Second chance for high school dropouts expands in St. Lucie County

12 News | By Dylan Huberman | January 10, 2023

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. (CBS12) — Over the past few years, high school dropout rates have started to climb across the country.

Experts largely blame the pandemic for the increase but other factors like finances or family issues may also play a role.

According to the Florida Department of Education, from 2020 to 2021, the dropout rate rose from 3.1 % to 3.2% statewide.

While that’s not a massive jump, some are worried it will continue to climb.

Now, some of our local leaders in Port St. Lucie are stepping up to offer a non-traditional experience to students who were confronted with challenges that sidetracked their education.

Acceleration Academies allow students to learn at their own pace, giving them the freedom to attend school online or in-person.

Now, they have a brand-new location in Port St. Lucie – their second in the county – giving struggling students a second chance.

Acceleration Academies are schools designed to re-engage students who struggled in traditional school settings, someone like Chevauhntai James, who dropped out of Fort Pierce Centennial High School after struggling during COVID.

“I was slacking in school once corona hit, I didn’t really, I wasn’t liking school anymore. I fell down on my grades,” James continued, “But then my mom had introduced me to Acceleration Academy. It’s not a whole bunch of kids crowding up and it’s not overwhelming. You could do everything at your own pace.”

Acceleration Academies work in partnership with St. Lucie Public Schools, graduating more than 400 students since the county’s first location in Fort Pierce opened in 2016.

Now with a brand-new location in Port St. Lucie, the district’s Superintendent, Dr. Jon Prince, says he hopes to help even more students in need.

“All of these students had left our public schools at one time or another and this was an opportunity for us (to) I hate to use the word recapture but re-interest students in education and getting them here and letting them finish. it’s life altering for these kids,” Dr. Prince remarked.

There are Acceleration Academies in seven states, including five partnerships with districts in Florida but the Co-Founder and CEO of Acceleration Academies, Dr. Joseph Wise, believes there are many more to come in the future.

“School districts continue to recognize young people’s need for flexibility; life’s complex especially since the pandemic,” he stated. “Why wouldn’t we graduate every single young person from high school before they age out? That’s the goal in America, should be the goal in America, it’s certainly the goal in St. Lucie County.”

Today more than 40 graduates from the Fort Pierce location were given their diplomas in a commencement ceremony at the new building in Port St. Lucie.

Hopefully its just the first of many graduation ceremonies to come.

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