Local program gives hope to at-risk youth in Miami

08/08/2014 2:11 PM

08/08/2014 2:12 PM

When school is out and summer is in, most students have a hard time keeping busy with so much free time. But this wasn’t the case for about 60 IMPACT students who participated in a six-week summer program.

The Integrated Marine Program and College Training (IMPACT) initiative aims to expose at-risk middle- and high school students, from low-income families, to careers in science, math and technology. The initiative is possible through a unique collaboration between The University of Miami’s Center for Latin American Studies, the RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program and The Patricia and Philip Frost Museum of Science.

“IMPACT is all about life experiences that the students would not get the opportunity to experience otherwise,” said Mickael Charles, coordinator of the Miami Upward Bound Math and Science Center. “My most memorable experience is going shark tagging with the students.”

Shark-tagging is one of the most anticipated activities in the program. Students work closely with RJ Dunlap college interns to set out about 10 shark bait systems. As they anxiously wait for a shark to take the bait, students take water temperature and salinity.

Once a shark takes the bait, students place the shark onto a platform and begin performing experiments that include taking measurements, removing a piece of the shark’s fin and taking a blood sample. Once that’s done, a tag is attached to help track the shark for long-term research.

Another activity students worked on this summer was planting mangrove seedlings.

“We went on the west coast of Florida and got dirty in the mud planting mangrove seeds and it was an amazing experience,” said Sonia Nunez, director of the Upward Bound Math and Science Program at The Frost Museum. “The museum grows the seeds and we go with the kids to plant them.”

Dayna Richardson, 17, of Mater Academy has been an IMPACT student for about four years. She has worked on various projects, including the ocean pollution film.

“Our film about ocean pollution is my favorite project so far,” Dayna said. “I learned about lighting, how camera’s work and the importance of keeping our oceans clean.”

During the academic year, the program acts as a free tutoring and mentoring service for students. Every Saturday afternoon focuses on college preparation courses for the SAT and ACT entrance exams.

Students learn about the college admission process and financial aid.

“The most valuable thing I’ve learned from IMPACT is how to apply for scholarships,” said Marcos Garcia, 16, of Miami Senior High.

High school juniors attend a college tour for five days and visit at least 15 colleges by the time they graduate high school.

IMPACT is part of the federal Upward Bound program and is funded by the U.S. Department of Education.

Students are recruited by the program committee beginning in the eighth grade and are expected to remain in the program until they graduate high school. Some of the schools the program works with are Miami Jackson, Miami Central, Miami Northwestern, Booker T. Washington and Miami Edison.

Recruitment starts with students who attend middle schools within the feeder patterns of the high schools in the program. Students must come from a low-income family, be first generation and not have a ‘D’ or ‘F’ in their math or science classes.

“We do presentations for eighth-grade students about the program, if they meet the criteria,” said Nunez. “If students are interested after the presentation, they may apply. We start visiting eighth graders in early October.”

If a student is selected to join the program, they attend an interview with their parents, since the program is a four-year commitment. Students are also followed for about six years after graduation.

Charles has seen many kids complete the program and attend college to achieve their goals.

“The most valuable moment I have had,” he said. “Is watching our students go from a place of concern, where they don’t know what they are going to do in the future, to attending college.”

For information about IMPACT, visit www.miamisci.org/impact/impact.html.

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