Tigist Smith ’15 Address to Rockland County School District Leaders

Posted on Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017

Tigist Smith ’15 is currently a sophomore at Hudson Valley P-TECH, an integrated, six-year STEM program that offers a rigorous academic curriculum, targeted technical training, and comprehensive workplace learning in a dynamic, project-based environment.

In December, Tigist was invited to address the superintendents and principals of every Rockland County school district at their annual holiday dinner. The large group of over 60 educators and administrators listened attentively as Tigist read a speech that she had spent weeks preparing. Tigist shared with the crowd her personal experience as a student with learning differences and highlighted the help she received at Gaynor. She stressed the importance for alternative schools in the suburbs for kids like her.

Director of Alumni Relations Stephanie Mayer said, “We are so proud of what she has accomplished and know that she will continue to do great things!”

Full text of Tigist’s speech follows:

Good evening ladies and gentlemen. Thank you all for attending this wonderful event. My name is Tigist Smith. I am a sophomore at Hudson Valley P-TECH. Hudson Valley P-TECH is an integrated, six-year STEM program that offers a rigorous academic curriculum, targeted technical training and comprehensive workplace learning in a dynamic, project-based learning environment. For those who don’t know, STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

I had a difficult time during my elementary school years. I always felt “different” because I had needs that were different from the other students in the school.  I had a very difficult time paying attention in class and learning new information. It would be hard for me to read words, and pronounce words correctly. I attended Upper Nyack elementary for 1 year and right before second grade, I transferred to Stephen Gaynor School. Gaynor was an amazing school, which helped me fulfill my goals as a young student because as an alternative school, they focused on a small classroom environment and hands-on learning. I was doing extremely well at that school, but Gaynor only went till eighth grade. Towards the middle of seventh grade, my mom started looking for high schools for me. She knew that I would need a school where the classrooms were going to be small and there would be one-on-one attention from the teachers. She wanted me to have the best education that I could have.          

One day, I came home from school and she was on the computer looking at this website about this school and told me to look at the website with her. I remember my frustration as my mom was trying to find some high school possibilities that would fit my needs.  At first I did not want to look at it at all and automatically said “I don’t want to go to that school.” However, my mom was always right about almost everything so she set up a tour with Ms. Shea. Towards October, I went to the school to visit it and I was having many mixed feelings. I thought that going to P-TECH would be a great opportunity for me, but I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to be on an athletic team and I also was worried that I wasn’t going to be able to hang out with my old friends from middle school and from Nyack. However I didn’t have to worry after all.  One major key factor of my life is sports and when I heard that P-TECH doesn’t have an athletic team, I was very upset. However, my mom and Ms. Shea told me that I was able to still participate in sports at my home district. Being able to still participate in my athletics was very important for me because if I’m not at school, then I’m either kicking a soccer ball, or going on a long run.  I had to travel a total of 300 miles per week in elementary school in order to get the right education. This made it difficult for me to have play dates and be part of the social activities. I was a part of many athletic teams in Manhattan but would get home late because of the distance. Now I finally have a school in my own neighborhood, under one mile away, that meets my needs. This has allowed me to have friends locally and play sports in my community.

P-TECH has been providing me with an amazing background and many new connections to the outside world. I am here representing how well this school has been doing for me. The teachers are wonderful and help us want to learn more. I feel like I am striving as not only a student but as a human. P-TECH has been preparing me for my future career goals. The classrooms have small numbers of students, which helps me because I can receive more one-on-one attention with the teachers. I feel like I am in a supportive environment suited to my learning needs.

Not only have my grades improved, but I am making honor roll as well as perfect attendance. I am also the president of the student government. Being a part of P-TECH is a wonderful opportunity.

There are many key factors that make P-TECH an amazing school. One example is that every student gets their own mentor. This year I was very lucky to have a wonderful mentor. Danya Rogers Cohan, the president of Gotham Telecom, is my mentor. She had actually signed up to be a mentor, the first year of P-TECH, but had waited for the perfect timing to join. Danya has already been a huge help throughout this year. A couple weeks ago, she took me to this event near the Apollo Theater, where one of her clients was getting the “Good Scout Award.” Her taking me to this event helped me in many ways because I met a lot of dynamic and influential people that could help me get farther in my career.

Before I wrap up here, I would like to thank Nyack School District for supporting this program and allowing me to attend P-TECH.

In conclusion, P-TECH has been very beneficial to students like me and has been a great help. I hope that more kids around the world get to experience this wonderful school.