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Sister and Brother Find Success at Sarasota Academy

September 16, 2022 | Jeffrey Good
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When Lilly Fotheringham got pregnant during her junior year at her old school, she despaired that she wouldn’t have the time to fit her high school studies in with her responsibilities as a new mom. She tried virtual school for a while, but that didn’t work either.

Then a friend of hers who was studying at Sarasota Acceration Academies suggested she check out the non-traditional school and its flexible, personalized approach to high school. Lilly took her friend’s advice, loved what she found, and is now a grad looking back with gratitude.

“Once I came here I was hopeful, and it all went better,” she says on the recent visit back to campus. “And now I’m in college!”

Lilly’s younger brother, Aiden Sonner, also needed a different path. At his old school, he felt lost in the crowd and unable to engage fully in his studies.

“Waking up at 6 a.m. every morning, sitting in a room with a bunch of people who don’t want to learn … it just doesn’t work,” says Aidan. He found that the standard one-size-fits-most approach to teaching didn’t work for him, either. “They just cater to the majority. And if you’re not the majority, they can’t help you.”

At SAA, he found educators who are able to cater to the individual, to tailor a learning plan to each graduation candidate’s strengths and challenges. In the quiet, spacious learning environment, he says, “it’s easier to focus on my work and do it at my own pace.”

Both Aidan and his sister say they like the Acceleration Academies’ approach of taking one class at a time, using an online platform that allows them to do assignments outside of traditional school hours, and receiving one-on-one coaching from caring educators and advocates.

“They don’t act like normal teachers,” says Lilly, whose daughter is now 2. “They definitely care.”

The siblings both singled out graduation candidate advocate Frank Cruz for not only encouraging their academic progress, but also helping them sort through the kinds of life issues that can get in the way. Says Lilly, “He was always there to give good advice — and not just about school.”

Lilly works at Wal Mart, a company that will pay her college tuition as long as she keeps up good grades. She’d like to earn a bachelor’s and then a master’s degree and build a career in health care, focused particularly on care of the elderly.

“There’s a lot of people in health care who don’t really care. I want to be one of the ones who do care.”

For his part, Aidan plans to join the Army and learn underwater welding. But he knew that he’d need a diploma rather than a GED to enlist. “I wouldn’t be able to get into the military with that GED.”