The youth-written stories in YCteen give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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YCteen staff with reporting by Damia Mendoza
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Seventeen year-old Briella Dade always wanted to do hair and her goal is to own a salon. To do that, she originally planned to graduate high school, go to cosmetology school for her two-year degree, and then study business in college. But then her mom learned about The School of Cooperative Technical Education (Co-op Tech), a public vocational school with a half-day program for high school students.

“I found out I could get my New York State license in Natural Hairstyling at Co-op Tech and bypass cosmetology school,” said Dade. “I get hands-on experience while I’m still in high school. I’m learning color, cutting, styling, and braiding. I love it.” In fact, Dade’s “classroom” is identical to a real salon.

Co-op Tech is an innovative New York City high school that offers teens the chance to study a trade and get certified in that trade, for free. Briella, a senior, attends her traditional high school, Martin Luther King, Jr. Educational Campus, from 8:30 a.m. to 11 a.m., then travels by bus to Co-op Tech where she attends the Salon Services program from 12:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. The school serves about 1,500 students ages 16-21.

Principal John Widlund aims to distinguish his school from other vocational schools. “Co-op Tech isn’t a dumping ground for kids who can’t excel academically or are just considered good with their hands. Some of our classes can even be considered college level. Our goal is to get kids aligned with real world skills which lead to full-time employment,” he said.

High school graduates can also attend, up to age 21. “We encourage students to go to CUNY College of Technology or any other college to earn a degree but if cost is an issue, they can get excellent training here for free,” said Widlund.

image by YC-Art Dept
Sasha Perez learns how to install solar panels in homes.

Hands-on Experience

After graduating high school, Sasha Perez went to Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) to study computer technology. “They just had us learning about Windows ‘97 and we didn’t get to actually touch any computers,” said Perez. “It was boring.”

Then her father got sick. Having to juggle her studies and his care overwhelmed her, and she dropped out. The 21-year-old had taken a course at Co-op Tech when she was in high school and decided to go back. She is currently in the Electrical Installation (Solar) program where she is learning how to install solar panels in homes. “The schedule is more accommodating, and unlike BMCC, my courses are hands-on and state-of-the-art. I’ve discovered I love electrical and that I will be able to start installing things and can have a great career without having to go to college,” said Perez.

Perez’s classroom resembles a science lab. Each table is outfitted with cutters and wires nailed to wood with coordinates penciled on them. White boards line the walls with formulas for power, currents and voltage, and “electrical circuit fundamentals.”

Tutoring Helps Students Keep Up

image by YC-Art Dept
Students learn styling techniques in the Salon Services program.

“The only thing I don’t like is all the math, there’s a lot. The extra tutoring they offer here helps,” says Perez. In fact, additional support is a priority for Widlund. “We do our best to ensure that all levels of learners have an equal playing field,” he said. Besides tutoring, there is a support center for ESL students.

“I want to get a job first, save up to pay for college, and then get my engineering degree,” said 18-year-old Daniel Zoquier when asked about his post-high-school plans. Like Perez, he’s in the Electrical Installation (Solar) program and chances are good that he’ll land a job. Last year, out of 474 students who completed internships at Co-op Tech, 150 of them got full-time jobs at the places they interned. “I’ve already gotten my certification in Electrical Installation, and I’m pursuing a certification wiring for solar panels. I know there will be a lot of green jobs available around the city. Did you know some of our traffic lights are being powered with solar? It’s the wave of the future,” said Zoquier.

To find out if your high school is among the 130 New York City high schools that partner with Co-op Tech, visit co-optech.org. You can also schedule an appointment for a tour with Leslie Sims, the director of guidance. Reach her at lsims@schools.nyc.gov or 212-369-8800, ext. 1191.


Program Offerings at Co-op Tech

• Automotive Service
• Medical Billing & Coding
• Building Maintenance
• Medical Office Management
• Carpentry (Green)
• Salon Services (Natural Hair)
• Cisco Networking
• Vision Technology
• Computer Repair
• Web Design / Mobile Apps
• Culinary Arts
• Electrical Installation
• Electrical Installation (Solar)
• Food Preparation

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(NYC-2015-01-14)

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