The fast-growing South Carolina Acceleration Academies in North Charleston and Myrtle Beach were featured on episodes of the Kids First Radio show, with each school’s leaders extolling the benefits of a flexible, personalized option for South Carolina high schoolers.
By the end of the broadcasts on FM 100.7 The Point, the show’s host and the superintendent of the South Carolina Public Charter School District (SCPCSD) were saying they hope even more Acceleration Academies will open across the Palmetto State.
“This is something where you’re looking at young people that bang their head against the wall, they haven’t found what they’re looking for,” Kids First host Keven Cohen said from his studio in the state capital, Columbia. “All of a sudden we get ’em into Acceleration Academy and they find their niche and they’re ready to roll. We need that all around the state … including right here in Columbia.”
South Carolina charter district Supt. Chris Neeley agreed. “Quite frankly, I think all public schools need to be thinking this way. We need to break down the four walls,” Neeley said. “Let’s give them more freedom and autonomy at school. Let’s give them a chance to pursue their passions.”
That’s precisely what educators try to do at Lowcountry Acceleration Academy (LAA) in North Charleston and Carolina Shores Acceleration Academy (CSAA) in Myrtle Beach. LAA Director Amber Speights said her academy had doubled in size in the last year as word has gotten out that it offers an exciting, non-traditional path for students who are not only trying to catch up but also to roar ahead.
With support from the charter district, Speights said the academy is able to offer students a schedule that can flex according to their needs. “Many of our kids, they can’t do the 8 hours a day, 5 days a week” of traditional schools, she said. “Some of them are truly breadwinners for their families. Their families can not do without.”
At Acceleration Academies, they come to a campus when they are able to get academic and personal coaching tailored to their needs. And when they need to work remotely, academic and personal coaches make themselves available over Zoom, phone and text.
Some students suffer from social anxiety and are delighted to find that they can study in quiet, private rooms away from the main learning space. And if they need help, all they have to do is look up.
“Our staff members are all over the floor,” Speights explained. “They go up to the students and say ‘Hey, I see where you are in your coursework. This is how we can get you to the finish line.’ ”
In Myrtle Beach, the academy that opened last fall was recently given the Innovation Award from the Public Charter School Alliance of South Carolina, an honor given to a new charter school already distinguishing itself with the creative opportunities it offers to students and its community.
In her appearance on the Kids First program, CSAA leader Deirdra Brasch said she and her team are excited to offer young learners — called “graduation candidates” to remind them of their goals — the chance to start afresh with services like those offered at their sister academy in North Charleston.
“We are growing rapidly and it’s just really exciting to bring this opportunity to the Myrtle Beach community,” Brasch said.
As soon as new graduation candidates arrive at CSAA’s spacious, well-lit campus, they sit down one at a time with their coaches and take inventory of the obstacles they need to overcome.
“Let’s focus on your goals. Let’s help you meet those goals. And here’s the environment where you’re free to do it,” she said. “If you want to sit over here, if you need a quieter space, whatever that environment looks like for that learner to help them be successful, we provide it and we want it and we embrace it.”
At the Carolina Shores and Lowcountry academies, the horizon doesn’t end on graduation day. Both schools are working hard to provide career and technical education (CTE) to help graduation candidates explore and lay the groundwork for college and career paths — inviting professionals on campus to talk about their careers, organizing visits to college campuses and workplaces, and helping to arrange internships and apply for financial aid.
Cohen, the host, asked Brasch what advice she would give to parents whose children are struggling in a traditional high school setting.
“I encourage those parents to really sit down and speak to their children and see what their goals are, what they want to do,” she replied. “Because ultimately, if they’re not plugged into their learning, they’re not plugged into their own success.”
Brasch and her colleagues stand ready to partner with parents in helping their children find a better way. Day after day, Brasch says, she can see the results in the joy and engagement of graduation candidates.
“Every day in our academy, they’re reigniting their passion for learning, their love of learning,” she said.
Supt. Neeley couldn’t agree more. “What Carolina Shores is doing is they’re empowering young people,” he said. “They’re giving them the reins and saying, this is your education. This is your life. Go pursue it.”