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Keeping a Promise to His Grandma

May 19, 2022 | Jeffrey Good
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Before Antonio Fields’ grandmother passed away, she asked him to make her a promise.

“My grandmother, she didn’t have a high school diploma or go to college,” Antonio recalls. “I made a promise to her that I would get my high school diploma and go to college.”

For a time, though, Antonio feared he wouldn’t be able to live up to that pledge. Nearing the end of his senior year in a traditional high school, he lacked the credits to graduate and was close to dropping out.

Then, Dr. Sunny Booker — who leads alternative education in St. Lucie Public Schools — told Antonio about St. Lucie Acceleration Academies. There, he would find a flexible, personalized path to his goals.

“Coming here, you get a home-type feeling,” Antonio says. “That’s what I felt. That’s what motivated me to try and get my diploma.”

The first thing he noticed was the atmosphere. Instead of having to navigate crowded hallways and classrooms full of distractions, he found a quiet, studious environment. “I could focus on my work and get it done.”

But he didn’t have to work alone. Caring educators stood ready to help him overcome academic challenges and personal ones. English coach Jacques Voltaire, for instance, helped him build his reading skills by breaking down words to enhance understanding.

“I love reading now,” says Antonio.

Graduation candidate Angela Gilmore provided loving but firm encouragement when his motivation flagged. “She was constantly calling me,” he says with a fond laugh. “She’d blow up my phone and say, ‘You need to get here.’ ”

Course by course, day by day, Antonio met the requirements needed to graduate, celebrated his diploma in 2020 and went immediately on to college. The young man who might have become a dropout is now studying to become a nurse.

Antonio is so fond of SLAA that he stops by regularly to encourage other young learners to follow in his footsteps.

“I don’t think I would have a high school diploma if it wasn’t for this school,” he says. “I recommend this school to anyone.”