SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a wrench into the plans of many school districts, and the same holds true for students in Syracuse’s P-Tech programs. However, with some businesses adapting to COVID-19, the program still offers students the opportunity to connect directly with business professionals and prepare them to enter the workforce.

The Syracuse City School District offers six programs that are considered P-Tech, Pathways in Technology Early College High School. Even during a pandemic, the programs allow students to receive hands-on training and work directly with business professionals in a number of different industries. 

So, an example is at ITC, the two P-Tech programs there are the electrical technology and mechanical technology programs. So, if a student enrolls in one of those programs, and is accepted, they stay in that career and tech-ed program all the way through high school, and their classes are aligned with the electrical tech or mechanical tech associate’s degree programs at the college. So, they are kind of taking college classes early. 9th and 10th grade is when they start, and they’re taking them all the way through high school, and then when they finish, they’ve earned, in some cases, up to 32 college credits.

Nick Lisi — Work-based learning coordinator for Syracuse City School District

The most important part of the program, in Lisi’s mind, is when the students actually get to work with professionals in the industry they are studying. 

“It’s the magic of the program,” Lisi said. “We all, in the Syracuse career and tech-ed and the Syracuse City School District, truly believe that the connection that students make with businesses in these programs, starting in 9th grade, and continue it through the program, is why our students are so prepared and so ready for college and careers.”

The businesses that partner with Syracuse schools will sometimes offer students internships, job shadows, and when they complete the P-Tech program and earn their degree, job opportunities. 

The potential spread of COVID-19 has made the business aspect of the program difficult, but it’s not impossible. Businesses are now using Zoom and other video conferencing technology to deliver the same experience to students, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

The program’s coordinator, Nick Lisi, thinks students may even be getting more out of the program now than they were before the pandemic. 

“Instead of asking our business partners to just give us a sort of virtual tour, we are going to ask our business partners to challenge our students to work for them,” Lisi said. “We call it a workplace challenge. So, we’re asking our businesses to come up with a challenge that they’re dealing with, and have our students try to solve it for them. So, we’ll connect with our businesses at their facility, virtually, the business will challenge our students with that project, and then there will be kind of that back and forth.”

Through video conferencing, businesses still give students a mock interview and students have a chance to review their resume with a professional. It’s a win-win for everyone involved. 

Lisi said, “It’s different. It’s a different way of communicating, it’s a different way of engagement, but we are learning all along the way. I do believe that we are going to have even more businesses participating and that support will continue, we’re confident of that. It’s just a little bit different of an experience for our students.

For the 314 students currently enrolled in Syracuse’s P-Tech programs, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented challenges, but it is not stopping them from being prepared for the workplace after school.