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VP-TECH summer bridge program aims
to build teamwork, lasting friendships among local
July 20, 2015

VP-TECH students
The first group of Valley Pathways in Technology Early College High School students participate in a team-building activity on Wednesday, July 15, during the VP-TECH summer bridge program at Herkimer College. Games such as the one being played here under the direction of VP-TECH Principal Brittany DerCola (standing in front of the whiteboard) helped the students get to know each other and get used to working in teams. For more about VP-TECH, click here.

West Canada Valley student Michael Ford, 15, recently joined his new classmates from across the region to conduct Lego robotics projects and participate in team-building activities and games during the Valley Pathways in Technology Early College High School summer bridge program at Herkimer College.

VP-TECH launches this fall with 33 ninth-graders from the 10 Herkimer-Fulton-Hamilton-Otsego BOCES component districts: West Canada Valley, Richfield Springs, Poland, Owen D. Young, Mount Markham, Little Falls, Herkimer, Frankfort-Schuyler, Dolgeville and Central Valley. 

For Michael, working in groups with students he just recently met from other school districts presented a new challenge.

“It was pretty hard at first, but once I got to know everyone, it was pretty easy,” he said.

It’s that type of progress that was the whole point of the VP-TECH summer bridge program, which ran from July 13-17 at Herkimer College.

VP-TECH graduates will earn a high-school diploma, an associate’s degree in quality assurance from Herkimer College and leave the school with the skills and knowledge they need in order to continue their studies or step seamlessly into competitive jobs in a variety of industries.

The length of enrollment – up to six years – is tailored to the learning needs and educational goals of each student. The students receive additional support and career exposure along the way.

A new cohort of ninth-graders will join VP-TECH each fall, with this year’s students as the first group. Of the 33 students in the first class, 29 were able to attend at least part of the summer bridge program.

In September, the VP-TECH students will be entering a collaborative classroom environment, modeled after Google workspaces, where all academic content areas will be addressed through flexible scheduling and project-based learning.

The goal of the summer bridge program was to introduce students to that environment, help them get to know each other and get them used to working in groups, VP-TECH Principal Brittany DerCola said.

“They come from 10 different districts, and they didn’t know each other,” DerCola said. “I’m pleasantly surprised at how well they’ve connected and how well they’re getting along.”

The students used Lego robotics in teams throughout the week to complete daily challenges, an overall goal for the week and a judged competition at the end of the week. The teams also were required to do 10-minute presentations about what they built, what they learned and how their robots could help the community.

“They’re going to be working in groups throughout the entire year,” DerCola said. “They need to be able to work in groups. That’s what employers want.”

To help the students connect, VP-TECH educators also had the students participate in various games and projects – including a challenge of building a tower out of spaghetti and marshmallows; a game based on a town with members of the mafia, cops, a doctor and townspeople; a game where students had labels stuck to their backs and had to find their matches such as peanut butter and jelly and Jay-Z and Beyonce without talking; an activity where they had to determine which items they would bring with them if they were stuck on a deserted island; and more.

Michael and the other students have been having fun with the summer program, and his favorite part is “that we get to build robots,” he said.

“We got it to pick something up and move it across the table,” Michael said, on Wednesday, July 15, midway through the bridge program.

Michael said the summer program has been a great way to get to know everyone, and “it will be pretty fun” to stay with the same group throughout the VP-TECH experience.

He applied to join VP-TECH because it fit with his career goals, he said.

“That it involves the thing I love, which is computer science,” he said.

Michael plans to pursue additional college education after VP-TECH, and he believes the program will help him get a job in the computer science field.

Central Valley student Brooke Newtown, 14, also plans to use VP-TECH as a step on her career path – with a goal of working in medical nanotechnology and curing cancer, she said.

With the new nanotechnology efforts on the way in the region, she wants to be one of the first people trained for related job opportunities, and she believes VP-TECH creates more opportunities for the students going forward in their lives.

Brooke said she enjoyed the summer bridge program.

“I think it’s a great experience,” she said. “We get to know each other and try some different things and see what it’s like.”

The bonds created during the program could last through the entire time of going through VP-TECH, Brooke said.

“This is the next few years of our lives,” she said. “I think it’s great to be able to be with the same people, so you’re really close with everybody.”

Additional photos:

Lego robotics

VP-TECH students at summer bridge program

VP-TECH students doing team-building activity

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