A unique Crown Heights school draws the president to Brooklyn for the first time in decades

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NEW YORK (PIX11) – For the first time in decades, a sitting U.S. president visited Brooklyn.  President Barack Obama’s trip to the city’s largest borough on Friday was to deliver what the White House called a major policy speech.  It was about the future of the U.S. economy as told through the story of one very unique Crown Heights school, and particularly through the story of a successful student there.

Leslie Ann John is a third year student at Pathways for Technology Early College High School, or P-TECH, and during his speech at the school, the president talked about Leslie Anne John specifically.  The president also talked about her comments to him during a tour of a classroom at the public high school which doesn’t require an entrance exam, but is clearly getting notice for its high quality education.

P-TECH educates students from Grades 9 to 14, rather than to Grade 12.  During those six years, students take college courses with professors from the City University of New York’s College of Technology.  The professors come to the P-TECH campus to teach.  Students are also given paid summer internships at IBM which, along with the City University of New York (CUNY), are partners with the school.

IBM has also committed to putting P-TECH students at the front of the line for jobs with the Fortune 500 tech giant, after students successfully complete their six years of the P-TECH program.  Students receive an associate’s degree, as well.  All for free.

“P-TECH is proof of what we can do,” the president said about the school’s classroom-to-work curriculum, but he added that, even though P-TECH is the first school of its kind in the U.S., it’s not the first educational institution to carry out the type of mission the Brooklyn school is pursuing.

Many European countries, President Obama said, have classroom-to-workplace programs, and, said the president, “those countries are working hard to outcompete us, especially in areas this school specializes in.”

P-TECH’s curriculum focuses on math, engineering and technology. What makes the school unique, the president said, is that it’s in Brooklyn, U.S.A.

Obama pointed out that Brooklyn had become well known historically as a place where strivers, especially immigrants, could find solid industrial or service sector jobs, whether or not they’d been well educated.

“Those days are over, and are not coming back,” President Obama said to an auditorium full of eager, boistrous high schoolers, as well as prominent elected officials from Sen. Chuck Schumer, to the entire New York City congressional delegation to Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Democratic mayoral nominee Bill de Blasio.

However, said the president, the future strength of the U.S. economy features programs like P-TECH’s long-range arc to the middle class.

He said that Leslie Anne John, the third year student he’d met on his tour of the school located across the street from the notorious Albany Houses public housing complex, epitomizes what an education like P-TECH’s can achieve.

“Already, Leslie Anne took eight college classes,” President Obama said, “more than I took during all of college,” he joked.  He added seriously, however, that Leslie Ann had told him that “she’d learned at P-TECH, there’s more than just the streets.”

He pointed out that she’d said she wants to become a lawyer, and that the free associate’s degree she’ll receive from P-TECH will help her achieve that goal “without the burden of college debt,” the president said.

After the approximately 15 minute speech, Leslie Anne John spoke with PIX11 News.  She was visibly overwhelmed by how strongly she’d figured into the president’s speech about the future of the U.S. economy.

“Any praise I get,” the beaming 16 year-old said, “I give to my principal [Rashid Davis], and to my school, because if it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be getting the attention that President Obama feels we deserve.”

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