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Early college program prepares Stamford students for high school, tech careers

August 18, 2018

STAMFORD — Thirteen-year-old Briana Ortiz is excited for a future under the lights, or behind them.

The incoming freshman at Stamford High School begins her studies on Aug. 30. But beyond high school, she sees herself working in television, and she saw her dream play out in front of her on a recent field trip to the headquarters of Bloomberg News in New York City.

“Ever since I was little, girls want to be ballerinas or singers,” Ortiz said. “As I got older, I decided I want to be on TV or behind the scenes. I was so amazed at how everything works. When I saw the reporter live, I saw how there was teamwork and they work together to make it happen. It’s like a family.”

Ortiz is one of 50 incoming freshman at Stamford High who’s participating in Early College Studies, a program that gives students access to mentors, professional development, an internship and the ability to earn an associate’s degree in computer science at Norwalk Community College. The program, now in its second year, is open to students entering public high school in Stamford, and was created with Pell Grant funding.

“The focus of the program is because they’re potentially interested in a career in technology,” said Kristin Veenema, director of ECS at Stamford High who’s also an English teacher. “We’re focused on tech because of being in Stamford.”

Students in the ECS program — one of five in the state — have the option to complete their associate’s degree at NCC or complete the credits elsewhere. Veenema said most students have tested into the college courses around their junior year. But the option draws in students interested in a four-year school or those who want to go straight into working, allowing them to start at a higher level with a degree already under their belt.

Perks of enrollment include a Chromebook and a paid internship through the Mayor’s Youth Employment Program the summer before senior year, but ECS means to educate about the varied possibilities in technology careers and how to behave in a professional setting.

“In an information age where many jobs are automated, there are openings for new job opportunities, but they have to be really good with people skills,” Veenema said.

Students signed up for the fall program were also given access to a weeklong summer camp aimed at teaching kids to be lifelong learners. Campers received instruction on coding, visited Scalzi Park for teambuilding exercises and took the trip to Bloomberg, among other activities.

Even in one short week, Martine Curto, program coordinator, said she saw a change in the students who started the week with their hoods up, phones in their face, headphones on and slumping on their desks. Now, she said they come in alert and ready to focus, with th eir phones away and an impeccable posture.

“They learn a lot about themselves, but they also learn a lot about networking and tech,” Curto said.

Focusing on the academic and social sides of school and work has been beneficial for campers. Matan Coll is entering Stamford public schools for the first time after attending Carmel Academy, a private Jewish school in Greenwich, since he was seven. By joining the Summer Scholars and doing teamwork-oriented activities (like trying to build a tower with spaghetti, tape and a marshmallow,), the aspiring businessman has gotten a chance to connect with future classmates.

“This program’s been really nice getting to know a lot of kids,” the 14-year-old said. “Since I was little, I’ve really loved technology and have a thirst for knowledge. This program allowed me to have a lot of opportunities.”

erin.kayata@stamfordadvocate.com; (203) 964-2265; @erin_kayata

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