NORWALK, Conn. -- As he walked with the crowd toward the ribbon-cutting for the new school program based in Norwalk High School, Aasim Vhora said he was excited about the opportunity.
"We get the opportunity to get higher education. The teachers are really helpful and understand you," Vhora said.
"You can go at your own pace but you learn a lot of things," said the 13-year-old ninth grade student.
He was speaking at the official opening of the Pathways in Technology Early College High School - an IBM-affiliated Norwalk Early College Academy, or NECA.
The P-TECH school will allow students to participate in an integrated sequence of high school and college classes, job training and internships with IBM.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said the program allows students to gravitate toward the subjects they like the best.
"Giving students and parents an option is a great thing to do," Malloy said. "It grabs a student's excitement it allows them to pay attention to the subjects that are most exciting and most invigorating to them."
The state will push to expand the P-TECH program across the state, he said.
The school is a partnership among IBM, Norwalk Community College and Norwalk Public Schools that will allow each student to earn a high school diploma along with an associate's degree in computer technology or computer engineering -- all free of charge.
The 90 students enrolled this year are all freshmen and live in Norwalk. NECA will add one grade and about 11 students per year until it expands to about 400 students by 2018.
The school offers students a different take on education, said Karen Amaker, NECA director.
"I think it brings a new way of doing high school," she said after the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
The program gives students job training, IBM mentors, worksite visits and internships with IBM. NECA graduates will be first in line for jobs at the technology giant.
A senior IBM executive said the corporation will work closely with the students.
"We are going to be with you every step of the way," said Stanley S. Litow,President IBM International Foundation and vice president of corporate citizenship and corporate affairs. "Your success is going to drive our success."
Ninth-grader Katrell Clay said he's excited about the program's possibilities.
"I like that I can complete my associate's degree and high school diploma in four years, which opens up the opportunity for me to get into better colleges," Clay said.
The first P-TECH school opened in a neighborhood in central Brooklyn, N.Y., in September 2011, Litow said.
By next September, there will be 40 P-Tech schools in the United States with 40,000 students, he said.
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