Taking steps toward independence

A new charter school's mission is to help young adults with learning disabilities acquire job skills.

Published July 28, 2006

It takes 20-year-old Ricky Boyette a moment to gather his thoughts before he answers.

"I want to be independent and take care of myself," said Boyette, who lives in Brandon with his parents.

He can't wait to learn job skills at a new charter school, the Tampa Transitional School of Excellence. The school, at 3916 E Hillsborough Ave., opens Thursday for 18- to 22-year-olds with learning disabilities.

The school will help prepare Boyette, who has difficulty processing new information, for a job.

"I'm excited," Boyette said. "I want to earn money and make friends."

Funded by Hillsborough County Schools but run independently, the school connects the dots for people with learning disabilities by combining job training, life skills and community resources.

"Those transitional years between leaving high school and going into the adult world make all the difference," director Louise Davis said. A person with a learning disability who fails in their first job often gives up, she said.

Students will learn on-the-job skills at one of TECO Energy's copy rooms or at a Publix training site. At the school, they can work in a child care center, a kitchen outfitted by Outback Steakhouse or a training center for shipping and receiving. Job coaches will help students focus on their talents and compensate for their learning disabilities.

During the afternoon, they will learn to pay bills online, use HARTline buses and cook for themselves. They will brush up on reading skills and learn what to say and what not to say in at a job interview.

Parents of students will learn how to advocate for their children after they turn 18 through educational programs that highlight community resources.

They'll find out about job coaches, Social Security benefits and steps to get guardianship.

The five-room school for up to 50 students is an extension of the Academies for Educational Excellence Inc., which includes Hope Preparatory Academy, Quest Middle School and Pepin Academy. Students come from Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties. There is no tuition; students need only to have an identified learning disability and a desire to work.

To apply, download an application from www.theacademies.us or call 236-1755.

Elisabeth Dyer can be reached at edyer@sptimes.com or 813 226-3321.