Pathways students taking technology to new levels


Students at Pathways to Technology Magnet High School in Windsor benefit from a collaborative project based learning environment.

The motto at the Pathways to Technology school is "We prepare for tomorrow … today."

Talk about practicing what you preach.

The magnet high school in Windsor offers a rigorous academic program centered around exposing its 400 students to the tools, skills, and career options presented by the technology field. And it has reason to celebrate after a group of its students captured top honors in the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship World Series of Innovation competition.

Under the guidance of teacher John Griffin, the team from Pathways won the innovative beverage category for GinTropic, a caffeine-free, tropical fruit juice-infused line of ginger ale soft drinks aimed specifically at improving brand recognition and sales of Seagram's ginger ale by Coca-Cola.

The competition, presented by Microsoft, challenges worldwide groups of five or more students to create innovative products and services that address everyday opportunities in six market categories — mobile game design, mobile app design, innovative beverage, new franchise idea, sustainable style, and college and career readiness.

The winning team received a $2,500 grant, an Xbox Kinect from Microsoft and $1,000 in gift cards from Coca-Cola, sponsor of the innovative beverage category.

"My pride comes in many forms," said Griffin, who has been teaching for 32 years, the past seven at Pathways. "I was proud that they were able to collaborate with each other, that they could work to a deadline, that they could take their knowledge gained in other classes and use those talents to deliver a product, that they could research, design and were willing to revise, revise, revise."

"I am proud that they were able to take an authentic problem that challenged them to find new information and apply it to a real world situation."

The GinTropic team includes: Akeem Allen, Trumell Arnum, Ray Bartee, Chevelle Cooke, Phillip Guthrie, Dasha Hill, Jasseem Howard, Zabdiel Jimenez, Corey Mackey, Piul Makai, Matthew Montminy, Alexa Morales, Piotr Musial, Desiree Nichols, Ivanisha Pedrogo, Nelson Reis, Leidy Rivera, Hector Serrano, Taha Shabazz, Paul Stamper, Jaleel Thompson and Shataya Trotter.

"I think that having won this competition is a huge accomplishment; it just goes to further evidence the unity that the students of Pathways hold," said Bartee, a junior. "It makes me feel really good being a part of something that isn't just local, but international. It's a great accomplishment to add to the impact the students of Pathways are making on society."

A second Griffin-led team — Uniform Recycle — was a finalist in the new franchise idea category for its school uniform-recycling plan. Although the team didn't win, they impressed the category sponsor, Franchise Source Brands International in Southbury, enough to have received an offer to meet with the company to discuss the concept further.

The magnet school concept has been around for years. So, what makes Pathways so special?

"While other schools have students use technology as a tool, we are moving toward a more conceptual understanding of how technology can enhance our global citizenship," said Kate Dougherty, magnet theme coach and admissions coordinator.

"Pathways is a project based school. Students learn their curricula through an authentic problem or driving question and must have a completed product that is publically presented. It is through these authentic experiences that students have ownership and pride over their school work."

Anchored upon this concept of project based learning, Pathways encourages its students — who now represent 32 different communities — to not only use their skills to investigate a question or challenge, but to utilize a steady supply of feedback and revision in order to arrive at the best possible answer.

Admission to Pathways is based upon an open lottery system. There are no specific grade requirements to get in to the school; however students need to be independent and collaborative learners as the environment requires them to drive their own instruction and function within their project teams.

Students take four classes per semester and typically graduate with 32 credits — well above the state's current minimum requirement of 21 (set to increase to 25 in 2014 under the Secondary School Reform Act.)

Students choose a concentration area or "path" to follow. Some students, for example, might pursue more arts-centered classes such as web and graphic design or film, while those interested in business might choose ecommerce and entrepreneurship.

"We allow students to develop their areas of interest," said Dougherty. "It is our belief that when you put students together around a common interest they can thrive."

Beyond the classroom, Pathways is committed to developing civic-minded individuals as well, requiring up to 60 hours of community service work for graduation.

Not unlike many magnet schools, Pathways often struggles with community "buy in" versus its more traditional counterparts.

The school addresses this head on.

"It is impossible to develop relationships with the 32 towns we serve, so we do it in other ways," Dougherty said. "We reach out to businesses in our field, or look for companies with a strong IT department. More importantly we understand the importance of building a student-centered culture and have a positive climate."

"With kids from all over we must unite them for common causes and we do this."

Senior Trumell Arnum agrees.

"The thing I love most about Pathways is our unconventional learning environment," he said. "What traditional high schools see as a flaw, I see as an advantage."