Having all students graduate is a goal for every high school. For the Professional and Technical High School (PATHS) in Osceola County, it has been a reality for the past 10 years.
PATHS not only boasts a consistent 100 percent graduation rate, it also produces some of the most impressive test scores in Florida despite a predominantly minority and low-income student population.
Great schools share common traits such as excellent leaders, passionate teachers and involved parents. PATHS has all of those. What is also has is relevance. Students see the importance of succeeding in high school because they are introduced to what will be required of them after high school.
Do they want to be a teacher? How about an electrician or auto mechanic, a police officer or a firefighter?
All require the foundation of a solid education. As PATHS puts them on pathways to those goals, it creates the motivation to succeed in the classroom.
The school also has some advantages. It is relatively small, with 613 students. That allows for a more personalized touch.
“We know all the kids by name,’’ says Nanci Jane Brillant, a language arts teacher. “It is a village. You cannot fall through the cracks here. There are too many people paying attention.’’
PATHS is a school of choice and students must qualify to attend. They do so by their scores on the Test for Adult Basic Education. About 75 percent of applicants are accepted, with most coming in performing at grade level. Parents are committed.
“We want every child to succeed,” says Principal Paula Evans. “We make a lot of calls home. I’ve never had a parent say, ‘I don’t want my child to graduate.’’’
The school is conveniently located next to the Technical Education Center Osceola. Students on a career track take their academic courses at PATHS and go next door to begin work on industry certifications. That transition usually begins their junior year. Many participate in paid internship programs over the summer. Some do their internships with the school district.
The school focuses on in-demand fields, including electricians, pharmacy techs, medical assistants, digital designers, chefs and heating/air conditioning (HVAC) technicians.
University tracks are encouraged as well, with an offering of Advanced Placement classes. Students also can dual enroll at Valencia College, graduating from high school with over 30 college credits. This translates into a year of free college and a substantial savings for parents. Those who move on to Valencia for an A.A. or A.S. degree then can transition to the University of Central Florida through the DirectConnect program.
This path works out well for the school’s Academy of Future Teachers program. One student who was in automotive mechanics now has his sights set on becoming a math teacher.
Likewise, students working toward an industry certification experience significant savings because most of their requirements are earned free in high school. This incentivizes them to excel in their academic courses, as is reflected in their test scores. They do not want to be pulled out of their technical courses for remediation classes.
The school staff dismisses the notion that students headed for technical careers shouldn’t be held to the same academic requirements as students headed for college.
“You have to have standards,’’ says Peggy Brickman, who teaches language arts. “These are skills they will need no matter what career they enter. To read an HVAC manual, you have to be able to read at a college level.’’
Some students earn industry certifications with the goal of obtaining higher paying jobs that will allow them to pursue college.
“They are more serious about their education,’’ says Evans. “The students take responsibility. They self-monitor themselves. It is harder to be disruptive.”
Adds Nanci Jane Brillant: “As an educator, this is a great place to be. You can set the bar as high as you want and the students will reach for it.”
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About the author
Mike Thomas @MikeThomasTweet
Mike Thomas serves in the communications department, writing editorials and speeches. Prior to joining the Foundation, Mike worked for more than 30 years as a journalist with Florida Today and the Orlando Sentinel. He has written investigative projects, magazine feature stories, humor pieces, editorials and local columns. He won several state and national awards, and was named a finalist in the American Society of New Editors’ Distinguished Writing Award for Commentary/Column Writing in 2010. As a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel, he wrote extensively about education reform, becoming one of its chief advocates in the Florida media. Mike graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in political science and journalism. His wife is a teacher and he has two children in public schools. Contact Mike at Mike@excelined.org