Gabe isn’t a typical P-TECH student. Then again, many of the students in the P-TECH program in Ballarat, Australia, are ones who didn’t fit in at mainstream schools. But here, at Federation College Australia, Gabe has found his place.
“P-TECH has definitely changed my life and made it easier,” he says of the IBM-inspired program. “It’s definitely given me the opportunity to do what I never thought I’d be able to do.”
Gabe is severely visually impaired, needing a cane to walk. Yet he manages school full time as well as caring for his mother.
Some of the other students in the program have learning disabilities, physical disabilities, and a few are on the autism spectrum. Some have had troubles socializing, some have been home schooled for various reasons. But all of the students have concerned parents who want their teenagers to have a bright future and land a good job.
“My favorite part of P-TECH has been the opportunities I have been given to engage with a wide range of people,” Gabe says. “It has provided me with the potential to pursue further studies that were not previously possible. I have greater confidence and I am more active in the world. I see lots of possibilities for the future.”
That confidence transformed him from being reserved to being outwardly focused. He now sees his quest as helping others. He’s run workshops for Vision Australia, and is a member of the City of Ballarat’s Youth Advisory Board.
For Rory, a classmate of Gabe’s, the P-TECH school has also been a huge, positive change. In public school, she was bullied and felt she couldn’t be the person she was. She was later diagnosed with autism-spectrum disorder.
At P-TECH, she’s thrived, finding the teachers to be friendly, easy to connect with and encouraging everyone to be who they are.
“P-TECH offered me opportunities that I would never have been able to pursue in my small, rural school,” Rory says. “Coming here has been a dream that I thought I would never be able to experience. I am planning on furthering my skills and knowledge in relation to IT, either by pursuing further study or gaining employment in a technology-related job.”
Rory, Gabe and five other P-TECH students recently spent their summer break doing six-week internships at a nearby campus of IBM, which is the school’s industry partner.
P-TECH schools around the world blend classroom and career, giving teenage students the chance to earn free, tech-related degrees from their country’s equivalent of high school, and community or junior college.
Companies affiliated with a P-TECH school provide practical experience and workplace skills through mentors and internships.
For Rory’s internship, she joined a team working on a Hadoop proof-of-concept project, which involved big-data analysis for two international airlines. Rory stepped in with no knowledge or experience with Hadoop, which is an open-source platform for dealing with very large data sets.
It gave Rory with experience working on real-world solutions to real-world problems.
“The challenging part of the internship was my lack of prior experience in this type of project, which I was able to overcome,” she says. “I guess you could say I grew with the project in knowledge and experience.”
For his internship, Gabe helped develop a website for an IBM team that supports a large Australian Federal Government agency. He learned a new programming language, which he found easy to learn and allowed him to enhance the quality of the website.
Gabe and Rory are each pursuing a diploma in information technology at the university.
Australia continues to expand the number of schools offering P-TECH programs, giving more students like Gabe and Rory the chance to find academic and personal success, and to see a future of wide open opportunities.