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SouthTech Academy helps students with learning disabilities

SouthTech Academy in Boynton Beach continued to create opportunities for students with learning disabilities to excel through its bridging program as they earn certifications and a pathway to employment.

SouthTech Academy’s bridging program, which began in 2001, is open to students between the ages of 18 and 22. Eligible students benefit from an individualized education program and deferred graduation.

SouthTech Academy works with several students who have been diagnosed with speech and language disorders. They help students with learning disabilities who have recently graduated from high school on their journey to technical and vocational training, post-secondary education, employment and independent living. They also help students with financial literacy, get their learner’s permit and attend college.

SouthTech Academy’s bridging program had about 20 students with just two instructors in its early days. After providing services to 40 students two years ago, they currently support 82 students with learning disabilities on campus and in the community.

Robert Pancione, who has worked at SouthTech Academy since 2007, is in his second year as Transition Specialist Coordinator. He is joined by other transition specialists who visit Palm Beach County high schools to introduce the program to ESE students. Students complete an online application and are selected for interviews after January each year. The school has 11 academies and students have three choices based on openings.

“The school has a very good reputation,” Pancione said. “We have so many high school students who have heard of our program and are interested. The ultimate goal is for them to come to school and get as many certifications as possible and help them find jobs in the community in that field. We support students in the classroom and check them weekly. We work on goals for each of our students and help them improve. We have individuals who go at their own pace and we don’t put pressure on them. We help students become independent and work with them in the community.

The majority of students attend three hours a day during the week. Students in the bridging program have the opportunity to develop skills in multiple academies, including auto body repair, automotive service technology, culinary arts, and cosmetology. Pancione said they support students by monitoring their progress, providing tutoring assistance, and working with students on any challenges and developing their organizational skills. They also help students obtain certifications for employment and preparation and orientation with resumes, job applications, and mock interviews.

“It’s rewarding and the best feeling when students get the job,” Pancione said. “They come out of high school and just want to work and some have applied in the past and couldn’t get anything. When they actually achieve their goal in a few years with our help, it’s really rewarding and very cool.

SouthTech Academy has several bridging program students working in a variety of jobs, including car dealerships, restaurants, and culinary positions. The academy of medical sciences has produced students who have found success as certified nursing assistants.

“We have so many success stories of students who have earned certifications to work in the community or who have used our program as a springboard to gain the experience and practical skills needed to help them prepare for college. “said Pancione.

For the first time this school year, a student in the transition program received an American Sign Language interpreter. Funding for the ASL interpreter is fully covered by SouthTech Academy. Giselle, a graduate of Spanish River High School, joined the cosmetology academy last August.

“We’re here to help and the priority is our students,” said Carla Lovett, Executive Director of SouthTech Academy. “We have never had a student who needed an interpreter. I’m so happy we were able to do this for her. She really showed a passion for wanting to be in the program and she did very well.

Giselle attends three hours a day during the week. She passed her first exam with a perfect mark.

“I’m really excited to be able to learn a trade and that’s what I feel like I’ve been doing since I started here,” she said. “I would like to train more to start a career and I know that will come with time. We get hands-on practice, see the concepts and learn some techniques.

Giselle was inspired to join the cosmetology academy after watching hairstyling videos on YouTube. She aspires to own a hair salon.

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“I started to really like watching the videos,” she said. “I never really thought of it as a career at first. I started to fall in love with the profession and being here has opened up a lot of doors for me and the opportunity to learn. It’s something I want and like to do.

Patrice Marsh, coordinator of the cosmetology program, teaches Giselle at the school premises. Marsh became interested in the field while in high school. She has been teaching since 2000 and joined SouthTech Academy in 2016.

“I want to give them all the knowledge I have,” she said. “I love to see them flourish and it will even bring tears to my eyes. I encourage them, to set goals, to stay focused and to improve. You see the progress at the end. It’s great when they come back to see me. I am able to keep this bond with them.

Marsh said the cosmetology profession can offer students a variety of career paths, including working as a makeup artist and on TV or movie sets.

“Giselle is hungry and she wants it and can’t wait to learn,” she said. “She goes that extra mile.”

SouthTech Academy comprises 11 different academies including Veterinary Assisting, Digital Cinema and Broadcasting, Cosmetology, Medical Sciences, Business Arts, Automotive Service Technology, Music and Sound Production, Body Repair collision, business management, information technology and culinary arts.


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