But for Sarasota Acceleration Academies, Ashton Kolek would have a hard time focusing on his high school studies while also working 30-35 hours a week at a job that he finds not only financially helpful but also personally rewarding.
“I was just tired of going 7 hours a day” in a traditional school, he said. “I like working at my own pace.”
He found that opportunity at SAA, where he takes advantage of the personalized approach to focus on one course at a time and still have time and energy for his job at Burke’s Smoked Meats, a classy restaurant in downtown Sarasota. “I like working in the food service industry,” he says. “People treat you with respect.”
So do the educators at Acceleration Academies, he says. He likes coming to the academy campus so he can focus on the academic tasks at hand, and the SAA team members make him feel welcome and supported at every step.
“Curtis always greets me when I come in the door,” he says of graduation candidate advocate Curtis Hayes. Math content coach Khaliah Augustin takes the time to help him work through math problems. “She puts them on the whiteboard and we’ll do the question together.”
And graduation candidate Frank Cruz monitors his progress, reaching out to him in person or on the phone to help him work through obstacles and stay on track. “Here’s your water, grab a donut,” urges Cruz. “You can do it. You can knock it out.”
Like many graduation candidates who arrive from traditional settings in which they were required to sit at desks and follow the bell, Ashton appreciates the coffee shop atmosphere and the ability to stretch his legs or go out for a quick lunch.
“I love the atmosphere,” he says.
Ashton, 17, says he’s hoping to graduate early so he can put in more hours at the restaurant and make plans for the next chapter. In addition to food service, he’s considering building a career as an electrician or a diesel mechanic. He might like to head west, live and work in Las Vegas for a time.
He encourages other young people who haven’t found success in traditional settings to try Sarasota Acceleration Academies. “It’s like school but it’s more comfortable,” he says. “It’s peaceful, and if you ever need help, you can get help.”