MIAMI — High school may not be in session during the summer, but for 14 Seminole students it was the perfect time to explore college life. They moved into the dormitories at Florida International University in Miami on June 19 and took college-level classes as part of the Seminole Summer Boost program, which ended July 22.
All students earned college credits. Classes included computer programing and ACT and PERT preparation. Nine students enrolled in 2-D design while six participated in the MORE (Mentorship, Opportunity and Readiness for Excellence) Program and took medical simulation lab, shadowed professionals at the FIU Health Department and performed community outreach off campus.
“It’s great to have a college experience and have to do things on your own,” said Deliah Carrillo, 18, of Brighton, who participated in the MORE Program. “This has given me a head start to my college career. It’s great that they’re doing this for us.”
FIU liaison and education specialist Brenda Gillis, formerly an employee of the Tribe’s Education Department, wanted to offer Tribal students an opportunity to experience college as a summer activity. She looked at a few colleges and chose FIU because of its proximity to the reservations, variety of courses and willingness to fine tune the program based on students’ needs. Development of the program began in October 2015.
“We wanted to expose kids to a college environment and ultimately increase the number of students who go to college,” Gillis said. “The students are getting a beneficial experience that makes the idea of college less intimidating. They know it’s something they can manage and handle. We are giving them the skills to be successful when they do go to college.”
During the 2-D design art class, students worked on their projects closely with Professor Roxana Corradino. The course provided them a background in the elements of art and how artists incorporate line and texture into their pieces. The class also required students to complete assignments in a sketchbook and journal.
“I want them to explore the process and learn from it,” Corradino said. “For one of the journal entries I asked them if they could open a gallery, what kind of art they would have in it. I don’t want to make it too tough; it’s summer and should be fun.”
Elisah Billie, 16, of Big Cypress, has always enjoyed drawing and has even created his own cartoon characters. He wants to be an artist.
“Art is an amazing thing and I think everyone should take at least one art class,” said the Ahfachkee School junior. “I really like this class because it lets you explore everything, take what’s in our hearts and translate it onto paper.”
In the art studio classroom, students talked about why they chose the Summer Boost program as they worked on their projects.
“Pretty soon I’ll be going off to college and I wanted to know what life is like and what they expect of us,” said Tyrek LaSane, 17, of Tampa. “I learned school work is not a joke. They give you a lot to do and expect you to be responsible and do what you need to do.”
“I wanted to know about college and see what it’s like to do college work,” added Alicia Fudge, of Brighton. “Most of my cousins went to college and they inspired me to go.”
But the program wasn’t all about work; there was plenty of time to get to know each other, especially in the dorms.
“I am meeting new friends,” said Aldricia Cypress, 16, of Immokalee. “We’re always together. We never met before and now we’re like best friends.”
The MORE students spent time at the FIU Health Clinic, where they met with Dr. Dorothy Contiguglia, a family medicine physician and assistant professor at the College of Medicine. She told the students that she wasn’t the best student and didn’t get into medical school on her first try, but she persevered. It took her 11 years of school to become an MD.
“My GPA wasn’t great and I didn’t test well, but I knew I’d be a good doctor,” she said. “Sometimes it’s not about being the best; it’s about knowing what you can do inside.”
Students asked a variety of questions ranging from what is the most common ailment Dr. Contiguglia treats (high blood pressure and diabetes) to why doctors use a popsicle stick to look in the mouth (so they can see past the tongue and down the throat) to what does pancreatitis do (the pancreas controls blood sugar, so patients with the disease need a lot of insulin).
“The ultimate lesson is to do whatever you want; if you think you can do it, go try it,” Dr. Contiguglia said. “Don’t let people tell you you can’t; you know your capabilities better than anyone.”
Most of the students in the MORE Program expressed interest in learning about medicine and careers in the medical field. They were drawn to STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) courses in general.
“I wanted to do something different this summer,” said Maleah Smith, 14, of Hollywood. “I learned how long it takes to become a doctor. I want to be a registered nurse. Everyone is interested in different things.”
Although Dasani Cypress, 16, doesn’t want to work in the medical arena – she wants to go into environmental law – she was glad she attended the MORE Program.
“It tells me what I can do outside of high school,” said the Big Cypress teen. “It’s a good opportunity. The Tribe has all these resources, but we have to make a conscious effort to do it.”
The highlight of the program for Dasani was the community service in a clinic in the community.
“I was surprised by how much the STEM area is set up to give back to the community,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to help my community and I was interested to see how much work it is. Doing community outreach was really cool.”
Gillis has received nothing but positive feedback about the program from students, parents and the community. Seminole Summer Boost will be an annual program and plans are already underway for next summer, she said.
Students also appreciated the taste of independence they received from the program and believe everyone should “just sign up”, said Dasani. “It doesn’t even feel like school.”
“A lot of people think school is negative, but when you get here you want to learn new things,” Deliah added. “I’m learning coding and animation. There is a lot of hands-on. You can’t look at your phone or you’ll miss something.”
The college credit was attractive to the students. It ranged from three to six credits depending on the courses. But the overall experience wasn’t lost on them.
“People get so wrapped up in the reservation, but there’s a whole world out there,” Dasani said. “This program provides everything. All you have to do is be respectful and abide by the rules.”