IMMOKALEE — An open field of opportunities was presented to the students of the Ahfachkee School when they toured the Immokalee Technical Center (I-Tech) on Oct. 5. An accredited institute of higher education, the teaching facility is in its fourth year of operation and serves a broad spectrum of individuals.
“I-Tech’s mission is to provide rigorous and relevant real-world educational experiences using both traditional and distance learning models in order to qualify students for employment and career advancement,” said administrative staffer Gerald Williams. “Our college accepts students with a minimum age of 16 through adulthood and requires a High School Diploma or General Education Diploma (GED) for entry in our technology programs. The Literacy Department offers assistance in obtaining a GED.”
“Our major focus is student welfare, which means that we want you to derive the most benefit possible from the time that you spend with us,” said Administration Director Dr. Kirkland. “Throughout your life, you will spend a lot of time at work and it is important that you enjoy what you are doing.”
Representing the Seminole Tribe’s Education Department, Higher Education recruiter Luis Yeguez, K-12 adviser Carine Eugene and science instructional aide Vicki Pratt assisted the Ahfachkee students throughout their tour of the facility and introduced them to some of the adult Tribal members currently attending I-Tech.
“Don’t underestimate your potential! Higher education is challenging and offers fulfillment,” Yeguez said. “During the 2011 school year, we had nine GED graduates from this area that recognized the need to get an education. The Tribe currently has six I-Tech students seeking certification in a variety of vocations: Megan Otero Perez – Licensed Practical Nurse; Randy Osceola – Automotive Mechanic; Bobbie Billie – Medical Records Technician; Mornin Osceola – Cosmetology; Mary Ann Doctor and Lennie Jim – Heavy Equipment Mechanics.”
The students had an opportunity to visit classrooms, workshops and laboratories where classes were currently in session and received detailed information from the instructors in each department regarding the multitude of technologies. However, they all agreed that the most rewarding part of the tour came from talking to the adult Tribal members about their new careers and reasons for going back to school.
In the Medical Administrative Specialist Computer Lab, Reagan Whitecloud observed her mother, Bobbie Billie, learning the ins and outs of business technology programs. “I am 41 years old and working on getting a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration someday,” Billie said. “It’s been several years since I started working on my degree and then took time off to have a family. My children are the joy of my life, but I have always wanted to finish the education that I started. Education is the key to being self-reliant and opens the door to a world of opportunities. I plan to be a positive example for my children and have set a goal for each of them to finish college before leaving home.”
The instructor in the Heavy Equipment Technology Department has 25 years of experience in his field and believes that a desire to learn is the most valuable tool that students can take to any classroom. When Mary Ann Doctor enrolled in the course, he feared that she wasn’t strong enough and probably wouldn’t complete her certification. However, she fooled everyone when she received the highest score they had ever had on the mechanical aptitude test and she dives into her work each day with enthusiasm. As his star pupil, she is learning to rebuild diesel engines, transmissions and hydraulics.
“I have enjoyed working in secretarial and office jobs within the Tribe for a number of years but feel that it is time to acquire a career in a new field,” said Mornin Osceola as she shampooed a head in the Cosmetology Lab. “I want to encourage all of you to get an education that will provide you with a rewarding career and ensure your independence. The economy is undergoing difficult times, and you should provide yourself with survival skills through job training.”
The Ahfachkee students witnessed a field of opportunities with no limitations as they traveled throughout the I-Tech facilities from Child Care, Culinary Arts, Nurses Training, Computer & Business Technology, Mechanics, Diversified Construction Courses to Architecture and Multimedia Design.
“Education hasn’t always been within reach for our people who survived off the land as they had done for thousands of years prior to the attempted domination by the European cultures,” said Chairman James E. Billie. “Around the 1850s a concentrated effort was made to assimilate Native Americans into the white society through enforced education, which was followed by a period of denied educational rights and segregation. When our leaders organized under their Constitution in 1957, they set a priority for education for our children and recognized it as an important survival skill. That priority hasn’t changed, and the Tribe is currently striving to identify potential and encourage our young people to enter educational fields to benefit their individual needs. Education will provide the tools to ensure that we will never be left behind.”