Gary Middle College opened its doors Monday night to 175 students who want to earn a high school diploma. The charter school is geared to students who want to earn a high school diploma as opposed to a GED, and some students who have not been successful in the traditional public school environment.

A sister school to 21st Century Charter School near the downtown section of Gary, Gary Middle College students are in the same building and attend evening classes. Both schools are operated by Indianapolis-based GEO Foundation.

Students age 14 to 52 crowded into the school gymnasium, sitting on bleachers as they waited for orientation to begin. One couple carefully carried an infant in a carrier. The first class at Gary’s eighth charter school included black, white and Hispanic students.

Alyce Butler, president of the 21st Century Charter School Board, said she was surprised by the amount of interest and the number of people who actually followed through and enrolled. “I hope they stay the course,” she said.

The two charter schools also have put up three portable buildings for classroom use. Butler said they hope to start construction on their high school building, which will be a couple of blocks away.

“Ideally, I’d like to see the high school open in the fall of 2013 but it could be later. It will depend on financing,” she said.

Gary Middle College Principal James Joiner said 49 of the students brought children for a total of 79 children being cared for at a nearby day care center.

Brothers Malik Bunch, 15, a sophomore, and Alvin Bunch, 16, a junior, said they lived nearby and transferred to Gary Middle College from Hammond High School.

Both said they had not been in any trouble in school but hoped to attend the Gary school because of what it offered, and they hope to finish school in a shorter period.

“I also like the idea of going in the evening rather than the daytime hours,” Malik Bunch said.