Pedro Prudencio is a young man with a mission: He wants to become a dermatologist to help teens who, like him, have struggled with the physical and emotional pain of acne.
But first, he needed a high school diploma. But at his old school, they told him he would have to wait. Although he only had two classes remaining, “they wouldn’t allow me to graduate,” he recalled. “They told me I would have to do a whole extra school year.”
“I couldn’t believe it.”
One day, though, his mother and sister were making a trip to the Dollar General store near the Central campus of Miami-Dade Acceleration Academies. After hearing about the personalized approach to education at MDAA — which allows students to accelerate their studies if they’re willing to work hard at it — they told Pedro about another path.
“It was like a miracle, a gift from God,” said Pedro.
He successfully completed the two remaining courses, English 4 and American Government and Economics, and earned his diploma. The 18-year-old came to a campus festooned with balloons and cupcakes to celebrate with the educators who had helped him reach his goal — in a hurry.
“Every single time I would email or text them, they would immediately support me,” he said. “In less than 10 minutes.”
Getting the diploma itself took longer, due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the challenge school district administrators faced in processing mid-year graduations remotely. Pedro felt a sense of urgency, said MDAA life coach Indira Mardis, and sometimes frustration. But he was unfailingly polite.
“He was very respectful, very understanding,” Mardis said.
Staff members erupted in applause when Pedro arrived at the campus; they had worked with him mostly online due to the pandemic, but were delighted to celebrate with him in person.
Although he didn’t get to formally celebrate his diploma until recently, Pedro began classes at Florida National University in October. His 21-year-old sister is also a student there, hoping to build her career as a psychologist working with teens who struggle with anxiety.
Pedro and his sister are both majoring in natural sciences, and he hopes to wrap up his undergraduate studies in three years to get on to medical school. He knows what it’s like for teenagers whose acne subjects them not only to social insults but also physical pain.
“I’m not in it for the money,” the 18-year-old says of his ambitions. “I’m in it to help.”
MDAA Director Gina Montagnino-Fiske said that for Pedro and other grads, receiving their diplomas represents an achievement that for some came with at least some adversity — and sometimes, a great deal.
Some graduation candidates, like Pedro, simply need an opportunity to finish a few credits and get on to chasing their dreams. Others travel a longer road, taking advantage of MDAA’s personalized approach and flexible scheduling to succeed despite challenges including teen parenthood, full-time jobs, learning differences and social anxiety.
“It reveals the beauty of the program,” she said. “Here, you get exactly what you need.”