Even before the car crash, traditional high school wasn’t working for Nathan Godwin.
A serious-minded young man, Nathan signed up for AP chemistry, calculus, physics, statistics and other challenging subjects. But it seemed like the teachers had to spend more time corralling rowdy classmates than providing academic support. Compounding matters, Nathan’s need to work to support himself made standard school hours tough to maintain.
In his junior year, Nathan was in a car accident, suffered a serious spinal injury and had to participate in physical therapy 30-40 hours a week. Each day, he would log a full day in classes, then leave at 3 p.m. to do sometimes grueling therapy until 9 or 10 p.m.
“I couldn’t keep up with any of it,” he says. By the end of his senior year, he had fallen so far behind that he couldn’t graduate with his class. “I didn’t walk with my class and I was pretty much desperate to find an alternative program.”
Then he discovered Escambia County Acceleration Academies, which works in partnership with Escambia County Public Schools to provide a flexible, personalized path to a diploma for learners who haven’t found success in traditional settings.
At ECAA, Nathan found what he needed. He loved the comfortable, studious environment, where students — who are called “graduation candidates” to remind them of their goals — can either work by themselves or in small groups in a cafe-style setting. The flexible scheduling allowed him to both succeed in coursework and invest the hours he needed in physical therapy and a job.
And while he had trouble getting time with a teacher in his old school, at ECAA he only had to look up to find an educator willing to help.
Godwin credits ECAA Director Mat Taylor with welcoming and encouraging him, and ESE coach Amy Weaver with providing firm but loving guidance. “She’s been extremely supportive and motivating, basically lighting a fire under me.”
The fire stayed lit, and Nathan recently celebrated his graduation. He couldn’t be happier.
“I wanted to graduate and get my diploma. You can’t do much without a diploma these days. A GED doesn’t seem to be the equivalent,” he says. “When you go to apply for jobs, they want a high school graduate.”
Nathan successfully completed his physical therapy after transferring to ECAA and has been working as a bridge technician, serving and repairing spans from Pensacola to Tallahassee. He plans to go to flight school and get his pilot’s license to fly cargo or other commercial airplanes.
Providing for himself, and eventually a family, is Nathan’s top priority. As a child, his father spent time in prison and the family struggled financially.
“Being a kid, not having a lot, not getting a lot for Christmas, not having what other people had — I don’t want my children to find themselves in the same situation,” says Nathan, 20.
He’s grateful that Acceleration Academies gave him a second chance to finish high school and a big step toward his dreams. He hopes other young learners will see it as a promising alternative.
“You come here, you can talk one on one with your teacher. You can sit alone or with other people. You can learn at your own pace,” he says. “Personalization is everything. Make the students feel like people and not like statistics, points on a stat sheet.”