Schools and districts across the country struggle to keep students engaged, especially when life circumstances force young people to put school on the sideline. More often than not, these districts simply lose students who are unable to come to school during normal hours, or who need special intervention. Luckily, alternative schools have popped up around the country to help reengage struggling students, and help them graduate with a high school diploma. By offering flexible hours, extra supports, and engaging content, students are reenrolling and getting an education that sets them up for success in the future.
Acceleration Academies is a unique organization that partners with school districts to reengage students who have not met with success in the traditional high-school setting. By working directly with school districts, Acceleration Academies can reach individual students and encourage them to reenroll in school by offering a unique path to graduation. Students, or graduation candidates as Acceleration Academies calls them, work out of a rented space located right in their community. This work space is open 12 hours a day and equipped with computers, teachers, and career coaches. A team of professionals works with each student to develop a graduation plan, which takes into account their age, transcripts, and life factors outside of school such as family and work commitments. After the plan is created, graduation candidates receive constant support to help them stay on track and accomplish their goal of graduation. Once students and parents realize that this is a different avenue to earning a high school diploma, they are excited to participate.
After completing his first class through Acceleration Academies, [a student] said, “I know I’m not stupid anymore. I’ve gotten my pride back.”
Each site serves about 250 students, and the professionals working there prioritize convenience for the students. They realize how important it is for the graduation candidates to stay on track, so they set very specific guidelines and follow-up if a student doesn’t meet them. If a student doesn’t come to the learning center at his scheduled time, a paraprofessional will reach out to him. If another student does poorly on an assessment, a teacher will step in to provide small-group instruction to help her out. Margie Sharp, Chief Academic Officer at Acceleration Academies, says, “We try to build motivation, accountability, ownership, and responsibility” through the wraparound supports created for graduation candidates.
After spending her career in public education, Margie can see the difference that this organization has on students. She does not take this job lightly, and says they are “saving kids’ lives” by helping them earn their high school diploma. In their four years of operation, Acceleration Academies has helped over 300 students graduate, and one major way they’ve seen success is through retention strategies. After developing a graduation plan, they enroll the student in a class they find engaging and interesting. Administrators have found that if the student can successfully complete the first class, they are more likely to stay in the program through to graduation. One student said he “couldn’t cut it in high school” because the teacher wouldn’t stop to answer his questions. After completing his first class through Acceleration Academies he said, “I know I’m not stupid anymore. I’ve gotten my pride back.”
Once students and parents realize that this is a different avenue to earning a high school diploma, they are excited to participate.
Customized reports and data analytics have helped in this unique implementation. They have been able to slice and dice the data in different ways from traditional schools, which helps them identify successes and intervene when students are falling behind. By celebrating every course completion and providing rewards for meeting career, college, social, and emotional goals, graduation candidates are staying engaged and motivated through graduation and beyond. They even honor students with a special Acceleration Academies graduation ceremony with all of the pomp and circumstance of any high school graduation. Successful students come on stage and tell their stories, which has an amazing impact on the students and launches them to prosperous careers and lives.