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Throughout the 2019–2020 school year, our We Are DOE series will highlight some of the everyday heroes of NYC’s public schools. Featuring a cross-section of the DOE’s 140,000+ employees across the five boroughs, We Are DOE showcases some of the many unsung people who help keep the largest school system in the country running daily.

Today, please welcome Kyle Pierre, a Career and Technical Education (CTE) teacher apprentice, and his mentor, Phillip Donohue, of the Academy of Innovative Technology in Brooklyn.

CTE Apprentice, Kyle Pierre, kneeling next to CTE student at computer terminal

Kyle Pierre’s (kneeling in background) fascination with computers at an early age led him towards his current love of website design.

“When I started my first teaching apprenticeship in September 2016, I was excited, but also really nervous because I had never been in front of kids before,” says Kyle Pierre, who this January graduated from the DOE’s Success Via Apprenticeship program to become a full-time web design teacher at the Academy of Innovative Technology in Brooklyn.

“By the end of that first semester, I knew that teaching was what I really wanted to do with my life. It’s pretty funny how it turned out because after my high school web design teacher suggested the teaching apprenticeship program to me, I first told her, ‘I don’t want to deal with other people’s children.’”

Now, Kyle couldn’t be happier working with kids, and it shows in the classroom.

Mentor Phillip Donohue (left), standing alongside his apprentice, Kyle Pierre

Phillip Donohue (left), who runs the Academy of Innovative Technology’s CTE department, serves as a mentor to Kyle (right) through the Success Via Apprenticeship program.

Kyle’s successful journey began when he was around 10-years old and became fascinated with computers, even setting up his own Pokémon website. The son of a now-retired train engineer for the City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and a hotel worker, both born in Guyana, Kyle pursued a Career and Technical Education (CTE) program at Thomas A. Edison Career and Technical Education High School focused on web design, which he loved. After spending an unsatisfying summer between his junior and senior years working at a drug store, Kyle went back to his web design teacher, Sandra Cruz, and said he had become interested in applying to Success Via Apprenticeship after all. He says, “I needed to figure out something to do after graduation because I really didn’t have a plan for where I wanted to go with my life.”

The Success Via Apprenticeship program recruits high school seniors in CTE programs to participate after graduation in rotations of teaching and professional industry apprenticeships. It originated in 1984 as a collaboration of the DOE, the United Federation of Teachers, and the New York City College of Technology. By alternating apprentices through both classrooms and industry sites, the program nurtures the development of  effective teachers with strong technical trade skills. CTE programs are integral to the DOE’s Equity and Excellence for All mission, with about 300 programs in 135 schools serving approximately 64,000 students.

“It’s pretty funny how it turned out because after my high school web design teacher suggested the teaching apprenticeship program to me, I first told her, ‘I don’t want to deal with other people’s children.’”

– Kyle Pierre, reflecting on his current passion for teaching

When Kyle began his teaching apprenticeship at the Academy of Innovative Technology, he came under the wing of Phillip Donohue, who is now in his thirteenth year of teaching and has been running the Academy’s CTE department for the past eight years. Phillip was immediately impressed by Kyle’s ease in relating to the students and has since observed his teaching skills steadily improve. “Kyle was always very confident in front of the kids and connected with them naturally, but over time I’ve seen him develop in asking questions that help students think through problems while giving them the freedom to learn at different paces.”

Phillip, a Manhattan native and Bates College graduate from a long line of educators, has experienced firsthand how CTE can inspire students who were once uninterested in school. “CTE grabs students because they see how relevant it is to their lives and future,“ Phillip says. “It’s very easy to connect what you’re doing in the classroom to what comes after you leave school. You can go get a job and earn money, which is a big advantage of having paid internships built into the program.”

Two teachers helping a student with a web design issue at a computer terminal

Phillip Donohue’s (left) CTE work over the past 13 years has inspired many students to seek computer-based careers. “Word has gotten out, and students excited about careers in technology are coming to us in a way that wasn’t the case too long ago. It’s a virtuous cycle, with success breeding success,” says Phillip.

As part of Kyle’s Success Via Apprenticeship program, he worked for two web design agencies helping to build websites in such diverse businesses as hotels, e-commerce, spas, artificial intelligence, and women’s undergarments. Although those firms conveyed their interest in having Kyle work for them full-time, he remained committed to returning to classroom teaching. “All of that business experience has been useful for me in helping my students figure out how to solve problems connected to their projects, which also vary a lot.”

The Academy of Innovative Technology, which opened 12 years ago on the Franklin K. Lane campus in Cypress Hills, Brooklyn, is thriving in large part because of the efforts of Phillip, Kyle, and the CTE team. The school’s graduation rate has soared from 74 percent to 95 percent over the past two years. Says Phillip, “Word has gotten out, and students excited about careers in technology are coming to us in a way that wasn’t the case not too long ago. It’s a virtuous cycle with success breeding success.”

We thank Kyle, Phillip, the CTE program at the Academy of Innovative Technology, and the hundreds of DOE staff members who support the approximately 300 CTE programs that are operating across the five boroughs.

Together, We Are DOE.

Official blog for the NYC Department of Education, home of a million students across 1,800+ schools

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