But for the caring educators at Sarasota Acceleration Academies, Tyree Ford says he’s not sure where he’d be — on the streets, running with the wrong crowd, maybe back in trouble with the law.
It’s not the life he wants for himself. And it’s not the life SAA team members want for him.
“He has a great story and he’s a really good guy,” says SAA Director Monetta Rustin. Of the academy leader, Tyree says, “I see the kindness and the heart in her to keep me here.”
She’s not the only one. Among educators cited by Tyree, social studies content coach Fred Thomas stands out.
“Mr. Fred, I can see him basically as a — and I’m not even trying to be funny — a grandfather to me. That’s how close we are. He’s the reason I’m still here,” says Tyree. “I don’t want to let him down. He never let me down.”
Tyree has loads of potential. He’s handsome, has an easy smile and is a lightning fast football running back, wide receiver and cornerback. He’d love to play in college some day.
But staying focused on schoolwork has been tough. He loses focus and at one point was “changing schools back to back.” Heading into his senior year, he gave up and dropped out. With all the other challenges in his life, he said, he just didn’t see the value.
“My mom didn’t have a house for us. I had grown up on the streets; that’s where I lived,” he says. “I barely had clean clothes. I didn’t want to go to school looking like that.”
In July 2020 a fight with his girlfriend landed him in jail on a domestic battery charge. He served nearly four months, he says. “I spent my 20th birthday in jail.” After he was released, he was charged with driving with a suspended license, and police found drugs in his car, yielding yet another criminal case.
“I was hanging around the wrong crowd,” he says. “I put myself in a position where I was making bad choices.”
Despite his troubles, he says, the SAA team welcomes him every day. They don’t judge him; they simply want to help him set his life on a better path. Tyree says he won’t settle for a GED. He wants to earn his diploma, then go on to build a career as a firefighter helping others.
“I care about the life that God has given everybody,” he says. “All I know is death or prison; that’s what I’ve seen my family go through. I want better. I want to move forward and better myself.”
“I want to see what I can do.”