Upon winning a grant to create one of now 48 P-Tech high schools in New York State, Ulster County BOCES District Superintendent Charles Khoury offered Jonah Schenker what any founding school principal would dream of:  a blank canvas to design the school with virtually no restrictions on what it could be.

Schenker grounded his design in the P-Tech model of partnership between schools, colleges, and industry partners to ensure each student can graduate with a high school diploma, an associate’s college degree and marketable skills. To this he added that students would be assessed more on demonstrations of understanding and application of knowledge before authentic audiences than tests of factual recall, that progress toward graduation would be determined by mastery rather than “seat time”, that the students from mostly rural, working-class families would develop a global perspective, and that each student would have deep “signature learning moments’ through internships and workplace learning activities.

Schenker’s vision became the Hudson Valley Pathways Academy (HVPA), a STEM school beginning in grade 9, located on the SUNY Ulster college campus.  Serving students who have struggled in more traditional school environments, HVPA offers a broad range of high school and college courses, including a unique core workplace learning class.

Several times during the school year, HVPA “young scholars” are challenged to provide solutions to real problems brought to them by one of 180 local industry partners. For example, Selux, a high-end lighting company, faced an ongoing internal communications problem that was affecting productivity. As one student put it, they needed to “counteract the slowness and overcomplication of emails”. Using a well-structured process reflecting core principals of project-based learning and the ISSN’s four domains of global competency, students first investigated the problem by reflecting on principles of effective communication and their own communication habits, brainstorming, and then designing and prototyping potential solutions.  They recognized and weighed the perspectives of company employees on the existing communications system and communicated the pitfalls of that system through a series of engaging skits and insightful learning activities.  Completing the cycle, students took action by presenting their proposed solution, a digital platform called Slack, through eye-opening presentations and demonstrations.

Selux executives embraced the solution, vowing to gradually introduce Slack as an alternative means of communication company wide.   While perhaps initially motivated by altruism to partner with HVPA, Selux, like all the industry partners, continues to be actively engaged because of the return on their investment of time and resources.  According to Peter Harris, Director of Learning and Design for Career Pathways Programs and former HVPA principal, ensuring that both students and industry partners benefit from the program is the key to success and sustainability.

What’s HVPA’s ultimate goal for students? Joseph Salamone, successor to Schenker and Harris as principal of the school, puts it simply as “employable good humans with choices.”  Since its inception in 2013, Hudson Valley Pathways Academy has been enormously successful in producing just that.

Written by: Dr. Anthony Jackson, Vice President for Education and Director of the Center for Global Education at Asia Society (retired) Advisor to Community Catalyst Partners