The closed D.H. Robbins Elementary School in St. Johnsville will get new life next year as the base of a new PTECH program by Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery BOCES.
The new program follows on the success of the PTECH (Pathways in Technology Early College High School) in Johnstown, also established in a closed elementary school, which will enter its third year as the new program opens next fall.
While all PTECH programs focus on science, technology, engineering and math, the program planned for St. Johnsville will specialize in agricultural applications.
“We feel that there will be high interest for this new agricultural program,” said HFM-BOCES Superintendent Dr. Patrick Michel. “If you want to be a veterinarian, this is the program for you. If you want to work on all the high-tech equipment associated with agriculture, this is the program for you.”
Like the Johnstown program before it, the new program will be open to 50 students in its first year and expand in accordance with demand and willingness of the 15 partner school districts.
The Johnstown program has 105 students this year. Michel said it received 125 applications in its first year and 140 in its second.
“The response to the other PTECH was phenomenal,” he said, “So we feel like there will be enough demand for students for this program as well.”
The program received a $3 million grant from the state Department of Education in October. Michel said the D.H. Robbins school was “mothballed” well by the district and won’t require any major renovation before opening in September.
The PTECH program offers an alternative, more collaborative educational approach for at-risk students, although Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville Superintendent David Halloran said he doesn’t like that term. They’re students, he said, who may not have seen themselves going to college or doing well academically in a traditional classroom setting.
It also brings in local businesses and industry professionals to collaborate on student projects and provide real-life experience.
“Through project-based learning, kids are the center of the educational process, they’re not passive receptacles for knowledge,” Halloran said. “They’re challenged with seeking the knowledge, collaborating with their peers, working with representatives from industry and higher education. The teachers are a support role, not necessarily a keeper of knowledge. They’re helping students help themselves. That’s what’s exciting about the PTECH model.”
Already, Michel said 15 local businesses are onboard as partners with the new program, and he expects more to join soon.
The school districts that partner with each PTECH program are allotted a certain number of students into the program based on student population; The Greater Amsterdam School District has the most students in PTECH, Michel said, and some very small districts have as few as one student enrolled.
Halloran said having the program a quarter-mile from the district’s junior/senior high school is “a great opportunity” for teachers to learn and borrow from PTECH’s collaborative, high-tech learning methods.
When students graduate from a PTECH program, in anywhere from four to six years, they have both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree.
The D.H. Robbins Elementary School was closed last June following the 2012 merger of the Oppenheim-Ephratah and St. Johnsville school districts. Halloran said HFM-BOCES will rent space in the building from the district.
As the program expands, Michel said there may be some renovations to the building. The partner districts would also have to consider increasing their contributions to the program to include more students, he said.
There are currently 27 similar PTECH programs around the state.
“I think this is another feather in our region’s cap,” Michel said. “We’re striving to make our education system very desirable for all those people that are moving into the area because of GlobalFoundries and the nano park, and this is just another really cool thing for people to look at when they buy a house.”