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PTECH Route to Higher Education

We’re trying to break down the barriers that separate high school and community college and industries

SANDPOINT — North Idaho will be the testing ground for a program that could connect graduating high schoolers with jobs right out of the gate.

Bonner County Communiversity, Forrest M. Bird Charter School, North Idaho College, the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation and the Idaho Aerospace Alliance have teamed up to establish the Idaho P-TECH program. Planners are hoping early efforts will expand into a statewide educational network that will help more Idaho students earn college degrees or training certifications — a problem that has plagued the state for years.

“We’re trying to break down the barriers that separate high school and community college and industries,” said Albertson Foundation executive director Jamie MacMillan.

It’s a significant expansion of scope for what began as a strictly local program. Early this year, Jim Zuberbuhler of Bonner County Communiversity and Alan Millar of Forrest M. Bird Charter School successfully applied for a $400,000 Albertson Foundation grant to establish aeronautics training courses for high school students. As they developed their vision for the program, the team realized the potential could outstrip its regional ties, Millar said.

“Our thinking on this has really evolved,” he added.

Through collaborations with MacMillan, project leaders saw the potential to establish an Idaho-based version of Rashid Davis’ P-TECH — Pathways in Technology Early College High School . As a school established through a partnership between IBM and the City University of New York, P-TECH has earned acclaim for its distinct grade 9-14 model of education, even earning accolades from President Barack Obama in the 2013 State of the Union address.

By incorporating two years of advanced education into the standard K-12 model, P-TECH students graduate with a high school diploma in one hand and an associate’s degree or job training certification in the other. This helps them either secure gainful employment straight out of school or get a jump-start on a four-year degree program.

The trick was applying Davis’ urban-based vision into a largely rural state like Idaho. However, by marrying local resources with modern technology, MacMillan believes organizers’ goals are achievable sooner than one might think. The idea is to have local instructors in each classroom for face-to-face assistance while also connecting students to the most essential knowledge bases around the state.

It’s an educational model that’s been generating excitement both regionally and nationwide, MacMillan said. She and Millar even spoke with U.S. Department of Education officials in Washington, D.C., about the project.

“This has the potential to showcase Idaho to the rest of the country in a very progressive way,” MacMillan said.

Idaho P-Tech already has a valuable industrial partner in the Idaho Aerospace Alliance. A coalition of the top aerospace manufacturers in the state, IDA representatives are eager to help train young students into one of the state’s fastest growing job markets.

“The Idaho Aerospace Alliance was one of the most compelling reasons to start here (in North Idaho),” MacMillan said.

Program leaders also aim secure partners from other growing fields like health care and IT networking. Meanwhile, North Idaho College president Joe Dunlap has already pledged full community college support.

“I love to tell the story that when I told him about this, he immediately said, ‘We’re in. We’re all in,’” Zuberbuhler said.

Idaho P-TECH leaders hope to have the earliest programs ready for local students by autumn of next year. The ultimate goal, however, is to make the program available to students statewide.

“What we’re really after is equity,” MacMillan said. “We want kids to have access to a high-quality program regardless of their zip code.”

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