Creating Career Opportunities for At-risk Students

Building Hope is a nonprofit dedicated to closing the achievement gap by promoting greater access to high quality charter public schools. Beginning in 2018, the organization led the development of a home for OnTECH, an innovative, start-up charter public high school in Syracuse created to serve at-risk young people.

Leviticus provided a $2.3 million loan to Building Hope—the second loan we have made to the organization—to support the development. Partners for the Common Good, a D.C.-based CDFI, purchased a $1 million participation in the loan.

The school tenant of the building, OnTECH, was founded in 2015 by a group of concerned Syracuse citizens. OnTECH is led by Ellen Eagen, an education lawyer and former teacher with deep roots in the local community. The school’s mission is to provide career and technical education to two main populations: students who have dropped out or are close to dropping out of a traditional public school, and immigrants and refugees who have resettled in the area.

The school’s curriculum focuses on science and technology coursework and emphasizes project-based learning. The aim is to give students the practical job and language skills they need to start careers in industries at the heart of central New York’s economy, such as agriculture and alternative energy.

OnTECH’s new home is a former parochial school on Syracuse’s west side. Most of our $2.3 million loan supported Building Hope’s acquisition and initial renovation of the property. Some of the loan amount will remain available for the project’s longer-term renovation needs.

The school opened its doors in September 2018 to a single class of 93 ninth graders. OnTECH plans to expand by one grade each year until it has enrolled 360 students in grades 9-12 by the 2020-2021 school year. As of August 2019, it had enrolled 172 students from the Syracuse School District as well as districts in the surrounding area—a clear sign of the need for the curriculum that OnTECH offers and the career opportunities it seeks to create.