There’s not a lot to distinguish Brooklyn STEAM Center from a start up, people brain storm, use high end computers and are situated at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, once the heart of heavy industry and now a hub of tech in New York City.
It’s just that the assembled people are of school age, students at one of the few schools in the world situated in a work place.
The school was developed with industry leaders to teach real-life job skills that would generate the next wave of tech workers in the city.
The center is the latest iteration of vocational schools that have embraced technology to prepare students for emerging jobs in health care, engineering and information technology.
“Our ambition is that it will be a next-generation model for career and technical schools here in New York City,” said David Ehrenberg, the president and chief executive officer of the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation.
The STEAM Center grew out of a pilot program and now 221 juniors and seniors spend half the day at other high schools taking required academic classes, and the other half at the center specialising in one of five tracks: design and engineering; computer science and information technology; film and media; construction technology; and culinary arts and hospitality management.
The students apply to the center and are selected by their high schools. There is no minimum required grade point average or test score. About 93% of the students are black or Hispanic, and 74% are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced lunch.
The STEAM Center was developed by Kayon Pryce, the founding principal, along with Ehrenberg and Dr Lester W Young Jr, a member of the state Board of Regents and a former city education official. It initially held classes in two high schools before moving to the Navy Yard.
The center, Dr Young said, has brought together children from both high achieving and struggling high schools, where students, often poor and from minority communities, have less access to opportunities. “The old model of career technical education in a school is an old model,” he said. “We had to think boldly.”
The school’s new home has conference rooms, as well as a room for private calls, a recording studio, a screening room and a teaching kitchen. Student lockers come in a gray-matte finish inspired by the lockers at a nearby fashion company.
Mr Pryce said most students planned to go to college, including one senior who has received a full scholarship to study computer science at St John’s University.
Students master design, engineering and construction skills by transforming two shipping containers into smart homes. Computer science students wired the new computer lab; now they maintain the network and troubleshoot problems. Film and media students recorded podcasts, and shot and edited a commercial promoting the school.
The school also teaches so-called soft skills like the importance of showing up on time, responding to emails and getting along with co-workers. Students also learn to network, coming up with a 30-second “elevator pitch” — the time it takes to ride the elevator up to the center’s home on the third floor.
Deon Watts, 16, who plans to go into construction said; “It’s not like your English class can teach you how to build a box or fix an electrical circuit,” she said. “It’s important because that’s how you’re going to survive in the real world. It’s not as easy as reading a book.”
So much to do, so little time. It is a trite phrase, but when I found myself as the only DigiTech teacher in the school, it suddenly gained a lot more meaning.
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