OESJ celebrates new PTECH

Students and staff of OESJ Jr./Sr. High School pose for a picture at a ribbon cutting ceremony to celebrate the schools new PTECH program on Wednesday. (The Leader-Herald/Josh Bovee)

ST. JOHNSVILLE — The Fulton-Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony on Wednesday at Openheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville’s Jr./Sr. High School to celebrate the schools new Pathways in Technology Early College High School program (PTECH).

“We have eight wonderful students in our first cohort and an exemplary group of staff members joining us in kicking off this program this year,” Principal Adam Heroth said in his opening remarks.

With eight freshmen — five in the business program pathway and three in the trades pathway — leading the way in the inaugural year of the project-based, college accredited program, students and staff hope their example will draw others to this new method of learning. The PTECH program is designed to give students a pathway towards a career of their choice through community-minded projects that promote real world experience. At the end of the PTECH program, students will have earned a two-year degree while building a resume with actual work experience.

Laura Bellinger and Sarah Jewett, business teacher and English teacher, respectively, in the OESJ PTECH program, agree that the education system’s past emphasis on college degrees that can leave students jobless and in debt has failed and created a workforce that lacks the necessary skills to perform the plethora of jobs that are available. The PTECH program is designed to work around those pitfalls.

“Decades worth of kids have graduated from college [with] degrees like sociology, anthropology, psychology, English and then they can’t find a job and we’re tired of it,” Jewett said. “There is a middle-level skills gap. You have one group of people saying I can’t find an employee and another group of people saying I can’t find a job. It’s crazy.”

Adam Heroth, principal of the OESJ Jr./Sr. High School gives the opening remarks at a ribbon cutting ceremony on Wednesday at the school to celebrate the school's new PTECH program. (The Leader-Herald/Josh Bovee)

“People have been misguiding kids,” Bellinger added. “Here they’re going to get trades and business marketing [skills]. I teach entrepreneurship. Nobody talks to kids about that as an option. And they’re going to end up with a two year degree besides.”

According to the eight students in the program, not only are they building a path for a career, they’re having fun doing it.

“It’s been great,” one student said, while another remarked how PTECH “makes the day go by faster.”

The group — among whom there are two perspective heavy equipment operators, a photographer, an accountant and a restaurateur — is currently taking one college-credited course in computers and is working on a project to design a theoretical theme park for the area.

The OESJ PTECH program is non-grant funded program, which means financing comes entirely from the school district.

“We’re a small school and for the school district to jump right in — we’re not a grant funded PTECH right now, so we’re kind of doing this on our own,” Principal Heroth said. “But that didn’t stop the chamber, HFM BOCES, FMCC from being very supportive of what we’re doing and I’m just thrilled about the opportunities we can provide these kids. And I just can’t say enough about my staff.”

Being a small school hasn’t stopped the program from seeing wider support as Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara and New York state senator George Amadore both attended the Wednesday ribbon cutting to give encouragement to the students and to recognize the OESJ school district for providing the opportunity.

Assemblyman Santabarbara presented OESJ Superintendent Joseph Natale a citation in recognition of the PTECH program.

“Today, from the New York State Assembly, I’m very pleased to present a citation that recognizes this day so we can look back and remember when we expanded the PTECH program we did it here first,” Assemblyman Santabarbara said. “With these eight students, they’re going to be leading the way for a number of other students that are going to follow in your footsteps.”

“[To] all of the [PTECH] students: all I can say is hurry up. Hurry up. We need you desperately,” Senator Amadore said. “We need good trained talent. A work force that is prepared. A work force that is ready. The jobs are waiting. Good paying jobs are waiting for you.”