They brainstorm in conference rooms equipped with whiteboards, use high-end computers and equipment and are given free breakfast and lunch.
Except these are no start-up workers.
They are students at an unusual New York City public high school embedded inside a technology and manufacturing hub with more than 400 companies at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. It was developed with industry leaders to teach real-life job skills that would lay the foundation for the next generation of workers in a city where the tech industry is flourishing with the expanding presence of Google and Amazon’s plans to build a large campus in Queens.
While classrooms in New York and elsewhere have increasingly focused on preparing children for jobs in a tech economy, the recently opened school, Brooklyn STEAM Center, has taken it one step further by locating itself next to companies where students might actually work. It is one of only a handful of programs in the country that are situated in a workplace.
“Our ambition is that it will be a next-generation model for career and technical schools here in New York City,” said David Ehrenberg, the president and chief executive officer of the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation, a nonprofit that manages the city-owned, 300-acre waterfront site where battleships, like the U.S.S. Missouri, were once built.
The Navy Yard already has an on-site job center, but Mr. Ehrenberg said the school will help ensure that more local residents have the necessary technical skills and training for the jobs being created there.
The program offers students a chance to show what they can do. “Instead of learning on paper — and maybe you forget it, and maybe you don’t — you put your hands into the work,” Jordan Gomes, 16, said.
On Tuesday, the schools chancellor, Richard A. Carranza, and other city leaders will officially open the school’s $17 million home at the Navy Yard, about two weeks after students moved in.
The STEAM Center — standing for science, technology, engineering, arts and math — grew out of a pilot program to increase career and technical education opportunities among Brooklyn high school students. Today, 221 juniors and seniors spend half the day at other high schools taking required academic classes, and the other half at the center specializing in one of five tracks: design and engineering; computer science and information technology; film and media; construction technology; and culinary arts and hospitality management.
The students apply to the center and are selected by their high schools. There is no minimum required grade point average or test score. About 93 percent of the students are black or Hispanic, and 74 percent are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced lunch.
The center is the latest evolution of vocational schools that once served as a pipeline for blue-collar industries, but have increasingly embraced technology and academic skills to prepare students for emerging jobs in fields such as health care, engineering and information technology. Many schools now partner with local businesses and industries, but few are based at workplaces.
Alisha Hyslop, the director of public policy for the Association for Career and Technical Education, said a fashion and marketing program is taught inside a Virginia shopping mall, while another program covering energy industry jobs is based at an Arizona utility company. These experiences have “tremendous potential to strengthen connections between the education that happens in the classroom and what happens in the real world,” she said.
In New York, the STEAM Center is one of only two schools at a workplace; the other, Aviation High School, offers classes at LaGuardia Airport. “We’re certainly looking for more opportunities for our students to be as close to the industries they are studying as possible,” said Phil Weinberg, the Education Department’s deputy chief academic officer for teaching and learning.
Citywide, there are 301 career and technical programs — 47 opened in the last three years. In total, the programs enroll about 64,000 students and train them for careers ranging from software engineer to harbor master.
Still, some educators and parents have raised concerns that such highly specialized programs are a form of tracking that can lead students to focus too early on a particular job or career and be steered away from college.
David C. Bloomfield, a professor of educational leadership, law and policy at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center, said the STEAM Center needed to be thoroughly vetted by parents, independent industry experts and college representatives to ensure that it puts the needs of students over employers.
“There’s a danger that it’s either a self-serving track for low-skilled jobs right out of high school, or that it teaches skills that will be obsolete once they complete college,” he said.
The STEAM Center was developed by Kayon Pryce, the founding principal, along with Mr. Ehrenberg and Dr. Lester W. Young Jr., a member of the state Board of Regents and a former city education official. It initially held classes in two high schools before moving to the Navy Yard.
The center, Dr. Young said, has brought together children from both high achieving and struggling high schools, where students, often poor and from minority communities, have less access to opportunities. “The old model of career technical education in a school is an old model,” he said. “We had to think boldly.”
The school’s new home, which looks like a start-up company, has conference rooms, as well as a room for private calls, a recording studio, a screening room and a teaching kitchen that can feed thousands. Student lockers come in a gray-matte finish inspired by the lockers at a nearby fashion company.
Mr. Pryce said most students planned to go to college, including one senior who has received a full scholarship to study computer science at St. John’s University.
“I’m not trying to pigeonhole any student into a career opportunity for a company at the end of this program,” he said. “I’m providing them with broader exposure to true college and career experiences.”
The school’s advisory board is mostly made up of industry experts who have shaped the curriculum, given lectures and hosted company visits. Students have been placed in 63 paid internships so far, half of which were with companies in the Navy Yard.
“The Navy Yard is pretty much our PTA,” Mr. Pryce said.
Bonbite NYC, a catering company developing an app-based service for wedding clients, hired three interns to work in the kitchen. “Typically for high school students, they don’t have an opportunity to get into businesses like ours,” said Winston Chiu, a school advisory board member and partner in the company.
Devanta Dickerson, 18, said he whipped up mini beef Wellingtons at Bonbite last summer after earning a food handler’s license at the center, and got a glimpse of a future career. He planned to pay for college by working part time in restaurants.
The emphasis at the school is on being relevant in a modern tech world. Students master design, engineering and construction skills by transforming two shipping containers into smart homes. Computer science students wired the new computer lab; now they maintain the network and troubleshoot problems. Film and media students recorded podcasts, and shot and edited a commercial promoting the school.
The school also teaches so-called soft skills — or what Mr. Pryce calls “21st-century success skills” — such as the importance of showing up on time, responding to emails and getting along with co-workers. Students also learn to network, coming up with a 30-second “elevator pitch” — the time it takes to ride the elevator up to the center’s home on the third floor.
Deon Watts, 16, said the lessons would not only help her succeed in a male-dominated construction industry, but also assist her in becoming the boss of her own company.
“It’s not like your English class can teach you how to build a box or fix an electrical circuit,” she said. “It’s important because that’s how you’re going to survive in the real world. It’s not as easy as reading a book.”