Every time September rolls around some part of me instinctively thinks that school is about to start. Never mind that I haven’t been in school for some time; this is an ingrained reaction. This year, I’m actually wishing I were, because this September marked the opening of the SAP Business Technology Early College High School in Queens, New York.
Commonly referred to as B-TECH, the six-year high school aims to fill a void in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education in the US. Spurred by the lagging state of American high school education (particularly in the STEM fields) and the increased demand for talent in the technology sector, SAP worked with the New York State Department of Education to design a school that operates an entirely new curricular model. Technology education is built into every student’s course load in one of the two available course tracks: Technology Design or Technology Developer.
The school is run as a partnership between SAP and the Queensborough Community College of the City University of New York, and coursework is supplemented with mentoring, job site experience, apprenticeships, and internships. Upon graduation, each student earns both a high school diploma and an Associate’s degree from Queensborough Community College, tuition-free. So far there are 125 ninth-graders currently taking classes at B-TECH in Queens, but they won’t be alone for long, as SAP is planning to open schools in several other cities, including Chicago, Vancouver, and Boston.
The B-TECH model is similar to that of P-tech, a six-year vocational high school founded in 2011 by IBM in Brooklyn, New York. Both schools aim to close the gap in technology education, while priming students for positions at their respective companies or at client organizations. This is achieved through “backwards mapping” of the skills required for entry-level jobs at SAP onto the B-TECH coursework; instead of having students graduate and then struggle to find internships or to even determine what skills they should be acquiring, they graduate with relevant work experience under their belts and realistic expectations about the professional life that awaits them in the tech industry.
The idea of corporate-sponsored public schools is a new one, and not altogether reassuring. But when one considers the woeful state of public technology education in the US, the concept appears increasingly logical and even overdue, outweighing the possible concerns over corporate-sponsored education. Relatively speaking, even though it’s not been that long since I was in high school (I graduated in 2007) I was fortunate if I even got near a computer in school on an average day, let alone grasped what was going on inside of it. In this model, even a student who later decides she or he doesn’t want a career in technology is better prepared than most who lack hands-on work experience and a foundational understanding of business and technology. After all, the two are only growing more inextricably linked.
In some ways, the B-TECH model can be viewed as an exported mashup of the German educational system. Unlike the fairly common one-size-fits-all approach to high school education in the US, it is at the high school level that education in Germany diverges as students are placed into various educational tracks that range from purely academic (Gymnasium) to partially or almost wholly vocational (Realschule or Hauptschule, respectively). B-TECH is arguably the best of both worlds, as students are still exposed to all the traditional subjects, but they’re also assigned an SAP mentor upon entering ninth grade. In ninth grade, I was reading The Catcher in the Rye just like ninth graders have been doing in the US for the last half-century.
Is it too late to enroll?