There are high school students across the Western New York region who are completely focused on their careers. WBFO's Senior Reporter Eileen Buckley continues our Cafeteria Chats series, meeting with students enrolled in a program called P-TECH (Pathways to Early College High School).
Students in the Pathways to Early College High School traveled from their LoGuidice Campus in Fredonia to an Erie 2 BOCES site in Orchard Park. That is where they met with us to talk about the six year program that is preparing them for the workforce.
What we discovered was a very close-knit group of students who respect one another. P-TECH students are on their way to earning a high school diploma while gaining work experience and a future associate’s degree.
"At P-TECH, we’re still all kind of one big group. We all know each other. It’s different than what a normal high school would be — would have been,” said 10th-grader Luke Peterson-Riedesel.
Peterson-Riedesel tells us the P-TECH program has offered him an advantage to excel toward a future career toward engineering.
“Back in middle school, I was barely passing all my classes. And now in P-TECH I have everything — high 80s, low 90s. It’s wonderful,” said Peterson-Riedesel.
“What changed for you?” asked Buckley. “Honestly, I think it was my mentality. When I came here, that changed. It’s like alright you’re in a program, this is a special opportunity, you have to make sure you use this opportunity right and not waste it,” responded Peterson-Riedesel.
And not wasting the P-TECH experience appeared to be the general focus. Students have a strong commitment to work in a specific industry.
Ninth grader Hope Smith is studying computer science in the CAD program.
“I’ve always really loved technology and the good it can do for humanity and we’re moving into fully the technology era, so I don’t want to stay behind. And I find it very interesting,” remarked Smith.
These students are highly motivated to complete high school and quickly move into their college level associate degree while passing by some of the day-to-day high school drama.
“I grew up in Jamestown. Jamestown’s not good. People there are, they’re not nice, and I wanted something different.” It was very awful. People there were very mean. You were in one of the three groups: you were a bully, you were bullied, or you were left alone. And it was mainly about your appearance, or if you acted just slightly different from anybody else.” remarked Smith.
Ninth grader Joseph Schwartz comes from Frewsburg Central School Distract. He’s interested in aerospace. Schwartz said learning comes easy to him.
“Because they set us free, pretty much. They give us our academic, what we need to do — we’re self-learners. So they give us what we need to do. And if we can get that done first, we can go out to the maker’s space, which is a newer thing where you go outside and make whatever you want. I’ve seen a kid make a little LCD touch screen just out of a 9-volt battery, little wires and a little LCD screen,” explained Schwartz.
“I really wasn’t doing too good in school to begin with and it looked like something more that peaked my interested, because I really wasn’t a big fan of school at the time, but now I’m really starting to like it a lot more,” said 10th-grader Robert Goodrich.
Goodrich is interested in engineering. He said the biggest challenge is challenge is dealing with people and “getting along with others.”
“Just everyone has their own personalities, so someone might get a little aggravated when you joke about them — but someone else might not — so you’ve got to figure out how everybody is and how they react to stuff,” explained Goodrich.
One of the students we spoke with is still searching for her pathway.
“I haven’t picked a path to study but to be honest, I don’t really know why I’m in this program,” said Sara Rosario, a ninth grader.
Rosario, who goes by the nickname Garth, identifies as gender-neutral.
“To be honest, I’m from Dunkirk. I hate Dunkirk. Like, I don’t say I hate things much because I don’t like that word. But that’s the only way I can really put it,” declared Rosario. “I’m open about pretty much everything because even if I tried to be secretive, it’s still gonna get out there somehow.”
“How do you cope with it?” questioned Buckley. “Oh, I don’t cope with it. I just—it’s just stuck here. I can’t really get it out of my mind and some days, I just sit and cry myself to sleep. I can’t take a lot of pain anymore,” replied Rosario.
As our conversation evolved with Rosario, we discussed gender identity and transgender issues surrounding school polices on the use of bathrooms and locker rooms, but it conversation was interrupted by one of the school program leaders who said we were not allowed to discuss gender issues with their student.
“I don’t know I feel like the whole trans thing with the bathroom and all that is just so ridiculous,” Rosario stated.
"What is the choice for you?" I asked.
“Eileen, no," interrupted a program leader. "I don’t think it’s a fair question to ask.”
“I’ll answer it," responded Rosario. "I’m pretty much neutral. I don’t feel like a guy, and I don’t feel like a girl, I’m just in between.”