Maria Jose Lainez woke up Tuesday morning and instead of her usual jeans and sneakers, she opted for a black knee-length dress and nude, patent-leather pumps.
By 10:30 a.m., she strode across an auditorium stage as one of 45 graduates from Success Pathways, a program that serves teens who have been turned away from local high schools due to their age or lack of proficiency in English. Through Pathways, the teens prepare for the General Education Development exam — the first step toward higher education.
When Lainez was turned away from Coral Gables High School as an 18-year-old equipped with little more than basic English under her belt, Success Pathways was the solution. There, students are taught English, math, science and social studies to satisfy the requirements of the GED, a four-part test.
Pathways, a program of Miami-Dade Schools, works with about 100 students per semester in one of three centers: The English Center, Coral Gables; Miami Jackson High School, Allapattah; and Miami Springs High School. Most of the students are immigrants who have not taken the required curriculum that would enable them to pass Florida’s standardized tests, and they often struggle with English. As such, they cannot enroll in local high schools.
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“They’re being backed into a wall, and we are that option for children and parents who have run out of options,” Principal Yamila Carballo said.
The program runs during daytime hours, unlike most alternative education programs, which offer nighttime classes. This, Carballo said, helps students feel they’re on the same schedule as other students.
Graduates also have the opportunity to receive technical and vocational training in areas like cosmetology and multimedia design at The English Center upon completion of the program. Most do, said Gemma Carrillo, an educational specialist with Miami- Dade Schools.
The average Pathways participant juggles school with a full-time job, as well as home responsibilities like housekeeping or childcare, program administrators said.
Astrid Giron, a 19-year-old Pathways graduate, regularly split her time between classes at The English Center and Antigua, a Guatemalan restaurant in West Flagler where she works full time as a waitress. Managing her time is no easy task, but “where there is a will, there is a way,” she said.
Lainez, 18, said Pathways taught her time-management skills and responsibility, as well as a greater appreciation for life’s opportunities. She moved to Miami from Honduras six months ago.
“It’s an institution that opened many doors for me, to knowledge and other things,” she said.
Lainez intends to go to college and study psychology. Giron plans to study criminal justice.
“Many of them come with no expectation of being able to attend college,” said Lourdes Arriete, one of Pathway’s eight full-time teachers. “We open their eyes to the possibilities.”