When Eric Acosta, principal of Hialeah Miami Lakes Senior High School (HML), told his faculty he wanted to introduce new programs to the school, entrepreneurship teacher Ted Dinicola jumped on the opportunity.
Dinicola, a sales professional who spent 22 years in the business world, has been teaching entrepreneurship classes at HML for 10 years. The expansion of entrepreneurship classes into a magnet would mean a planned trajectory for students who are interested in business but were limited in opportunity due to a lack of school programs. With the addition of Digital Media, led by teacher Farrah Salem, the Digital Media and Entrepreneurship Magnet was born.
The magnet program, diverging into two tracks in Digital Media and Entrepreneurship, offers students a hierarchy of courses, each more focused on a specific facet of the business industry. The magnet also encourages certification in programs such as dream weaver, photoshop, and illustrator, programs typically upwards of hundreds of dollars, all available to students free of charge.
Dinicola currently leads four foundational entrepreneurship classes, two management classes, and one ownership class, the latter of which has partnered with a New York based company, Virtual Enterprise Inc. (VEI) that has awarded grants to the school’s magnet for furniture.
Dinicola’s class will be awarded virtual seed money to launch their business, worth $200,000, and they will operate within a $600 million dollar economy. Each student is assigned a different department, such as Human Resources, Marketing, Administration, or Finance, and will proceed to fill the demands of the roles they have interviewed for. Each department consists of a manager and workers.
“They will have an idea of how business works,” said Dinicola. “They won’t be surprised when they leave school and come face to face with the real world, they will have already been prepared for it. Kids initially have no concept that they can start a business, but they absolutely can. Currently they are in the beginning phase of creating a product.”
Dinicola’s structured classroom bears a striking resemblance to an office space, whereas, just a few steps away is Salem’s Digital Media classroom, an area of students scattered across the curvy conference tables and some sitting on the floor.
“I encourage the kids to find a creative space,” said Salem.
The magnet’s Digital Media track is a project-based learning curriculum that includes in-depth teaching on a variety of software systems, many of which students will interact with in future occupations. The program also delves into social media coordination and usage, content creation, branding, marketing, and design.
Salem, class of 2010 from HML, is a self-taught coder and happily shares her classroom with her former high school teacher and mentor, Dinicola.
“Any time I spoke about an influential person in my life, it was Dinicola,” said Salem. “I wasn’t necessarily a bad student, I graduated with a high GPA but I was unfocused. I got involved with DECA while attending here under the supervision of Dinicola, and was the first person in the school’s history to attend competition at states and win. That’s where I found my love of business. I am very high energy but Dinicola helped me calm down and focus and I’m very grateful for him.”
Many of the teachers from Salem’s time as a student remain a part of the school’s faculty, but the school has experienced a lot of change. DECA, for example, went from having four students in 2008 to over 200 this school year. This student investment and eagerness was a motivating factor to supply new programs.
“I think society’s expectations have changed a bit, and also what the clubs and programs at HML offer have changed,” said Salem. “Before a student would show up and not do much but students now are having lunch meetings and using google drive for club note-taking! They don’t play around! The school culture has changed tremendously. I wish I could have attended HML as a student the way it is now.”
Salem is in the process of raising funds for purchasing projectors to install in the school’s mezzanine area and the facade facing the street in lieu of banners. The state of the art video projectors will announce school events, club meetings, and possibly project ads and in the process will be an extended project for the digital media classes. Additionally students have been privy to lectures and demonstrations from business leaders in the community, such as Andrew Bonilla, a former HML student, who founded his own internet marketing company in Miami Lakes, T-Rex Web.
Both Dinicola and Salem sing praises of school principal, Eric Acosta, for his determination to cultivate a culture of excitement, learning and school spirit.
“We call him ‘Mister Let’s Make It Happen’ because if we need computers, they’re here, if we have an idea for something he is on board,” said Salem of Acosta. “He is so supportive and it’s nice to feel that you can talk to your administrator. He allows us the freedom to teach in a way to reach our students.”
The addition of the school’s magnet has invigorated students and teachers alike to look forward to bigger and better things taking place at HML.