SIATech charter school holds grand opening at new site

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Lyonese Jones, a SIATech alumna who graduated in 2013, delivers a speech about her struggles, school, career and aspirations Thursday at the grand opening of the new SIATech El Centro Charter School Thursday in El Centro.
JOSELITO N. VILLERO PHOTO 
Thursday, August 17, 2017

EL CENTRO – Flanked by dignitaries and school officials, Principal Sacha Sykora cut the ribbon Thursday afternoon for the grand opening of SIATech Charter School’s brand new location in El Centro. SIATech is an acronym for School for Integrated Academics and Technology. 

 “We moved because we had more students and wanted a bigger and a newer place. It fluctuates, but we have between 140 to 150 students. We have seven teachers teaching all the core courses and electives in high school,” Sykora said. 

 

On July 1, SIATech opened at its new location at 1523 W. Main Street, Suite 112, in El Centro. The independent study school initially opened its doors with ten students in 2009 at Ocotillo Plaza just north of Interstate 8, about two miles south of its new site. 

“The school’s main focus is to reengage out-of-school youth, ages 16-24, so they could be allowed another opportunity to earn their high school diploma,” Sykora explained. “They deserve a second chance.” SIATech now has 150 alumni since it opened in 2009. 

 

Two alumni, Lyonese Jones and Jacklyn Mejia, spoke at the grand opening. 

 

Lyonese Jones graduated from SIATech in 2013. After graduation, Jones went to Imperial Valley College to become an Emergency Medical Technician, then she worked at Pioneers Memorial Hospital for the next three years. However, she later went back to IVC to pursue studies in drug and alcohol counseling. “Because I’ve seen a lot of at risk youth using drugs and alcohol and I want to help them,” she said. Jones hopes to graduate in 2019. 

 

Jones said about her alma mater, “I believe SIATech is a great school, because it allows students to work at their own pace and have a second chance at getting their high school diploma.” She remembered how amazing and helpful her teachers were, and how they took their time to make sure they got it right and learned.

 

Jacklyn Mejia, 16, graduated from SIATech in June 2017. “The graduation ceremonies were very personal. Every student gets a special ceremony where we do a presentation in front of our class,” Mejia said. 

 

“I’m now enrolled in Imperial Valley College, but after that, I want to transfer to an art school in New York so I can pursue fashion and art,” she said. Her particular interest in fashion is clothing design. Mejia added, “I love this school. They really helped me a lot. My favorite teacher is Miss Sesme.” 

 

Esmeralda Lopez, an SIATech teacher for the past ten years at the independent study school, is affectionately addressed as “Miss Sesme” by her students. 

 

“Being a teacher here at SIATech is very rewarding because we work with students who have dropped out of school,” Lopez said. “It is rewarding to have that relationship with them, to bond with them, and to inspire them to continue with their education and finish what they’ve started in other high schools.” 

 

According to Lopez, most of the students did not succeed at traditional high schools due to a number of barriers to education including work-related schedules, either part or full time, which did not allow for them to attend the regular hours of a traditional school; or students got pregnant and became young parents; or they had problems in other schools; or are in the probation system.

 

Sykora said SIATech’s goal is to help students earn their high school diploma, then the work training skills they need. “That is why we partner with Imperial Valley Regional Occupational Program (IVROP) and OneStop. They get work study training, then continue on to either IVC or other universities.”

 

“This is a drop-out recovery. A lot of students have dropped out of high school. They are success stories because they have actually completed high school,” Sykora said.

 

Ernie Silva, the SIATech executive director of External Affairs, and Miguel Figueroa, director of Imperial County Workforce Development Board, each gave a speech.

 

In his speech before dignitaries and school officials, guest speaker Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, 56th District—California State Assembly, introduced Assembly Bill 1111 which he co-authored.

He said AB 1111: Breaking Barriers to Employment, is a legislative proposal that is aligned with the mission of this educational institution. 

A press release provided a summary of the bill: “AB 1111 establishes a competitive grant program for activities that address the needs of individuals who face multiple barriers to prepare for training, apprenticeship, or employment opportunities, which will lead to self-sufficiency and economic stability.” 

“The program’s targeted populations include, but are not limited to, veterans, unskilled and low-skilled workers, out-of-school youth, foster youth, long-term unemployed, individuals with developmental and other disabilities, Native Americans, formerly incarcerated individuals, farmworkers, and other economically disadvantaged individuals.”

Assemblymember Garcia said he believes employment opportunities in Imperial County continue to be very limited. That is why the workforce training investments are focusing on at-risk youths, veterans, disabled populations, seniors or single mothers, because these populations have greater challenges finding employment. “That’s what AB 1111 is all about,” Garcia said.

He also introduced Assembly Concurrent Resolution 102. This would recognize the month of August 2017 as Opportunity Youth Reengagement Month to encourage the expansion of schools and services to reengage “opportunity youths.”

 

“This is about providing a support system. Here at SIATech, you have an exemplary model that we can talk about, up and down the state of California. You are doing amazing work changing the lives of our students,” Garcia said.