Before he discovered Gwinnett County Acceleration Academies, Dawson Lewis had tried first one high school, then another. After dropping out, he tried studying for his GED, but lost momentum.
Dawson, who goes by “Daws,” is a bright young man with a gift for operating, designing and building computers. But in order to master traditional subjects like math and English, he needed some help from educators.
He wasn’t getting that at his previous schools. “I struggled with teachers not understanding me, how I do coursework.”
That changed when Daws enrolled at GCAA, which operates in partnership with the Gwinnett public school system to offer a flexible, personalized path to learners who’ve been frustrated in more traditional settings.
“It’s actually amazing,” Daws says of GCAA. “The teachers — the whole staff, they boost you up.”
English language arts has always been a struggle subject for Daws. When it comes time to read a passage of text and analyze it, Daws has a hard time keeping his focus. He says that English coach Morris Bevily helps him by breaking a passage down into its component parts, then sending Daws on an academic scavenger hunt to find answers to the comprehension questions he may encounter on a test.
“I’m across the room, yell my name and I’ll be there to help you,” Bevily tells him.
Career coach Shameeka James urges Daws to bear down when his momentum flags, saying, “You gotta get this going.” And graduation candidate advocate Jamaal Hickman reminds him of his goal of graduating and then going on to study computer science in college, saying, “This is your shot.”
GCAA’s flexible scheduling also helps, allowing Daws to work 34 hours a week at Wal Mart, earning money for college tuition and teaming up with his sister to buy their mom a cooking set for her birthday.
“I never disrespect my mom,” he says. “She’s the only parent I have in the world.”
Letarchia Lewis said her son has Asperger’s Syndrome, making it hard for him to focus on multiple subjects at one time. GCAA’s approach of having graduation candidates take one course at a time works well for him. Just as important, she says, is the deep care the GCAA team shows for her son.
“I feel from the moment we walked in, they heard me,” she says. “They heard his needs and were able to address them … they gave him hope.”