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Little-Known Philly Tech School Rapidly Growing

By Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - A tiny tech school in the West Oak Lane section of Philadelphia is growing so fast, they're hoping to leap into a bigger space to serve more students in underserved communities.

Located on at the intersection of Ogontz Avenue and Washington Lane -- the Philadelphia Technician Training Institute puts every inch of its 10,000 square feet to use.

(Gregg) How do you fit 100 people in here?

"Exactly," responds Sherman McLeod, founder of PTT.

The mechanical engineer says he started the school with just 15 students teaching them manufacturing, welding and automotive skills in the span of six months. He says the students get jobs, sometimes making as much as $45,000 a year:

"These are real world jobs, not everybody wants to go to college."

And the word seems to be spreading. In just a few years, for the first time they've enrolled 100 students; the class sizes are so big they are teaching them in shifts.

Student working between classes in automotive/manufacturing class (credit: Cherri Gregg)

Now McLeod is broadening his vision, hoping to buy the old Berean Institute building at 19th and Girard so they can expand.

"It's a 2.2 million dollar acquisition," he says. "We have raised a significant amount of the funds."

McLeod says they've already put down ten-percent of the property, have another ten-percent in cash, as well as a portion in donations and loans.

"It's going to happen," says McLeod. "Our goal is to raise the rest of the money we need in the next 90 days."

To further the effort, the non-profit is holding a series of fundraisers, hoping to raise awareness about all the people they say they've helped over the past several years.

"As long as a student really wants to change their life, we can help them," says Debbie Colelli, who recruits students for PTT.

Colelli says they focus on students that many other schools overlook. She says they work with re-entry organizations and other agencies to bring in ex-offenders, the homeless and the long-term unemployed.

Colelli says the school costs about $12,000, but a portion is usually paid through government grants, and with an 80-percent graduation rate, the average student owes about $7500 in student loans when they graduate:

"Many of these students had no goals, but now their future is in the palm of their hands."

This 37-year-old student says he used to live a life of street crime...but not anymore.

"I've learned you can do things the right way," he says, "the honest way and live your life."

He adds it feels good to finally be getting good grades.

For more on PTT, CLICK HERE.

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