American Graduate: Senior Andre Williams Exits Grand Park
89.9 WJCT is participating in the American Graduate project supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The goal of American Graduate is to reverse the national drop out crisis by identifying and then addressing the factors that cause students to leave school early.
Last month, we brought you the story of 19-year old Andre Williams, a senior at Sandalwood High School. Williams has spent the last month at Grand Park Educational Center, the school of last resort for high school students who’ve broken one too many rules.
The purpose of the alternative school is to help these children make good choices. The focus is on academics and counseling.
"What we try to teach them is that they need to make decisions that are pertinent to their future, regardless of what their environment may, or may not, be," says Grand Park Principal Jackie Simmons.
The atmosphere at Grand Park is very controlled: there are no lockers, students wear uniforms, and they’re escorted to their classes by their teachers.
Andre spent 30 days at Grand Park after he was caught smoking in the parking lot at Sandalwood High School. After a month, he’s now back at his regular school. The difference is like night and day.
But is the Andre who was sent to Grand Park any different from the Andre who has come back? He says yes.
"It's been a while since that happened so I've been thinking about it a lot," says Andre. "It's not going to happen again, I can tell you that right now. I can't afford to get in any more trouble. I got lucky."
Andre says he wanted to do well at Grand Park so he could graduate with his class at Sandalwood. Principal Dean Ledford says graduation is a strong motivator.
"It's a celebration for the seniors for twelve years of hard work and dedication. It's something that they've earned and, deep down inside, they've been looking forward to it."
The key, Ledford says, is making sure they don’t stumble along the way.
"One of our major topics during our admin meeting is identifying those types of students and going through data and discussing who may need different programs, interventions, whether it be behavioral or academics."
For his part, Andre says he plans to spend the rest of his time at Sandalwood staying out of trouble.
"I'm just focused on getting my grades finalized and taking care of my senior activities, my senior dues, stuff like that."
His last day of classes is May 22nd. Graduation is June 6th.