Tucked in between a pawn shop and a hair salon in Miami Gardens is an academy that is helping Miami-Dade County students own their success by helping them attain a high school diploma. Acceleration Academies, in partnership with the Miami-Dade County Public Schools system, is currently helping hundreds of young adults who left the traditional high school environment get back on track, and graduate with a high school diploma.

For the last two years, Acceleration Academies has helped students who left high school without a diploma complete their high school education while preparing for college or the job market. With three campuses spread across Homestead, North Miami Beach, and Miami Gardens, Acceleration Academies is gearing up to open its newest location at the Carnival Center for Excellence building in the Lejeune area.

As an A-rated district for two years in a row, Miami-Dade County Public Schools, or MDCPS, boasts a graduation rate of almost 90 percent, without accounting for privately managed charter schools, district records show. As a result, the Acceleration Academies are re-engaging the remaining 10 percent of students to attain an MDCPS-certified high school diploma.

“Own your success” is the academies’ slogan as they aim to provide all the necessary components for success, from academic coaching, counseling, and college preparation, among other services.

“I went to two schools but I had some troubles,” said Samuel Huertas, 17, who, for the last eight months, has been working to attain his high school diploma. Samuel is one of about 400 students, or graduation candidates, currently enrolled in the different academies. “I had to find something to do,” he said.

Students under the age of 21 who have been promoted to 9th grade are eligible to enroll in the academies. The academies employ a tech-savvy, personalized curriculum that allows students to pick up from where they left off, and continue their path towards a high school diploma.

The graduation candidates as they are called, learn at their own pace by taking one class at a time, with constant help from academic coaches and tutors, to complete missing credits in their transcripts.

Samuel foresees himself graduation within a year but says he likes the environment of the academy. “It is calm and I like it here,” he said.

College banners from local schools such as Florida Memorial University, Florida State University, University of Miami, and as far as the University of Kentucky, adorn the well-lit, large, open classroom, where students sit to complete their coursework in laptop computers. The classroom has a college feel and is outfitted with comfortable chairs and couches. Accelerator Academies provides free round-trip transportation, as well as snacks. The academies try to remove any impediment that might deter their graduation candidates from attaining a high school diploma.

The Acceleration Academies provide a free platform for students to finish their high school education. Students graduate with a high school diploma, as opposed to a GED, as that is a popular option for people who leave high school without graduating.

Normally, GED programs cost up to hundreds of dollars and fail to provide adequate support from instructors, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“We help the kids no matter what their background is,” said Walter Johnson, an outreach coordinator at Miami Gardens location. “There are no more excuses why a kid in Miami-Dade County cannot graduate with a high school diploma.”

Many of the young people enrolled in the academies left high school for complex reasons. Through the academies come young mothers, kids who are part of the foster care system, some who have had been involved in criminal activities, as well as young adults who leave high school to enter the job market to support their families.

“Every kid has a different story,” Johnson said.

And though the graduation candidates take the course work at their own pace, some do not plan on being enrolled at the academy for too long.

For the last five days, De’nisha Palmer, 18, has been working to pass the algebra End-of-Course assessment, which students are required to pass to graduate high school. She completed her high school experience but did not graduate because she was a few points shy of passing the assessment, she said. Palmer plans to attend Florida Memorial University to study criminal justice once she attains her high school diploma.

“The program is good; the staff is very helpful, they talk to you and they understand what is going on,” she said about the academy. “Once I pass the test I am good,” she said.

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