When we FIRST reported on George Westinghouse High School (GWHS) in 2001 (see “A School Grows in Brooklyn,” www.cio.com/printlinks), Principal Jean-Claude Brizard was working to transform a school once known more for its jewelry-making classes and high suspension rates than its educational value.
Four years ago, Brooklyn’s “IT High” dropped its traditional vocational classes and adopted a technology-only curriculum, including Cisco certification and C++ programming classes. The result: Urban Brooklyn’s economically underprivileged kids have a better chance of going to college and getting a job in IT-related fields, and the school’s name is no longer synonymous with crime.
“In the past, the students spent so much time in shop class, they weren’t prepared for the allure of a technical career,” says Brizard, who is now a local instructional superintendent of nine high schools?including George Westinghouse, after he turned over principal duties to John Widlund last June. “Companies today want experience and higher education,” he says.
Nearby companies, such as banking giant HSBC, are offering that experience by pairing GWHS students with company mentors and providing internships.
Just as companies are constantly adapting to changing business climates, says Widlund, GWHS is refining how it becomes a pioneer IT school. At first, the technology curriculum was more concentrated on the junior and senior years when students focus on one IT subject, taking courses in areas such as C++ programming. Now it’s focusing on adding technology to the earlier grades when students study academic subjects, a potential challenge for teachers who have worked mostly with paper and chalkboards for years and are reluctant to use computers as educational tools.
“It’s easy to get technology teachers involved in new technology, but it’s more difficult to get an English teacher involved who has a phobia about these things,” Brizard says.
So this year, with the help of a $450,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education, there are two teachers in many of the ninth-grade classrooms: An academic instructor and a technical instructor who helps students when they need to search for answers on the Web or use a PC to write an essay. Next year, students will be required to submit work electronically.
Parents are impressed. Carolette Rouse balked when her only child, Jermaine, showed interest in the school four years ago. “When he selected the school, my eyes were popping out because I had heard so many stories about George Westinghouse,” she says. “I had to see it for myself.”
What she saw were big changes and the school’s potential. Now a parent coordinator who helps plan parent-teacher night and other activities, she has watched the school’s transformation firsthand. When Jermaine had trouble with the Cisco program, the school matched him up with another student and he improved. Set to graduate this June in the second class to finish the entire IT program, Jermaine is weighing his options of going to college (such as New York Technical College in Brooklyn) or entering the workforce. He has what George Westinghouse students of a few years ago did not: choices.