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What's behind the P-TECH hype? We answer as Obama stops by

P-TECH produced buttons after President Obama name-checked the school in his State of the Union address in January. In a system with more than 1,800 schools, one is getting an extra-large dose of attention today. President Barack Obama is visiting P-TECH, or Pathways in Technology Early College High School (and partially shutting down Prospect Park in the process). The small school in Crown Heights, which opened in 2011 in the building being vacated by Paul Robeson High School, doesn’t even have a graduating class to boast about. But it’s been getting high praise from high places since even before it opened because of its approach to preparing students for a 21st-century job market. P-Tech is new and still relatively untested — it’s only a few months into its third year — but there are some early signs of success under its dynamic principal, Rashid Davis. Still, whether it will live up to its lofty promises remains to be seen. Here’s our breakdown of what’s been happening in the Crown Heights school and why it’s received so much buzz. How much buzz has there been? The hype has come early and often. P-TECH was barely open a month back in 2011 when policy makers had already taken an interest and replicating it around the country. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel struck a deal to open up to five schools like it; in New York, Mayor Bloomberg laid out plans to replicate it twice in his 2012 State of the City speech; three more schools could open next year. Last year, a foundation solicited bids for P-TECH duplicates in Idaho. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who will join Obama for the visit today, has jumped on the bandwagon, too. In August, he announced 16 winners to split up $4 million to start their own P-TECH versions around the state. In between, P-TECH received visits from a host of high-profile leaders in education, including one day last year when Chancellor Dennis Walcott, State Education Commissioner John King and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan all stopped by. A couple of months later, Obama name-dropped the school in his 2013 State of the Union speech. Obama said it was a new way for American schools to prepare students for life beyond high school. Partnerships with higher education and high-tech industries, he said in his 2013 State of the Union speech, would be key to bridging that gap in the future. "At schools like P-Tech in Brooklyn," Obama said, "a collaboration between New York Public Schools, the City University of New York, and IBM, students will graduate with a high school diploma and an associate degree in computers or engineering.” Obama returns today, where he'll be joined by Bloomberg, Cuomo, Walcott, Democratic mayoral nominee Bill de Blasio, as well as union leaders Michael Mulgrew and Randi Weingarten. What’s so special about the P-TECH model?
New York

P-TECH students act as teachers in summer geometry course

Seifullah (left) cuts a paper cylinder into circles to teach P-TECH students at one table for a lesson on how to calculate volume. All but a handful of ninth- and 10th-graders at Pathways in Technology Early College High School have an ambitious summer goal: to pass the Regents exam in geometry before school starts in September. To that end, they are enrolled in a six-week long summer enrichment class meant to get them up to speed on the information technology-themed school's academic expectations and prepare them to take the state's geometry exam this month. Classes are long — two to four hours each morning — and involve a mix of group projects, drills, homework, and writing assignments. GothamSchools spent the morning in one marathon math class two weeks before the Aug. 16 exam. As the students worked in pairs on projects, four teachers hovered above, sometimes chiming in with explanations of geometry concepts and sometimes reigning students in when they wandered off-task. After class, the lead teacher, Jamilah Seifullah, explained how she kept track of the students and what she wanted them to learn. As when we chronicled Ryan Hall's math class in May, we've included Seifullah's commentary in block quotes beneath our observations. Seifullah, who taught geometry to a small cohort of advanced math students last spring in the school's first year, took turns directing the class with Rachel Jamison, an English teacher who is pitching in with math instruction this summer. Jamison is also offering English lessons, but not for credit and during a shorter class period. With the Regents exam approaching, she and Seifullah agreed to combine the classes for longer math sessions, but weave in tasks that build literacy skills. 10 a.m.  Already, 32 P-TECH students had been working in pairs on a major assignment for almost an hour. Sitting at round tables in groups of five or six, each pair was using a computer to put the finishing touches on presentations on various geometry concepts, such as surface area and the isosceles triangle theorem, they would later present to their classmates.