Standing in front of a classroom of teenagers, Jessica Rovello knew just the right way to grab the attention of the students of International High School at Union Square: illustrate her point with an on-screen Facebook demonstration.
The students were interested in her demonstration of the games her company creates. But what really impressed them was how she was able, almost effortlessly, to get past the school’s digital barriers and onto the usually inaccessible Web site.
Ms. Rovello taught students about a career in video games on Wednesday while acting as the “principal for a day.” The 17th annual citywide event is part of the PENCIL partnership program, an initiative that builds relationships between business leaders and principals of public schools.
PENCIL has established partnerships with about 375 schools in New York City, and others in Baltimore, Philadelphia and Rochester. On Wednesday, before the start of Principal for a Day, the organization held a news conference, attended by the schools chancellor, Dennis M. Walcott, to announce its goal of increasing the number of relationships between businesses and city schools.
For the last year, Ms. Rovello has been working with Gaylea Prichard-Silvers, the principal of International High School, to help with team-building of the school’s staff and outreach to students.
Ms. Rovello, 36, is the president and co-founder of Arkadium, a social game developer, publisher and distributor. The company’s offices are just a few blocks away from the school.
“When it’s local, when it’s two blocks away and when it influences the lives of kids, everybody can get together,” she said. “It’s not even a question.”
Michael Haberman, the president of PENCIL, said the program was unlike any other in New York City because it works with principals to identify challenges in the schools, and later assigns the best-suited business professionals.
“The principal has the opportunity to say, ‘Here are my challenges, and this is what I am trying to solve,’” Mr. Haberman said. “As far as we know we are the only ones doing it the way we are doing it.”
International High School is a public institution for students who recently immigrated and are learning English. There are only freshman and sophomore classes, but the 87 students are divided into teams that mix age, grade and native language. The school has not received a Department of Education progress report grade because it opened last year.
“We give them any experience and interaction with people in the world of work and especially one that might interest them so deeply,” Ms. Prichard-Silvers said. “It is almost essential to expose them to as many options as possible.”
The needs and experiences of the two women seemed to be perfectly matched. Ms. Rovello had experience operating a start-up and working with visuals aids, and Ms. Prichard-Silvers has been trying to build up International High School and overcome language barriers with students.
“We just can’t have people come in and speak to them all the time, because most of our students are beginning-level English language learners,” Ms. Prichard-Silvers said. “Jessica has picked up on that, and she’s in an industry where everything is visual and it really caters to our kids and they are interested immediately.”
Ms. Rovello said she gets emotional thinking of the student’s journeys from foreign countries and America’s history as a land of immigrants.
“These kids say things like, ‘Where I grew up the teachers would hit you if you didn’t have the right answer,’” Ms. Rovello said. “You’re amazed by what they’ve been through getting to this country, and living here they are so brave that you’re blown away.”