President Barack Obama waves as he arrives to speak at Pathways in Technology Early College High School in Brooklyn, New York, Friday, Oct. 25, 2013. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
NEW YORK (AP) — President Barack Obama visited a cutting-edge vocational school on Friday, praising it as a model of public-private partnership and challenging Congress to invest in similar schools.
Obama met with students at Pathways in Technology Early College High School, or P-Tech, which was born out of cooperation among the city’s Department of Education, the City University of New York and IBM.
“Everybody is pulling together to make sure a high school education puts people on a good path to a good job,” said Obama, who praised the school as a “ticket to the middle class.”
Students attend the Brooklyn school from grades 9 to 14, meaning they do two years of college work in addition to the four years of high school. Their coursework has a heavy emphasis on computer science.
Obama mentioned the school during his State of the Union speech this year. When he took the stage in the school’s gymnasium on Friday, he was greeted with shrieks from students. He praised their hard work, joking that it was unusual to set foot in a school “where students actually like math.”
Obama also lauded the school’s ascendant home borough, where he lived for a few months as a recent college graduate in 1984.
“When I was here Brooklyn was cool, but not this cool,” he said to cheers.
The Democratic president urged the Republican-controlled House of Representatives to pass a budget deal that would preserve funding for schools like P-Tech.
There are 335 students at the school, which opened in a rough stretch of Crown Heights in September 2011. They are assigned corporate mentors and have inside tracks to jobs at IBM.
IBM’s vice president of corporate citizenship and corporate affairs, Stan Litow, said there’s no admissions requirement and most of the students are “children of color.” He said workplace skills valued by employers “are buried throughout the curriculum,” and he called Obama’s visit “a validation for the model.”
Students were thrilled to host the president.
“The fact that we got the attention that I guess you could say we deserved, I’m very proud for myself and my school,” said 11th-grader Leslieanne John, 16.
The school’s success has inspired copycats. A similar school opened in Chicago last year, and by next fall six more will open in New York City and another 15 are planned elsewhere in the state.
City and state elected officials attending Obama’s speech included independent Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who played a key role in creating the school, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Democratic Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, his party’s nominee for mayor.
Obama called de Blasio “my friend,” and they then made an appearance together at Junior’s restaurant, where they ordered its signature cheesecake. Obama endorsed de Blasio last month, and the stop appeared akin to a campaign appearance on his behalf.
De Blasio’s presence at the school ignited a small controversy because it was announced on his campaign schedule even though politicking at a school is illegal within 60 days of an election. The de Blasio camp insisted it was listed that way simply because of the interest generated by the high-profile event.