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Tech education program P-TECH puts IBM inside this West Baltimore school

At Carver Vocational Technical High School, De'Rell Bonner serves as a career and community conduit.

De'Rell Bonner (right) with P-TECH students. (Courtesy photo)
Correction: IBM internships are no longer working out of Betamore. Instead, IBM is renting an office near the National Harbor. (7/3/19, 4:44 p.m.)

At Carver Vocational Technical High School in West Baltimore, the P-TECH program offers unique preparation for tech jobs that bridges education and career opportunity.

Short for Pathways in Technology Early College High School, the program offers a free associate degree in cybersecurity and assurance or computer information systems through a partnership with Baltimore City Community College, along with high school diploma.

Ultimately those skills are designed to be aligned with jobs, so involvement from companies who help guide what skills can be taught and offer jobs to students who complete the program are also key to the model. At Carver, the corporate partner is IBM, which initially developed the program that debuted in Brooklyn, expanded to eight schools in Maryland since 2016 and is expected to be in 200 public schools by the end of the year.

It brings together high school teachers, college professors and IBM professionals who are all looking at how to make the program effective.

IBM also looks to be inside the everyday activities of the school, and that’s evident in the role played in the program by De’Rell Bonner. As onsite liaison for the company, he said he’s “integrated into the culture of the school.” That means working with the staff to identify where IBM’s resources can contribute. And for the students, Bonner looks to provide connections to career-oriented activities, like trainings and workplace visits, or meeting mentors.

Bonner grew up in Chicago and worked at a P-TECH school in that city following a stint in policy work at the U.S. Department of Education. Coming to Baltimore, Bonner said it was important to get an understanding of the community, and the challenges.

“It’s really about, how can I meet parents, how can I meet the community, how can I cultivate a real partnership,” he said.

That work goes beyond teaching tech skills. One early event focused on male empowerment, and gathered African American men from the community who spoke with the students. And in seeking guest speakers and mentors for a program that has 122 students, all of whom are Black, he worked to implement “targeted outreach to make sure we were sending IBMers to the school that were reflective of the student population that we were serving.”

“That takes really high-level strategy to say, ‘We can’t be what we can’t see,'” Bonner said.

Along with learning the material, students also get training in how to work in a college environment. Students in the third year did mock interviewing and resume building in the spring. They’ll be paid interns at IBM this summer, with 13 students working out of a rented office on East Pratt Street near the National Harbor.

Along with building apps and working on websites, there’s also an emphasis on soft skills like collaborating on a team, email etiquette and more.

They’ll be working 32 hours a week from Monday through Thursday starting July 9, with Fridays as professional development days.

“We know the importance of an internship because that experience can determine how a young person sees themselves in the long run,” Bonner said.

Companies: Pathways in Technology Early College High School / IBM

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