Students arrive at Escambia County Acceleration Academies with challenges ranging from social anxiety to single parenthood, poverty to trouble with the law — and, often, a hunger for adult role models.
“They tell me, “Mr. Grice, you don’t know what it’s like,’ ” graduation candidate advocate Cordivido Grice says with a warm laugh. “Actually,” he tells them. “I do.”
Growing up as the oldest child of a single mom trying to make ends meet in Pensacola, Grice had to become a role model at an early age. And while he achieved much — standout player on Pensacola High’s first state champion football team in 50 years, athletic scholarship to the University of South Alabama, a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a budding career as an educator — Grice, his family and friends have weathered big challenges along the way.
“The message I share with students is, small challenges are temporary for huge accomplishments,” he says. “If things won’t challenge you in life, they won’t change you.”
Sometimes the challenge comes from within. Just the other day, he was talking to a 15-year-old graduation candidate about the need to put in the effort to do well in school. “I said, ‘You’re smarter than what you think, man. You gotta trust yourself.’ ” The young man then turned in a nearly perfect performance on a test. He turned to Grice, gave him a fist bump and declared, “I am pretty smart.”
As a GC advocate, Grice works with young learners not only to push through academic challenges but also to clear away the personal hurdles that can get in the way of their dreams. One day he might help a young person navigate the public bus system; on the next, he might be urging them to eat well to promote physical and intellectual vigor.
“You gotta drink your milk, you’ve got to have protein,” Grice will say.
Growing up, Grice saw friends fall off course, spend time in the juvenile justice system and have to find their way back. Football helped him stay on track, Grice said, showing him that you can achieve great things if you’re willing to develop a healthy self-discipline and put in the work.
For many GCs who play or are interested in sports, that can provide a strong jumping off point for conversation about how to build success off the gridiron, basketball court or softball diamond.
Grice said he and other ECAA team members also take every opportunity to celebrate academic successes. When students reach a goal, they get the chance to spin a wheel and claim their reward — a sweet treat, a gift card, or lunch out with a coach at the nearby Steak ‘N Shake — while their teachers and fellow students applaud.
“We feel like some kids never won anything before,” says Grice. “That’s why I love this team. We’re like a family and we try to dig in together.”