Local News

Untraditional school gives second chance to Wake County drop-outs

Posted September 17, 2015 5:56 p.m. EDT

— A new school situated in south Garner is the first of its kind in North Carolina, and it’s giving students a second chance to succeed.

Unlike a traditional high school, the Acceleration Academy is tucked away in a strip mall and remains open through the evening hours. The purpose is to make it inviting to students who may have struggled to succeed in a traditional school.

“Our objective here is to make it look and feel nothing like a regular school,” said Acceleration Academy academic director, Luther Thomas.

The Acceleration Academy program, which was approved by the Wake County Board of Education in June, is only operated in three other school districts across the country.

Ask any student why they chose to attend class at the Acceleration Academy and they will likely give you the same answer.

“I really wanted my high school diploma,” said student Elijah Briscoe.

Briscoe, 18, got into trouble and was kicked out of school. He only needed to complete two more classes to graduate. His mother believes Acceleration Academy suits him.

“He can do it at his own pace, and he can come and go as he pleases and I don’t have to force him to be here,” Lynette Briscoe said.

Every year, 800 to 1,000 Wake County high school students drop out for a variety of reasons and the drop-out rate for the district currently stands just below 3 percent. Wake County education leaders want to increase the district’s graduation rate to 95 percent by 2020. The current graduation rate is 82.9 percent.

“We know what happens when kids don’t earn their diplomas in general terms, from a standpoint of instability in their personal lives, certainly from an economic standpoint,” said Wake County Public School System senior director of high school programs, Drew Cook.

There are currently 200 students enrolled at the Acceleration Academy, and the Wake County Public School System is expecting that number to reach 400. Students are recruited by a team of people who go to the homes of students who are school-aged but no longer enrolled at a Wake County school. The team also visits churches and local businesses to spread the word about the program.

At Acceleration Academy, the students are called graduate candidates and the teachers are known as content coaches. The untraditional school is open 12 hours a day, 12 months a year and students set their own schedules. They can learn online from home or come into the center for one-on-one instruction.

“I like that I can work at my own pace and nothing’s really holding me back,” said student Madison Beane.

Health issues as well as problems with peer pressure forced Beane, 17, to drop out of traditional school, but as an honors student who excelled academically, her parents didn’t want her to become another statistic.

“You sit here and worry and worry over your child’s future. Especially looking at Madison’s potential and what she wants to do, to have this come along has been a blessing,” said Mark Beane.

The Acceleration Academy program, which was approved by the Wake County Board of Education in June, is only operated in three other school districts across the country.

Acceleration Academy generates its own revenue and, as a result, operational costs to the Wake County Public School System are very small, said school spokesperson Michael Yarborough. Students pay nothing to attend.

Two additional Acceleration Academy locations are planned for north and south Raleigh.

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