From $9.50 an hour to VP of cybersecurity — thanks to free school in the Bronx


When an old friend called recently and invited me to write a feature story about a different kind of technology school in the Bronx called “Per Scholas,” I had an immediate gut reaction.

“I know that name…” Or, at least my father did.

My father taught computer science at a Newark, N.J. high school for about 40 years, and I remembered some connection between him and Per Scholas. So as I often do when I have a tech question, I called him up. Yes, he said, he remembered Per Scholas well. About twenty years ago, the organization outfitted the entire Catholic elementary school down the block with refurbished PCs.  My dad also volunteered at that school.

Back then, free PCs were a big deal.  And the Per Scholas deal was simple. The school taught low-income students how to repair computers, and then gave them away to organizations in need.

“They were great,” he reminded me.

Well, Per Scholas is much greater now. Today, the organization has classes in 12 locations around the country, teaching needy students job-ready skills like cybersecurity. It helps vault low and no income residents into the middle class in places like Newark, the Bronx, Dallas, and Columbus.  The organization just graduated its 10,000th student, and its track record of placing people into good jobs, and good careers, is impressive.

My old friend is Jennifer Sizemore, now vice president of communications at a philanthropic organization called Arnold Ventures.  Arnold gives money to a wide set of causes, with heavy emphasis on data and results.  Per Scholas recently announced results of a five-year study showing its graduates earn dramatically more than their peers, and the impact is long lasting.  That study was the occasion for my story, but I dove deep into the people and ideas which make the organization work.

One of the more impressive stats I found while doing research was this, about a specific test group: “While this particular group of Per Scholas hires had previously received $140,001 in public assistance per year, the group
now contributes to the economy as taxpayers, through payroll, federal, state and local taxes, a total of $137,861 in tax contributions.”

I was delighted to meet former student and now board member Ivan Rivera, Abe Mendez — who runs the New York school — and a bunch of students during my visit to the Bronx.  I left wondering if I should take a class there.

I’ve included an excerpt of the story below, but you should go read the entire piece at the Arnold Ventures website.


Ivan Rivera was a young father working at the front desk of a self-storage company in the south Bronx when a sickening assignment came his way.

Someone had defecated on the steps outside. The janitor refused to clean it up. It was Rivera’s problem to fix.

“And it hit me,” Rivera said recently. “I’m making $9.50 an hour, and this is what I’m dealing with?”

He knew he had to do something different. By chance he saw a notification about a free job training program as he was cleaning out his email spam folder. He thought it was a scam — the offer sounded almost too good to be true.

It was no scam. Seven years later, in February of this year, Rivera took a new job as Vice President of Cloud and Application Vulnerability Management at financial giant Citi. He’s one of 6,500 New Yorkers and 10,000 students nationally who’ve completed a free four-month program at a nonprofit training center called Per Scholas, which has been preparing area residents for new careers since 1995. More recently, Per Scholas has expanded into 11 other cities around the country.

The program is designed to vault low-income workers into the middle class, turning $9.50-an-hour workers into well-paid tech industry workers with a career and a bright future. Job training programs are notoriously hit-and-miss, but Per Scholas’ has a demonstrated track record of making a difference.

“There are 6,500 proof points that this is working,” beams Abe Mendez, who runs the Per Scholas New York facility.

The Per Scholas Bronx location has nine classrooms and meeting spaces that sit inconspicuously across the street from the famous Sabrett Hot Dog processing plant in an industrial area on the eastern side of the South Bronx. Overhead, the Brunkner Expressway soars over the South Bronx, carrying thousands of drivers each day away from New York City towards the leafy suburbs of southern New England. Underneath the elevated highway, amidst its near-constant rumble, Per Scholas classrooms offer unemployed or underemployed students a toll-free expressway to a better future. Roughly nine out of 10 students are members of a minority group, and a majority have only a high school or high school equivalency degree. Per Scholas courses prepare them for careers in technology, and more recently, cybersecurity, a field where the expressway is wide open. Experts predict there will be 3.5 million unfilled cybersecurity jobs worldwide by 2021.

Continue reading at Arnold Ventures…








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About Bob Sullivan 1483 Articles
BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.

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