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New high school in Oswego County preparing students for careers in engineering

Payne Horning
P-TECH teacher Dan Lupa instructs a class of high school students about the upcoming project they will undertake on recycling.

Inside a classroom in Mexico, ninth grade students discuss the benefits of recycling with their teacher. They're thinking about how it can help the environment and a company's bottom line.  

"Do you think recycling is going to be a part of their work there?" teacher Brian Heffron asks.

"Yes, because they want to save a lot of money to keep the place running," a student responds. 

This specialty class focusing on recycling is a cornerstone of the Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH). It's a six-year program focusing on technology and engineering where incoming freshmen from any of Oswego County's nine school districts can graduate with a high school diploma and Associate in Applied Science Degree from Onondaga Community College. 

Student Fabiana Suarez from Pulaski said it will help her achieve her goal of becoming an environmental or chemical engineer.

"I love it so far," Suarez said. "It’s so different from normal school. It’s more hands on so we’re not just sitting there taking notes. The teachers are very interactive."

Through hands-on projects and classes in college-level courses like intro to engineering design, students like Suarez are getting a jump start into engineering. Teacher Brian Heffron said the model is based around encouraging creative, problem-solving thinking.  

"We’re there to guide them, to sort of let them come across the natural problems that would occur in any problem-solving situation, but really it's leaving them to decide what to do and then test those methods just like they would in a real world environment," Heffron said.  

Principal Bill Lynch said the curriculum will put them at the front of the line for jobs right in their backyard. 

"Manufacturing has a strong presence in our county and our region," Lynch said. "There are current needs for employees in electrical engineering and mechanical technologies and there will continue to be. They [area manufacturers] see growth opportunities with their businesses and they continue to grow economically with their sales and production, so for us as a local community and economy we have to help them with the investment they’re making here by making students career ready."

One of P-TECH's industry partners, aluminum manufacturer Novelis, is ready and eager to hire more of that local talent according to the plant's training coordinator Dave Lloyd.

"The people who strive to be in these types of positions tend to be more family oriented and even if they think they initially want to get away, they gravitate back home so we have a better likelihood of keeping these folks here," Lloyd said. 

Lynch said the program is also beneficial for local families. 

"Parents in our communities, to see their kids grow here, get educated here but be able to stay here employment-wise is a great opportunity," he said. "They are very pleased because they’ve had children grow and they had to leave the area in order to find employment and we’re trying to turn that around."

The Oswego County program is one of 33 P-TECH programs in New York state. It's funded by a $2.6 million grant from the state. 

Payne Horning is a reporter and producer, primarily focusing on the city of Oswego and Oswego County. He has a passion for covering local politics and how it impacts the lives of everyday citizens. Originally from Iowa, Horning moved to Muncie, Indiana to study journalism, telecommunications and political science at Ball State University. While there, he worked as a reporter and substitute host at Indiana Public Radio. He also covered the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly for the statewide Indiana Public Broadcasting network.