At NYC’s Energy Tech High, Equity and Engineering Merge

Published mar. 28, 2018

In our first blog in this series, 10 Equity Questions to Ask about Career and Technical Education, we promised to profile schools that can answer a majority of our equity questions in the affirmative. Energy Tech High School, one of 17 schools in the City University of New York's Early College Initiative, meets almost every equity criterion, falling short on only two—gender balance and having a mix of old and new tech fields.

With a student body that is 75 percent male and 25 percent female, Energy Tech is at the same time a demographic problem and a success. The school is working to attract more young women but also deserves a big “Bravo!” for attracting so many young men of color. The population of 503 students is approximately 54 percent Latino, 18 percent Asian, 13 percent white, and 10 percent black.*

As for the second “problem,” New York City is so big and has so many high schools—large and small—that it can offer not just a range of career and technical education (CTE) programs within a school but have entire schools tuned to one segment of the city’s labor market. Along with Energy Tech, where students prepare for associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in the engineering fields, other early colleges focus on business, architecture, IT, health care, advertising, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) more broadly. New York also has an array of traditional high schools with career-focused programs—some of which are legendary, like Brooklyn Tech and Aviation High School.

Here are some important ways that Energy Tech meets the equity criteria.

Let’s start with employer engagement—a key to helping students build networks for future referrals and recommendations, as well as getting a leg up in the labor market. Con Edison and National Grid, companies that provide natural gas and electricity to the city’s homes and businesses, have been school partners since the start. The companies work closely with the school to provide job shadows, internships, and help in shaping the school’s curriculum by connecting classroom learning to what happens in their industries. The energy industry needs a pipeline of young job candidates and, so far, has nothing but praise for the skills, both technical and professional, emerging from its youthful mentees.

Laura Miller, the industry liaison staff person who both recruits new companies and works with National Grid and Con Edison to develop and manage student experiences, has this to say: “In addition to all their core academic subjects, and the career and technical education within the engineering, they’re also getting what . . . we like to call 21st century, or leadership, skills—how to speak to professionals, how to network, how to have a polished resume, even if you’re just getting out there in the workforce for the first time. You’re infusing what the workforce needs right here in this school, making sure we’re mapping backwards from the skills that are needed at entry-level jobs to what they’re learning in the classes. . . to make sure they’re the most competitive candidates for what the engineering and energy industries need for tomorrow.”

Another important criterion is a postsecondary partnership because research confirms that attaining college credit while in high school is a strong indicator of college credential completion. Energy Tech partners with LaGuardia Community College, not far away from the early college high school site in Long Island City, Queens, to provide college courses without cost to students starting in 10th grade. Students who accumulate many college credits early may attend courses mainly at LaGuardia Community College but have ongoing support from their high school. Students at Energy Tech can earn two years of college credit in addition to a high school diploma. Some graduate with an associate's degree in four years; others may stay up to six years. Students can choose to study mechanical or electrical engineering. Says Hope Barter, the school’s principal: “Ultimately, our students will leave us as skilled candidates for jobs on a ladder of career growth in the fields of energy and technology or competitive applicants for four-year colleges.”

Finally, among the most important criteria are diversity and academic achievement because these students are heading toward a postsecondary credential, many on an accelerated pathway. Energy Tech students are as diverse as New York City’s population, and admission is not screened. The school is performing well, with 95 percent completing the approved college and career readiness curriculum—a percentage substantially above that of either the borough of Queens or the city as a whole. Indeed, the school has gained a reputation for excellence since it opened in 2013, with applications far exceeding spots in the 9th grade class.

In the next blog, we will profile a more typical vocational high school providing an array of career-focused programs.

*Source: Just under 1 percent of students is American Indian and multiracial respectively; 0.4 percent is Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander; and 3 percent is not reported.

Photo courtesy of ConEdison.