JPMorgan Chase Foundation Invests in the South Bronx and in New Visions

Alfred E. Smith Career and Technical Education High School played host to some important visitors this past Friday, as JPMorgan Chase Foundation announced a new, $6 million investment in the South Bronx to expand young people's access to economic opportunity.

JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon joined Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. on a tour of the school, led by Principal Evan Schwartz.

The JPMorgan Chase Foundation initiative, New Skills for Youth, will connect career and technical education programs and schools in the South Bronx to key employers in New York City. The investment will help drive change and is designed to increase dramatically the number of young people graduating from South Bronx high schools with opportunities to secure well-paying, high-demand jobs. This commitment is part of the Foundation’s $75 million global New Skills for Youth initiative.

“New Visions has a long history of helping to improve public schools in the South Bronx,” said Richard Beattie, Founder and Chairman of New Visions. “With this generous grant from the JPMorgan Chase Foundation, New Visions will assist schools in the South Bronx in developing strong partnerships with businesses that give students exposure to 21st-century careers and opportunities to develop their skills. When the civic, corporate and philanthropic sectors come together to invest in public schools, our students benefit tremendously.”

The grant will help students like Naomi Ortiz, who, as an elementary school student, attended a school directly across the street from Alfred E. Smith.

“There were always lots of students outside working on cars, but they were all boys,” she said. “Then, one day, I saw a girl working on a car and I thought to myself, ‘Wow, she’s doing a man’s job. I can do that, too.’”

Today, Naomi is a 12th grader at Smith, with years of experience in the auto industry under her belt. Outside of internships and her part-time job at Vehicare, a provider of maintenance care to trucking fleets, she is the school’s auto shop service writer, managing the work that goes on in the shop, ordering parts and interfacing with customers. Because of Smith, Naomi’s aspirations to start her own auto body repair shop one day seem within reach.

Smith, the Bronx’s only automotive CTE program, faced closure in 2010, but, as a result of a tremendous outpouring of community support, the school remained open to serve students.

With community support, Smith began to undergo major transformations. In 2013, the school’s auto body shop underwent a multimillion dollar revitalization and was reopened with state-of-the-art, industry-standard equipment. The reopening of the shop marked a pivotal point in the school’s journey.

Since then, Principal Evan Schwartz has worked diligently with his staff and with the help of New Visions to re-engage students and re-establish a reputation for Smith in the community.

“We’ve been working to show the public that our focus is not just on CTE, but also on a solid foundation in academics,” said Schwartz. “This is about student engagement.”

Schwartz began implementing important changes at the school around instruction, scheduling, personnel and operations. He recruited both veteran and novice teachers who embraced student engagement efforts and brought in a full-time college and career counselor, focused exclusively on working with 12th grade students. Additionally, the school has three guidance counselors who provide highly personalized attention to its 430 students.

Students benefit from access to Google Chromebooks in the classroom, newly designed block schedules that make CTE classes and academic classes more similar in length and in degree of "hands-on" learning, and an advisory period that has become a central part of the school’s culture.  

Schwartz and staff also make use of New Visions’ data tools to assess each student’s progress to graduation, by focusing on credit accumulation and proficiency on Regents exams.

All of the school’s hard work is paying off. Smith’s graduation rate has steadily increased since 2013, up from 50 percent to an expected 2017 rate of 75 percent. Today, there are roughly 1,200 applicants for 150 9th grade seats. Last year, roughly 60 percent of graduates went on to two- and four-year colleges, while nearly one in three graduates went directly into full-time employment.

Kenny Flores, also a senior at Smith, has found tremendous value in his experience interning and now working with the FDNY, where he does preventive maintenance for ambulatory vehicles.

“Because of Smith,  I have options,” says Flores. “Smith is helping me stand on my own two feet and begin my own life. I’m not just earning a diploma, I’m getting a CTE endorsement too. I’ll have a foot in the door to college or a career and I know that everything I’m learning at Smith is going to reflect in my career.“

New Visions, through funding from JPMorgan Chase Foundation, will lead the design, build and implementation of a software application for managing the assignment and tracking of South Bronx students participating in career skill-building activities through sector partners, helping to scale the success of programs like Smith’s at schools across the South Bronx. Industry partners include Per Scholas, Consortium for Worker Education and the New York Alliance for Careers in Healthcare.

The initiative is set to begin this year and will open more doors for students just like Naomi and Kenny.

Principal Schwartz knows, with full confidence, the power of investing in young people and training them for careers. “Early exposure can and will translate to student success in the future,” he says.

Kenny plans to attend SUNY Delhi next fall, where he will double major in automotive technology and physical education, with hopes of becoming an automotive teacher someday.

Naomi will continue on to Universal Technical Institute to specialize in auto body and diesel technology, to deepen her knowledge and bring her one step closer to her dream of “sparking change as a female in a male-dominated industry.”

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