What happens when a corporation helps create a high school?
We’ve already seen hints of what it looks like with P-tech, IBM’s six-year vocational high school in Brooklyn, where students learn extensive science, math, and engineering skills and after six years, get a high school diploma, associate degree, and a priority path to a job at IBM. Now the business software company SAP is trying its hand with a similar model.
At Business Technology Early College High School (BTECH) in Queens, students have just started school, like their peers across the country. They are taking classes like physics, history, and physical education. But in the afternoon, they get a heavy dose of business or technology programming, depending on the major students have selected, and they stay in school all the way past 4 p.m. During their last two years, they get to spend time in real-world internships. And at the end of six years, students walk away with their diploma, an associate degree in business systems or engineering technology, and skills that are highly tailored to a job at SAP or one of its partner companies.
The idea for the public school, a collaboration between SAP, Queensborough Community College, the New York City Department of Education, and the Early College Initiative at the City University of New York, was thought up by SAP two years ago. “We started funding STEM programs, after-school programs, and we started to get a little bolder. We wanted to provide a direct IT career pathway to students,” says Jackie Montesisnos Suarez, head of SAP’s North American corporate social responsibility team.
This is the first year for the school, which now has a freshman class of 125. In the early years, the school is similar to a regular high school. Ninth and 10th grade have a strong emphasis on soft skills–like verbal and speaking skills–instead of technology. The school promises an emphasis on literacy and critical thinking, to ensure that kids who decide a tech career isn’t for them don’t get left behind.
But then there are the differences. Kids choose a business or technology major. Every student gets a mentor from SAP on day one; teachers get mentors as well. “We want to make sure we’re guiding the teachers and offering them professional development opportunities,” says Montesisnos Suarez. In 10th grade, students begin to take college coursework. In the final two years, they move out of the high school altogether and onto the Queensborough Community College campus, where they switch off between classroom work and internships.
SAP’s imprint on the curriculum is easily apparent. The company did “backwards mapping” on many of the courses, taking entry-level descriptions of jobs at SAP–one around a developer role, another around a business/sales role–and mapping coursework to the skills required for those jobs.
“We interviewed people in those jobs at SAP–people who have been in those jobs a long time–to see what you really need to be successful in the roles,” says Montesisnos Suarez. Throughout their time at the school, students also have access to SAP products, making them more prepared to either work at the company or work at other companies that use those products as well.
Like IBM, SAP isn’t guaranteeing students a job at the end of their six years, though they will have an advantage over other graduates simply because of their technical experience. “We’re working on building up internships and job-shadowing within the school. If they do that, they’ll be competitive at any tech company,” says Montesisnos Suarez.
Instinctually, a corporate-sponsored high school seems like it could pose problems–if people are up in arms about Bill Gates creating school coursework, a big company can’t be much better. But the difference is that Gates wants to revolutionize the way history, a basic school subject that can be manipulated to advocate for specific world views, is taught. SAP and IBM only get a say in the vocational, skills-based coursework–in courses that are essentially training for post-graduation jobs. These companies have insight into the job skills necessary today in the STEM world.
Any protestations aside, the six-year vocational training high school model seems to be catching on. P-tech schools are sprouting up across New York state, and SAP is opening up similar schools in Vancouver, Boston, and other cities in the near future. With over 8 million STEM jobs predicted by 2018, the kids who go to these schools will be better prepared than most.