Poudre High School pairs with Woodward, Front Range CC on manufacturing program

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Poudre High School was recently certified as a Pathway in Technology Early College High School, or P-TECH, becoming the first in Poudre School District.

P-TECH schools partner with at least one local employer and one higher education partner to allow students a clear path to their associate degree, industry certifications and a career.

For its program that will launch in the 2021-22 school year, Poudre High School has partnered with Front Range Community College and Woodward Inc., an industrial design, manufacturing and service provider headquartered in Fort Collins.

Poudre High School principal Kathy Mackay said the P-TECH program will serve as an offshoot of the school’s engineering and design pathway. She said it will allow students an alternative form of postsecondary education, giving them the opportunity to earn an associate degree tuition-free. 

“For some kids, the four-year degree is not essential,” Mackay said. “If we can give them an alternative, where they are still getting that postsecondary education and potential certification within an industry … we just think that having those options for kids is important.”

Students who graduate from Poudre High School’s P-TECH program — which Mackay said can take between four and six years — will leave with a high school diploma and either an associate degree of general studies or associate degree of applied science. For the latter degree, students can select a manufacturing specialization of general manufacturing, machining, welding or electronics, according to the school’s P-TECH application. 

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Students in the program will take about 75% of courses for the degree at Poudre High School, Mackay said, but will take more advanced and specific courses at Front Range. 

A main focus of P-TECH schools is to engage diverse students from various socio-economic and racial backgrounds. Minority students make up almost one-third of Poudre High School’s enrollment.

Mackay said typically about 40% of Poudre High School’s students live in poverty, so offering a program that can help launch these students into a career where they “can be self-sufficient and make a pretty high salary” is important. 

“We’ve seen a lot of kids who end up after graduation not really know what they want to do in their lives, and then they spent a lot of money on college only to then find a career path that might be different from what they had started on,” Mackay said. “And in that time, they’ve wasted a lot of time and money.”

P-TECH schools target underrepresented demographics, and 2019-20 data showed that 44% of program students across the state were first-generation college students.

Poudre High School had seen high demand for its engineering and design pathway, often having double the number of students opt into that program as opposed to others. Mackay said the student interest, along with the growing need within the manufacturing industry, factored into the school’s decision to apply and become a P-TECH.

Josh Weissman, who teaches technology education at Poudre but considers himself a shop teacher, will serve as the P-TECH program manager.

Weissman is eager to lead the program as he believes it will not only help students who have been “long underserved,” but will also improve the Fort Collins community by producing middle-skill manufacturing employees locally.

“Our education community for decades has measured success by how many bodies we’ve stuck in a university, and that’s certainly a great program but it’s not for everybody,” Weissman said, adding that “a manufacturing program can be a better fit for some students.” 

P-TECH schools have seen success around the state since they were brought to Colorado in 2015.

In the first year that Colorado P-TECHs reported post-graduation data, 73% of graduates were employed with a P-TECH partner, employed in their field of study or continuing their education, according to the Colorado Department of Education. 

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Molly Bohannon covers education for the Coloradoan. Follow her on Twitter @molboha or contact her at mbohannon@coloradoan.com. Support her work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.