But for St. Lucie Acceleration Academies, Juvan Lester says, the grave mistake he made as a young teenager — a mistake that gave him a criminal record — might have defined and darkened his future path. Instead, he’s heading for college.
“I really wanted to get my diploma. It’s really a big thing for anyone, but especially since what I was going through, it became an even bigger thing,” Juvan said after striding across the stage at commencement. “When people are see my background, they might give me a hard time. So the diploma is just another step, another protection to help me get through life.”
Juvan is 18. Three years ago, just as high school was beginning, he and a friend burglarized a building, were caught, and ended up spending time in jail and under house arrest.
Juvan makes no excuses. “It was my own immaturity,” he says. “I can’t say or remember what I was thinking at the time.”
Because of the conviction, Juvan was unable to continue at a traditional high school. He enrolled at SLAA, which operates in partnership with St. Lucie Public Schools to provide students a personalized, non-traditional path to a diploma.
Juvan is a pleasant, sociable young man. After doing time behind bars, he came to his education with a heightened sense of purpose. As a result, he was able to graduate with the rest of his cohort despite the time lost along the way.
“He was on a mission and he got it done,” said social studies content coach Orlando Ashah. “Jail does that to you.”
Juvan says he wasn’t always easy, but he was determined. “I made sure I put in double the work, triple the work,” he said of his studies at SLAA. “It was hard, but I excelled. I pushed through it.”
Acceleration Academies is a good fit for students like Juvan, who want to power through their coursework at their own pace but with ample support from educators like Ashah and career and life coaches. He says that support made all the difference.
With diploma in hand, Juvan is on to his next dreams — ones that not long ago might have seemed out of reach.
“I’m going to college,” he declared.