May 22—Skyline High's Adrian Mendez graduated from Front Range Community College with an associate's degree in computer information systems about two weeks before his high school graduation.
"I see computer science as the new generation," he said. "It's the future."
Mendez is part of the third graduating class from the Longmont school's P-TECH — Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools — program.
The program is a partnership with IBM and Front Range Community College. Along with taking 60 hours of Front Range Community College classes plus the required St. Vrain high school credit hours, the high school students complete a paid internship with IBM.
P-TECH students have up to six years to graduate from the program, but Mendez completed all the requirements in four years. In his P-TECH graduating class, all 58 seniors are on track to graduate from Skyline in May, while 22 graduated from Front Range in May — and another eight are taking summer classes to graduate from Front Range in August.
Mendez also was one of 250 students in the country awarded a $40,000 college scholarship and internship opportunity through the Amazon Future Engineer program. He found the opportunity while applying for other scholarships.
"It's very exciting," he said. "I'm really looking forward to going to college."
He's headed to the Colorado School of Mines in the fall, where he said his credits from Front Range will allow him to earn a master's degree in computer science in five years. He's planning to double major in structural engineering, with a goal of using his engineering knowledge to expand his dad's business.
His dad builds trusses used as supports in the construction industry. Mendez's dream is to expand, with the help of his brothers, to designing and building foundations.
He said the sacrifices his parents made as immigrants from Mexico inspired him to work hard in school, with the promise of a free associate's degree prompting him to apply for the P-TECH program, dubbed Falcon Tech at Skyline.
His parents, he said, had to start from "rock bottom" when they moved here, working service industry jobs as they learned a new language and new culture.
"They had a really long journey here," he said. "They wanted a better life here. They always wanted me to succeed in school. They always said they wanted the best version of myself."
His older brother, who attends the University of Colorado at Boulder, helped him apply to colleges and for scholarships, he said. His younger brother, who will be a freshman in the fall, also is following in his footsteps by enrolling in the P-TECH program.
He took a mix of in-person and online classes, with most of the Front Range classes taught by certified Skyline teachers. He also took some of his classes at the district's Innovation Center.
Greg Stephens, a Skyline High assistant principal and P-TECH program administrator, said Mendez worked even harder after the pandemic hit.
"He really dug in and did more," Stephens said.
Mendez said the support of his parents, teachers, counselors and classmates all helped him through the rigorous program.
"You work together and succeed together in the program," he said. "They have really brought out the things they see in us. We had a lot of support."
He added P-TECH classmates became like a second family.
"We go through Front Range finals and IBM internships together," he said. "We help each other."
Along with earning an associate's degree, he said, the P-TECH program helped him make connections with business leaders and mentors.
"I'll already have the IBM connections and then the Amazon connection," he said.
While much of his high school experience was spent in a pandemic, he said, he remembers his freshman year "like it was yesterday" and cherishes "all the friends who turned into family." He also played soccer and baseball at Skyline and is hoping to continue playing soccer for the School of Mines.
"I definitely see high school moving on fast," he said.