Deonna Parker will be the first to tell you that she has made life-altering choices — some good, some bad — during her high school years.
Because her mom was in prison throughout much of her childhood, Deonna grew up with her grandparents. When they fell ill with Covid, she dropped out of school to care for them. While she tried doing coursework remotely, she fell behind. “It was very hard for me to stay focused.”
After enrolling at St. Lucie Acceleration Academies, Deonna began to close the distance to her diploma. But then, this past summer, she got into trouble and had to spend two months in jail.
When she was released in August, she returned to the academy the very next day. She knew it was the place she needed to be.
“I was making stupid decisions with the wrong people,” she says. But at SLAA, she says the educators have never given up on her. “The teachers are not judgmental. You can be yourself around them. If you’re having trouble with something, they’ll actually sit with you and work with you until you’ve got it.”
Traditional school had never been a good fit for Deonna. Crowded classrooms and overworked instructors meant she didn’t get the one-on-one attention she needed. When she got a restaurant job working 60 hours a week, she says, “I was getting paid really well, so I just didn’t care too much about school.”
She was also in and out of jail during her teens, at one point having to spend a year in a residential program for youthful offenders. But this year, she learned she was pregnant and decided to turn a corner for good.
“I want my daughter ot say positive things about her mom, that she graduated, she went to college,” Deonna says. “And I want to make my grandma proud.”
She’s well on her way, rapidly working her way through courses and looking ahead to striding across the stage to celebrate her diploma.
She credits SLAA Director Paige Latham for helping her sort through the personal problems that can get in the way of studies, and to prepare for being a first-time mom. Math coach Carson Senger patiently breaks down challenging equations into manageable pieces. And social studies coach Orlando Ashah supplies not only academic guidance but also comic relief.
“Mr. Orlando, you can never come into school without him making you laugh.”
After graduation, Deonna plans to enroll in college and study to become a youth counselor. She wants to pay forward the kind of guidance that helped get her life back on track at SLAA.
Her advice for other young people struggling to find their way in high school?
“You need to be true to yourself,” she says. “I was never able to be honest with myself, so I was never able to elevate the way I wanted to elevate.”