CVA student Brooke Newtown would have walked across the stage at the May 19 Herkimer College graduation to receive her associate degree if not for one limitation: She still had about a month of high school left.
“You have to be a high-school graduate to graduate from college,” she said, with a laugh.
Newtown will graduate from Central Valley Academy on Friday, June 28. With her last requirement then fulfilled, her associate degree from Herkimer College will arrive in the mail in August, she said. She also received a completion certificate for advanced manufacturing at the Herkimer BOCES Career and Technical Education Completion and Awards Ceremony on June 18.
Newtown earned an associate degree in quality assurance from Herkimer College through her four years in the VP-TECH program at Herkimer BOCES. As part of the first VP-TECH class, she is the first and only student to achieve this thus far.
Newtown said she made up her in mind as a freshman that she wanted to complete the associate degree during high school.
“I’m someone who is really big on setting goals,” she said. “When I set a goal, nothing can stop me.”
Newtown plans to attend Marywood University in Pennsylvania in the fall in a pre-physician’s assistant program – on her way to becoming a physician’s assistant, with the possibility of becoming a doctor later if she decides to pursue that.
VP-TECH Coordinator Danielle Monahan described Newtown as “the epitome of a perfect student.”
“Brooke possess so many wonderful qualities that will help pave the way for a bright and successful future,” Monahan said. “Not only is she intelligent and athletic, Brooke is caring, confident, honest and most of all, she takes pride in herself. Brooke’s personality is contagious and she continuously strives to be a better version of herself. I am honored to be a part of Brooke’s life and I can’t wait to watch her reach her life goals. She is a true role model for her underclassman.”
VP-TECH launched in the 2015-16 school year with ninth-graders from Herkimer BOCES component school districts. Another class of ninth-graders has joined each year since, so VP-TECH was essentially a four-year high school for the first time this school year.
The VP-TECH program focuses on technology, project-based learning and real-world work situations. Students can spend four to six years in the program to earn a Regents diploma, an associate degree in quality assurance from Herkimer College for free, a certification in advanced manufacturing and connections with local businesses.
‘Opportunities were limitless’
Newtown first learned about VP-TECH when she attended a meeting about it at Central Valley in eighth grade.
“At that point, I had no idea what I wanted to do,” she said, referring to her potential career path.
She, however, found the idea of free college appealing. Her parents thought she should give VP- TECH a shot, and they are big influences on her, so she applied and was accepted.
VP-TECH students gathered for the first VP-TECH Convocation in spring 2015 and for a bridge program that summer. During the summer bridge program, students tried out new technology, worked in groups to complete challenges and participated in other activities to get to know each other.
“Summer bridge was amazing,” she said. “I finally found a place where students wanted to learn and be in this position as much as I did.”
The first day of school at VP-TECH in September 2015 felt exciting because of how open the program felt with its focus on project-based learning, Newtown said.
“Anything around us, we had the opportunity to do,” she said. “The opportunities were limitless for us.”
‘You had to want it’
The next days of school became difficult for her. Attending VP-TECH with the same group of about 30 students every day was different, and she felt like she was missing a lot at Central Valley. She felt during that period that she didn’t like VP-TECH.
Then she adjusted to the changes and became re-motivated by the possibilities at VP-TECH.
“After two weeks, I really found my place here,” she said. “I think I really grew as an individual and student here.”
She also worked with VP-TECH and Central Valley Academy to make sure she still felt like she was part of CVA as well. She credits CVA High School Principal Richard Keeler with helping her in this area.
“Still getting to participate in sports and Honor Society and others clubs helped me get through that,” she said.
Newtown would go on to win the Central Valley Panarites Cup for most outstanding female student-athlete of 2019, Scholar Athlete Award, Softball Booster Club Award and her field hockey team’s Most Valuable Player Award. She a two-time Tri-Valley All-Star in field hockey. She also won a Herkimer Region College & Career Scholarship Foundation award and was on three honor societies: the National Honor Society through Central Valley, the National Technical Honor Society through VP-TECH and the Phi Thetta Kappa Honor Society at Herkimer College.
It was nice to have a balance between VP-TECH and CVA, although it does get challenging at times, she said.
“You had to want it to be here, and I really wanted it,” she said, of VP-TECH. “Because I wanted it so much, it made it worth it.”
‘Found a passion’
During her first day of school at VP-TECH in September 2015, Newtown said her decision to attend VP-TECH was influenced by efforts in the region to focus on technology and draw nanotechnology businesses. She was looking forward to using the MakerBot three-dimensional printers, Lego Robotics and more while in the program.
“This was probably the best plan,” she said, in September 2015, of deciding to attend VP-TECH.
Her focus began to change while she was in VP-TECH.
“The technology still really interests and intrigues me, but being here, I really found a passion for helping others, and then I realized I wanted to work in medical and help others,” she said. “I think it started when my teachers pushed me to go speak to students at other schools.”
VP-TECH teachers urged Newtown to be one of the VP-TECH students who presented about the program to potential students and at career-fair events, and taking that step helped her discover her desire to assist other people, she said. When speaking to interested students, she could see a spark of excitement form in them, and it motivated her.
Newtown also has people in her family who are in the medical field, and talking to them about changing people’s lives inspired her.
Other factors were participating in community service through VP-TECH and a project she completed in the program with a few other students. The group worked with a VP-TECH teacher using engineering and design skills to develop a prototype hand brace for a student in another school, and then the hand brace was created using 3D printing. The brace helped the student be able to do more with her hand, and the project was a “huge” influence on Newtown’s career path.
“It was an amazing thing,” she said.
Newtown thinks her experience with technology and advanced manufacturing from VP-TECH will be a stepping stone for her and give her a leg up on others in the medical field.
Some classes from her associate degree through Herkimer College will fulfill requirements of her pre-physician’s assistant program at Marywood University, where she will also play field hockey. She will be in a program where she can earn a bachelor’s degree in the pre-physician’s assistant program in three years and then two years of professional study to earn a master’s degree and be certified as a physician’s assistant.
Her goal is to become a physician’s assistant, and she is still deciding if she wants to go to medical school to become a doctor after that or not.
Participating in VP-TECH including classes at Herkimer College also sets her up for success at Marywood University, she said.
“I definitely feel like it has prepared me as far as test taking and study skills,” she said.
VP-TECH also helps students get ready for their careers through its connections with local businesses. Students can earn OSHA and NOCTI certifications through VP-TECH, and they can enter the workforce in quality assurance right out of high school if they chose to, she said.
Newtown also completed an internship at One Realty Partners in New Hartford through VP- TECH, and it gave her a chance to work in a professional business setting with the local community.
“It was amazing,” she said.
It feels surreal to Newtown that she is 18 and has earned an associate degree from college already.
“It was a once in a lifetime opportunity,” she said.
Newtown reflected on why she decided to try for the associate degree during high school.
“It’s probably because we live in such a small area, and everyone knows each other,” she said. “I wanted to stand out from my peers. And I felt like I have it inside me – I have the drive to achieve this.”
She constantly pushed herself academically – doubling up on courses and taking summer classes and “winter minis.” Her senior year was the most challenging because she felt like she had to keep up her performance or she wouldn’t be able to complete her goal of earning the associate degree during high school.
“I do feel like I had to mature faster than other people,” she said. “I was always taking courses; always studying.”
A smile and an excited look comes across her face when she talks about achieving her goal of finishing her Herkimer College studies and getting the associate degree.
“It was honestly the most amazing feeling ever – finishing my last class in early May,” she said.
“It was just amazing to know all my hard work had really paid off.”
‘Such a long way’
Newtown said she recommends VP-TECH to students if they’re interested in hands-on, project- based learning and communicating with other students.
“If you’re someone who wants to excel but can’t excel in the typical classroom,” she said. “I always felt like I was being held back in a normal classroom.”
VP-TECH opens up more possibilities, she said.
“That definitely helped me,” she said. “Overall, I think it helped me grow as a person.”
Newtown thinks students considering the program should have an idea of what to expect.
“I would say that it’s challenging, but it’s definitely one of the most rewarding and fulfilling opportunities that are provided to us as high-school students,” she said.
Starting VP-TECH with a group of about 30 ninth-graders from various schools and going through the whole program with many of those students resulted in them getting to know each other very well.
“I definitely think it’s a bond closer than you would have in normal high school,” she said.
By being the first students in the program, they sometimes felt like test subjects for how VP- TECH would work, and they overcame challenges that other classes won’t, Newtown said.
“A lot of people thought VP-TECH was going to fail,” she said. “We definitely proved them wrong.”
Herkimer BOCES hosted a senior recognition on May 30 for the first cohort to complete VP- TECH, and it was a nice moment, Newtown said.
“It was amazing just to see how everyone has come such a long way since the beginning of the program,” she said. “It was just a great feeling to know that we made it.”