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High-Tech Program at George Jenkins High School Geared Toward Students With Disabilities

February 25, 2014

Students and supporters celebrated the launch Tuesday of the first High School High Tech site at George Jenkins High School in Polk county, Florida, joining 39 other sites around the state.

High School High Tech helps students with disabilities explore career paths that fit their skills and interests, pursue post-secondary education and secure employment, with a focus on STEM Science, Technology, Engineering and Math fields.

The after-school program is managed by the Able Trust, a state nonprofit dedicated to providing people with disabilities the opportunity for employment, and by the Center for Independent Living.

"The goal is to have every student live independently and have awesome opportunities in life, especially in the high-tech world, where we need all the people we can get," said Sen. Kelli Stargel at the ceremony.

The Able Trust presented a $30,000 check, partially made up of funds allocated by the state legislature as part of an expansion of the program to four new sites this year, including the one in Polk county.

Makayla Strickland, a freshman who enrolled in the program in December, was excited to see the big check. "High School High Tech is beneficial to everybody because you can get more information on careers," she said.

The program began enrolling students in December and had its first meeting at George Jenkins in January.

John Hurt, Lakeland site director for the Center for Independent Living, said the program will expand to two or three more Polk schools next fall.

"These are really dynamic students. After talking with them, you can tell they are really blossoming in this program," he said.

The program holds meetings with students three times a month, during which they teach students skills necessary after graduation.

Students learn interview skills, how to build a resume and are exposed to different career and college opportunities, said Nikki Torres, program coordinator.

In April, Torres will take the kids on tours of Southeastern University and Polk State College. Delorys Gonzalez, a senior, said she wants to attend Miami-Dade College for radiology when she graduates.

"I like helping people," she said. She said she might also attend Polk State, because she has family in both areas of the state.

Students had to apply to get into the program, and if they were selected, they went through an interview process, Torres said.

Torres chose students who could show they are motivated and committed to be a part of the program.

Nigel Gordon, a freshman, fit the mold.

He said he wants to be a video game designer, and he has a few ideas for scary games that he created with friends.

Once students are in the program, they rarely drop out, something many students with disabilities struggle with, said Susanne Homant, president of Able Trust.

Last year, 99 percent of program participants graduated, she said.

Homant said her dream is to get the program in all 67 Florida counties.

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