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AMERICAN GRADUATE: Sandalwood High School Students Give Advice

Cyd Hoskinson

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.

More than 3 million students in the U.S. are expected to graduate from high school this year. Making it through 12 grades is a marathon of books and tests, disappointment and success. But what of the children who have dropped out, or who want to drop out?  

Adults, with all their studies, statistics and life experiences, can explain the many negative ways leaving school early will impact their futures. Fellow students, however, have an idea of the problems drop-outs face. They also know what’s at stake, and have developed strategies for getting through the tough times.

For some, like junior Lindsey Hammond, it’s a matter of finding something you're passionate about.

Lindsey is in the Culinary Arts Academy at Sandalwood. The programs gives students an entry into Florida’s hospitality industry. There’s lots of studying and planning and cooking and cleaning and, yes, eating. Lindsay says the culinary program has given her life a direction.

"After high school, I plan to go to FSCJ for two years to get my [Associate's degree] and then transfer to a bigger university and get a Bachelor's degree in hospitality management to eventually own my own restaurant."

For other students, it comes down to endurance. Take Sandalwood junior Tiffany Walter, who says she was "very indifferent as a freshman as far as college and what I wanted to do after high school.

"The more that I thought about it, the more that people told me, 'Hey, this is your future, like you make the best of what you do,' you know? And I think the biggest challenge is just dealing with yourself."

Tiffany is active in Sandalwood’s AVID program, which takes students who have a lot of potential but not much focus or drive, and challenges them to excel. She recommends keeping a planner as a way to survive high school and beyond.

"My planner is color coded by events and priorities, so keeping a planner, learning time management skills, has been the biggest benefit I've reaped from being in high school."

Danielle Domingo is a senior and a Core Commander in Sandalwood's Air Force Junior ROTC program.

She's a member of the Silver Eagles unarmed drill team, which helped Sandalwood defeat 14 other schools to earn the overall championship title at the 2013 Martin Luther King Drill Meet in Georgia. She says her desire to make her family proud is what’s helped her push through the tough times.

"I'm a first generation graduate so it's very important to show my family that I can do it," Domingo says. "And not only my family, but myself; that I can take on this great challenge of being in high school with all the distractions and temptations and actually go through with it.  So it's been a reward to sit back and see all I've accomplished."

Her advice for reaching that pinnacle of success?

"Think about what you want to be in the future. Think about what you want to make out of your life."

Next month, American Graduate catches up with Sandalwood student AndreWilliams and his family at his high school graduation, to see whether the lessons he learned at Grand Park are still with him.

Cyd Hoskinson began working at WJCT on Valentine’s Day 2011.