Imagine a high school without the bell schedule, without students shuffling shoulder to shoulder through narrow hallways, without the rows of desks and without lectures.
Imagine, instead, a new model for high school education, one that doesn't focus on getting students ready for college but actually includes college-level, credit-bearing coursework in the curriculum.
After being awarded a grant for $2.4 million in August 2013 to launch a Pathways in Technology Early College High School (or P-TECH), area education and business leaders are getting the new school ready for this coming September.
"The vision for the P-TECH school is to redefine secondary education," HFM BOCES Superintendent Patrick Michel said. "We're looking to change the definition of what that experience is."
A consortium of HFM BOCES, its component school districts, Fulton-Montgomery Community College and 16 regional businesses was one of 16 winners in a statewide competition for funding a program to prepare high school students for high-skill jobs. Through the program, selected students will earn an associate's degree at no cost to their families and will be first in line for jobs with participating companies when they graduate.
The P-TECH Early College High School will offer a limited number of area students the opportunity to attend high school in a different environment than their peers. The curriculum being developed for the HFM P-TECH centers on project-based learning that will set the students up for jobs in four career clusters offering 11 possible associate's degrees -- business management and administration, advanced manufacturing and clean technology, information and technology, and health sciences.
Mike Dardaris, a former middle school principal and music instructor, has been hired as the school's first principal.
"We were looking for someone who was a motivator, who was not afraid of technology, and who has run a school in the past," Michel said. "We also wanted someone who's an innovator, who thinks outside of the box because P-TECH is an outside-of-the-box concept."
Fifty students -- chosen through an application process in HFM BOCES component districts -- will be the first to occupy the space at the former Jansen Avenue Elementary School in Johnstown, which is undergoing renovations.
"This is designed for the kid in the middle -- the kid who isn't jazzed by the present learning model, who's tech-savvy, creative and motivated," Michel said.
The selected students will complete grades 9-14, simultaneously earning college and high school credit and continuing on to Fulton-Montgomery Community College to complete their associate's degree. Students will complete all the classes needed to meet New York state graduation requirements, but the focus will be on the four career clusters.
Though the new school will be housed in the former elementary school, Dardaris said he doesn't want the P-TECH to look anything like a typical school inside. Instead he envisions students working on laptops in a student common area and office-like cubicles that serve as work spaces for them when they are not gathered for brainstorming sessions and group projects.
The idea is that the learning is to be hands-on. Work will be graded, but the concept is to create a culture that looks and functions more like a hybrid between college and the work place.
"Classes will be run more like business meetings," Michel said.
Instead of the "service station" approach where teachers fill up students with knowledge, the new P-TECH school aims to radically change the education model to one in which the students drive the learning process.
"Teachers will steer the boat, but in this environment, they will be more like mentors and coaches," Dardaris said.
"We want to teach the students that the first person responsible for knowledge is them," Michel said, adding that emphasis will also be on meeting the individual needs of students.
The school will start with four teachers -- one for math and technology, one for humanities and English language arts, one for science, and one for business and career exploration.
The HFM P-TECH is now recruiting students from its component school partners, which includes 13 middle schools in Hamilton and Fulton counties, to be part of the inaugural class of about 50 students. Dardaris said the recruitment and admissions team is looking for innovative and creative eighth-graders who are interested in applying science, math, technology, engineering and math to their everyday learning.
"We're looking for kids who will thrive in a non-traditional classroom setting," Dardaris said.
The students will have to go through a formal application process, which will include a letter of intent and an interview.
Fourteen local businesses are also partnering with the school districts on the P-TECH project to act as mentors and provide work place learning opportunities including site shadowing and internships.
The sponsoring businesses are: Townsend Leather, GlobalFoundries, Fulton Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce, NBT Bank, Benjamin Moore, CISCO, Center for Economic Growth, Broadalbin Manufacturing, Nathan Littauer, Keymark Corp., Palio Ignite, Work Force Solutions, St. Mary's Health Care, Gloversville Sewing, Air Jet Technologies, and Beech Nut Corp.
Michel said they are looking to expand the business base.
Interested businesses and those wanting more information on the HFM P-TECH Early College High School should contact Dardaris at email@example.com.