During the first semester of his senior year at a traditional high school, Ja’Kerien Sutton was on track to graduate with his class. But then an altercation with another student turned ugly and — just like that — Ja’Kerien’s dreams of graduating, going to college and playing football in front of cheering crowds disappeared.
“That one decision changed my high school experience,” says the 18-year-old.
Unable to return to his old school, he began looking into alternatives. Wanting to earn a real diploma, he found his way to St. Lucie Acceleration Academies, which works in partnership with St. Lucie Public Schools to provide a personalized path for students who have struggled in other settings.
“Once they told me I could graduate on time, I said, ‘I’m in.’ ”
Recently, he reached his goal, striding across the stage to collect the diploma he had worked hard to earn. And he couldn’t be more grateful to the academy educators who helped him get his studies — and his life — back on track.
From the day he walked in and saw a learning space with comfortable seating and a studious atmosphere, Ja’Kerien knew this was a different kind of school. No crowded hallways, no rows of desks, and no worries about getting help when he needed it.
“I like it better than a regular high school. Even though there were other kids there, they really took their time with each individual kid,” he says of academy educators. “They made it an at-home feeling.”
Particularly helpful was math coach Carson Senger. When Ja’Kerien learned he had two math classes to complete in order to graduate, he recalls, “I said there’s no way I’m going to finish two math classes and graduate on time. I’m horrible at math.”
His coach was undaunted. He worked patiently with Ja’Kerien, breaking complex math problems into manageable pieces and then showing how what he was learning could help him manage his personal finances, do his taxes and work toward his goal of some day opening a business.
“He was patient and he took his time and really just helped out a lot. He understood me a lot, which I really appreciated — even though I had him for a short period of time, he was one of the best math teachers I ever had.
Having earned his diploma and re-established himself as a learner, Ja’Kerien has re-connected with college football coaches and is hoping to win admission to Bethune-Cookman University or another school this fall.
With help from Senger and other SLAA coaches, Ja’Kerien says he learned a valuable lesson.
“Bad times don’t last forever, they really don’t,” he says. “I just let my faith be bigger than my fear.”