­­Florida International University

As a teen, Ronnie Adderly was involved with the wrong people, doing wrong things.

He dropped out of high school in his junior year, at age 17. He says he was tired of school, and thought it was a waste of time.

Adderly’s bad choice of friends got him involved with stealing and breaking into houses. He was caught and convicted, and served two years in prison.

“I would see my grandma, who has a high school and a college degree, cleaning a hospital, and I thought, what’s the use of getting an education if it’s not gonna provide any resources for the future?” he said.

Now, at 28, he has gone back to school to get his high school diploma at D.A. Dorsey Educational Center.

“I need to please myself and do this for my son,” he said.

For 40 years, D.A. Dorsey Educational Center has given thousands of students a second chance.

It is named after Dana Albert Dorsey, Miami’s first African-American millionaire, who donated the property at Northwest 71st Street and 17th Avenue to the Miami-Dade school district in the 1930s.

Dorsey became an adult school in 1970, and currently offers a full program of basic education courses, including English for non-native speakers, as well as basic reading, writing and mathematics.

It offers regular high school diplomas and GEDs, along with certificates in construction, pharmacy technician, digital design and automotive service.

Among its students are teenagers who have left other schools because of  fighting, pregnancy or poor performance; senior citizens who dropped out of school decades ago; and immigrants trying to pursue an education in the United States.

The result: an eclectic mix of students who learn not only from the teachers, but also from one another.

Adderly attended Dorsey in 2003, but was not able to finish because his job required him to work full time.

He now details cars in Fort Lauderdale, and said he returned to school so he could give something better to his 7-month-old son, Brisyn. Once he gets his GED, he plans to enroll in the building construction program.

“I told myself that this time I wasn’t gonna let anything get into the way,” he said.

Jacques-Harry Durosier, 47, who is studying in the building construction program, said he enjoys being in a classroom with younger students because he learns what’s good from each of them.

“Instruction comes from everywhere,” he said.

Rosenord Guillaume, 19, looks to the older students for similar reasons.

“They’ve got more experience than you and when you hear them, it makes you think a lot,” said Guillaume, who hails from French Guiana.

He began studying at Dorsey 18 months ago. He's already learned English and some Creole, which he uses to help other students.

Guillaume’s mother is a French cook, whose job takes her family to different countries around the world. She has agreed to stay in Miami until her son finishes school.

“I told her that I need to do something with my life,” he said. “I’m not gonna live with my mom forever.”

Emmanuella Janvier, an 18-year-old Haitian girl who came with her family to the U.S. after the earthquake, said her fellow students became like family.

“The others get happy for me when something good happens,” said Janvier, who dreams of studying medicine and already has been offered a full scholarship at Université de Moncton in Moncton, Canada.

Principal Gloria F. Evans said the school has an open-door policy that allows students to come back no matter why they left.  But it has tough standards, and students who do not meet them will be expelled. 

“Some students don’t realize this isn’t like high school, there are no parent-teacher conferences,” she said.

Evans said 75 percent to 100 percent of the students who graduate from the school’s vocational programs are placed in jobs within their areas.

But, despite its successes, Dorsey also faces challenges.

“We’re like David competing with Goliath,” said Evans, competing for funds with other county adult schools.

And being in such an old facility makes it difficult to keep up with the rest of the world.

“There’s only so much we can do with an old building, so we make it up with the human side of it, with good teachers and good programs,” she said.

For Adderly, none of that matters. He said he’s just happy Dorsey is there.

“The building doesn’t affect nothing. It takes people to make that building,” he said. “It’s what the person does while they’re inside the building that matters.”