opened to the first freshman class slated to begin high school last fall. Fast forward almost 12 months later, and 110 students are on the verge of completing year one of six at this innovative high school, graduating with two important credentials – a high school diploma and an associate degree in computer information systems or internet technology, all for free.

I’ve written previously about this public/private partnership between SAP, the New York City Department of Education, Queensborough Community College and the Early College Initiative at the City University of New York. When I found out that some students, teachers and administrators were attending this year’s SAPPHIRE NOW event, it was the ideal time to get caught up. You can read about my interview with the students here.

Combining high school and college experiences

Ashley Legitime, Academic Student Support Program Manager at Queensborough Community College, was happy to answer my questions, coming fresh off BTECH’s positive first-year quality review. Legitime’s role encompasses much more than standard high school advisory positions. Everyone has to be super organized to guide students through a curriculum jam packed with a wealth of non-traditional but incredibly immersive learning activities. These include events on college campuses, mentoring and internships at SAP offices, and a dual high school and college curriculum focused on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education.

“I’m setting up courses, working closely with students to monitor their progress, and working with the high school to make sure students are also working on soft skills like networking, branding and presenting themselves,” said Legitime. “I’m also working with them on visits to SAP offices and the Queensborough Community College.”

Unlike typical high school educators, BTECH teachers have to prepare students for dual purposes: gaining a college experience as well as meeting New York state high school exam requirements. The team found an answer with focused learning segments. “The high school teachers were concerned about trying to do everything so we categorized the curriculum,” said Legitime. “Everyone doesn’t have to do everything.”

BTECH is located in the Martin Van Buren High School where students have their own gym, cafeteria, classrooms and hall spaces that are separate from the rest of the population. They also have different hours and a longer school day. In fact, the only complaint from students has been the travel distance. Eighty percent commute up to one hour and 45 minutes for the 8:30 a.m. to 4:10 p.m. school day. Legitime, (and the students I talked with), said the time spent on the road is well worth it.

Lessons Learned

Looking back on this year’s accomplishments, Legitime said the administration may rethink the timing of the mentoring component with SAP volunteers, moving it to the third year as opposed to the first.

“Maybe because they have so many new things to do the first year, one-on-one mentoring is more valuable when they’re juniors looking for internships and preparing for college course work. We might bring in SAP volunteers as group mentors for the first year students, helping them work on projects as they get acclimated.”

Keeping students engaged

Preparations are already underway for next fall’s freshman class with more classrooms and teachers. Incoming freshman and tenth graders will attend a summer immersion program at Queensborough Community College focused on reading, writing and research.

“We want to keep the students engaged and excite them with some new information while introducing them to the college-level learning experience,” said Legitime. “We’re thinking of a group competition where students work with professors and each other to pitch a product or app that uses technology such as social media or web design.”

While freshman and sophomores will attend different classes during the summer and school year, the idea is to provide a peer mentoring relationship so they know someone when they first walk through the doors to high school. Most important, with the equivalent of two years of college when they graduate, these students will have a head start on a career when they walk out of those same doors.

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