NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - Nelson Canales' assignment was to take an image and make it look "glitched," so he painstakingly used Photoshop to intersperse rectangular shards of color around a photo of a bear.

Canales' artwork was so vibrant, creative - and, yes, glitched - that you could almost feel your hair blown back by the bear's roar.

This is apparently the level of work that will be coming out of this building on Van Dyke Avenue for the next four to six years.

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Canales' graphic arts class - along with several math and science ones - is part of the specialized curriculum at the school district's new innovative initiative. P-TECH, or Pathways in Technology Early College High School, offers 40 New Brunswick students who have been chosen in a lottery-style selection process the chance to immerse themselves in STEM-intensive studies.

Starting with the class of 2023, graduates will leave this building with a high school diploma and an associate's degree in a STEM-related field - for free.

Gov. Phil Murphy, Mayor Jim Cahill, State Commissioner of Education Lamont Repollet, Middlesex County Board of Freeholders Director Ronald Rios, Middlesex County College President Mark McCormick, School Superintendent Aubrey Johnson and others attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the facility on Van Dyke Avenue on Thursday morning.

Although New Brunswick schools opened their doors Thursday, these P-TECH students have been in class since July 1. After all, there's a lot of work to cover. Not only are there engineering and architecture homework in the students' futures, but they will learn a wide range of workplace readiness skills from various corporate partners.

"When I talk with leaders of innovative companies looking at New Jersey as a place they may want to set their roots, the No. 1 thing they ask about consistently is our talent pipeline," Murphy said. "They want to come to a place where the workforce is ready for the challenges posed by an innovative and dynamic workplace. With P-TECH, they will see we are filling our pipeline with tremendous and, importantly, diverse talent."

The program was developed by IBM - which had representatives at Thursday celebration. Burlington City and Paterson have also created P-TECH schools, and there are more on the way. Murphy announced that a $200,000 grant would be available for two schools, one in northern New Jersey and one in southern New Jersey, to launch.

For those districts, like New Brunswick, P-TECH is an open door to a college education that might not be attainable for many of the students, Johnson said.

"In essence, P-TECH offers our students an unmatched opportunity for academic and career growth," he said. "After all, our students have begun to envision themselves as college grad and highly skilled professionals from the time they began ninth grade."

The school district has had a lot of help from its corporate partners, including CGI, Dell and Edward Engineering. It also got a big boost from Middlesex County College, which sent faculty members to the school over the summer to help give the school a mighty launch.

McCormick said the school didn't hesitate to get behind the P-TECH program because "we recognized a chance to help and this is what we should be doing."

Several Board of Education members attended the event. Dale Caldwell, assistant board president, emphasized that the board's hard work and cohesiveness made the district an attractive candidate for a P-TECH curriculum.

He was standing next to fellow board member Patricia Sadowski when he said, "This would not have happened if we didn't have my 22 years, your 24 years of continuous Board (of Education) service because so many districts are in chaos. This would not happen - that's what they missed - this would not happen if we didn't get along, if we didn't do this stuff. Then they would be saying, 'Oh, we don't want to spend money on these kids.' I think that's something the Governor missed."