Special to South Florida Times

A new charter school will open Monday in the Greater Miami Service Corps center at 810 NW 28th St. in Allapattah in a move to expand learning opportunities for area youth.

SIA Tech is the latest venture of the Corps, a non-profit program based in Allapattah that specializes in GED assistance and job skills training for youths aged 18-23.

For the project, the Corps partnered with the California-based School for Integrated Academics and Technology (SIATech), a national organization focusing on technology education.

The partnership came about because GMSC’s funding was recently reduced, limiting the number of people it could serve. That happened at a time when SIA Tech was looking to add a campus to its program.

The Miami-Dade County School Board approved the partnership and provided financial assistance through appropriate departments.  The Corps is anticipating its budget will be even tighter in the next fiscal year.

An unspecified amount of funding comes from the federal and state and Miami-Dade governments, along with contracts with foundations but no dollar amount was indicated.

GMSC Executive Director Deborah Dorsett said the Corps got 700 applications last year but lack of funds meant almost half of them had to be turned away.

“Federal, state and local resources are extremely reduced as a result of our current economic situation,” Dorsett said. “Next year, we are anticipating a 35 percent reduction in funding.  Young people come to our program because they have decided that they want to change their lives [because] whatever they were doing hasn’t worked for them.

“Aproximately half of our students come from the Liberty City area which is in dire need of  youth programming,” Dorsett said. “Our program helps young people to develop a work ethic and job skills while, at the same time, improving their educational acumen.” 

GMSC offers its students general class courses, community service, crime prevention, leadership development and links to organizations such as AmeriCorps, YouthBuild, Out-of-School Youth Program and Civic Justice.

“Those with high school diplomas are expected to attend vocational classes or college.  Those without high school diplomas attend adult basic education or general education classes,” Dorsett said. “In exchange for their time, [students] are provided a modest stipend, transportation assistance, tuition assistance, career planning, counseling, internship and job placement assistance.”

The partnership with SIATech also provided a financial benefit for GMSC because SIATech  is supported by tax dollars and students are not required to pay tuition fees.

“The charter school will provide an additional component to increase the number of young people who are able to attain a credential and skills upon graduation from our program, making them more marketable in this competitive job market,” Dorsett said. 

Around 50 students have registered for the charter school, in addition to the Corps’ own students.  Dorsett said the Corps is aiming for an enrollment of 100.

Catherine Bonnewell, a SIATech charter school principal, who will head the local school,  said the partnership aims to assist youth by providing a solid program for those who have dropped out of classes.

“There are many students in Miami-Dade County who dropped  out of high school for various reasons who now realize the value of a high school diploma. These students want to recover their credits and it has always been a dream for many of the students to receive a diploma,” said Bonnewell.

According to a report released by the Florida Education Commission, the 2009 graduation rate for students in Miami-Dade County was 68.5 percent, or 5.6 percent lower than for the previous year.

“SIATech focuses on students who have not found success in the traditional high school system.  We will provide the students with a challenging and technology-rich learning environment, staffed with competent and caring teachers and staff members,” Bonnewell said.

“The staff at SIATech will work diligently to help students maximize their learning potential and obtain their high school diploma in a project-based student-as-worker/teacher-as-coach atmosphere,” she said.

Students will leave SIATech as “technology literate,” trained to use software programs such as Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Publisher, Dreamweaver, Photoshop and Illustrator.

“In today's changing workforce, it is more important than ever to be computer literate and SIATech provides students with this educational opportunity as they also learn the meaning of teamwork and good work ethics,” Bonnewell said.

“With a high school diploma, students will be able to access institutions of higher learning which will boost the enrollment of local community colleges and universities. As a result, South Florida's economy will benefit from a more educated workforce,” she said.

• For more information on the GMSC-SIATech Charter School, call 305-638-9322.