Transformation begins

Stakeholders celebrate start of P-TECH Academy work

OBSERVER Photo by Greg Fox A groundbreaking ceremony for construction on the future P-TECH College and Career Academy took place Wednesday at the former Dunkirk School 6 building. Pictured in the front row with shovels are P-TECH students, from left: Aiden Pesker, Lake Shore; Justin Klepfer, Gowanda; Justin Philips, Cassadaga; Nate Hoelscher, Eden; Matt Butcher, Cassadaga; Whitney Hice, Dunkirk; Nichoel Mettler, Jamestown; and Garrett Sliwinski, Forestville. Pictured in the back row are elected leaders and officials involved with the P-TECH program.

The theme for Wednesday’s groundbreaking ceremony at the former Dunkirk School 6 building became clear right away — this is all about the kids.

Students and stakeholders in the local P-TECH program celebrated the start of construction for what will become their permanent learning facility on East Benton Street in the city. A number of elected officials joined in on the fun by lauding the program and its goal of ensuring a much-needed, high-skilled workforce for local manufacturers.

“This is a huge event, not just for our community and not just for our partnering agencies, but for our region,” P-TECH Director William Smock said. “This gathering … isn’t for this building, it’s for you (the students).”

Officials aim to cut the ribbon on the P-TECH College and Career Academy next January. Once that happens, the P-TECH (Pathways in Technology Early College High School) program will move from the Erie 2-Chautauqua-Cattaraugus BOCES LoGuidice Center in Pomfret.

The eventual move to the academy will alleviate space concerns as the program expands and accumulates cohorts of students.

OBSERVER Photo by Greg Fox Students and stakeholders in the local P-TECH program pose in front of the former Dunkirk School 6 building, the future home of the P-TECH College and Career Academy.

“The research on what happens when you take students and you give them learning experiences that are connected to a clear future for them, a job they know they can attain and the learning experiences are relevant and they’re hands on and minds on — it’s amazing what students do under those circumstances,” BOCES Superintendent Dr. David O’Rourke noted. “We’re seeing those results with our kids right here. You guys are continuing to defy all expectations with the work you’re doing in an innovative program like this. We know this is the way we need to go (with) our partnership and our commitment to workforce development and industry in this region.”

“We’ve got so many exciting things happening up here in the north county,” stated Chautauqua County Executive Vince Horrigan, citing the upcoming Athenex pharmacy oncology plant and Fieldbrook Foods’ impending expansion. “They always say, ‘How’s the workforce?’ and you know the words that roll off my tongue are, ‘Have you heard about the P-TECH program?’ This is a unique program that is exactly what our employers are looking for, and what I’m happy about is you guys, when you graduate, you don’t need to go anywhere! You can stay here in this community because you got great schools, you got great people and a great community.”

Construction consists of renovating the existing structure, as well as adding a technology laboratory on the south side of the 1967 gymnasium and a cafeteria on the north side near Townsend Street. The interior demolition phase of the project — which was carried out last year — consisted of asbestos abatement and a total gutting of School 6, which closed in 1997.

Other officials who spoke at the groundbreaking were Dunkirk Mayor Willie Rosas, Jamestown Community College Dean of STEM Jean Schrader, Dunkirk City School District Superintendent Dr. James Tracy, Dunkirk Board of Education President David Damico, state Sen. Catharine Young representative Kevin Muldowney, Congressman Tom Reed representative Jacqueline Phelps and Chautauqua County Education Coalition Director Justin Hanft.

“You made a big leap of faith … to choose a program that was different, and that was a challenge, that was a big decision,” Hanft told the students. “As an eighth grader, you made that decision, and I commend you for that. On behalf of the Manufacturers Association (of the Southern Tier) and Dream It Do It of Western New York, as well, I want to strongly encourage that we’re going to do everything we can to make sure you have the right opportunities to find a job right here locally.”

P-TECH aims to give students a free college-level education in mechanical technology or welding over the course of a six-year curriculum. Eligible students must be entering their freshman year of high school, must be at risk for not completing high school and/or college in the traditional environment (e.g. a grade behind schedule) and must reside in one of the Erie 2 BOCES component school districts. Completion of the program equates to graduating with a state Regents diploma and an associate degree from JCC.

The local area landed a key $2.8 million, six-year P-TECH state grant in 2014. That grant instituted the P-TECH program, with the inaugural cohort of students starting during the 2015-16 school year. Dunkirk Schools served as the lead agency for the grant, with BOCES as the implementation agency.

Email: gfox@observertoday.com. Twitter: @gfoxnews


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