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‘Education Comes First. It Opens So Many Doors’

July 16, 2021 | Jeffrey Good

‘Education Comes First. It Opens So Many Doors’ image

Three years ago, Naxieli Serret was struggling to stay afloat in high school. It’s not that she didn’t want to do well, earn her diploma and pursue her dream of becoming a psychologist. It was simply that she couldn’t balance her other responsibilities with a traditional school schedule.

Working 50-60 hours a week to help support her family while also a student at Treasure Coast High, she said, “I was falling behind. I would fall asleep in class.”

“I never stopped going because it was very important to my mom that I get my education,” she says. But she needed a lifeline. She found it at St. Lucie Acceleration Academies, which works in partnership with St. Lucie Public Schools to offer a non-traditional path to graduation for students who haven’t found success in other settings.

She enrolled in August 2018. Taking advantage of the ability to work at her own pace and get plenty of one-on-one help, Naxieli got her studies back on track. That flexibility became even more valuable when, a year ago, her son Samuel was born.

“I can take my schoolwork home, I can do it on breaks, I can do it before I fall asleep at night,” says Naxieli, who is 21 and plans to graduate this year. “I will be the first in my family to get a diploma.”

Naxieli was born in Mexico and lived in Chicago, Texas and New York before her mother and siblings settled on Florida’s Treasure Coast when she was entering kindergarten. She enjoys studying, but found the social dynamic in traditional school to be a burden.

“I feel like it was always a competition: ‘I’ve got this, I’ve got that,’ ” she says. At SLAA, it’s different. “With my classmates, it’s like another family. I feel comfortable around them. Here, we’re all just trying to move on with our lives.”

Her schedule remains a demanding one. She takes care of Samuel every morning even as she’s trying to squeeze in coursework during his naps, then goes to work from 2 p.m. to late evening as a sous chef at a gourmet restaurant.

She loves the work. “It’s fast-paced and I’m always doing something.” But sometimes she gets tired and falls off pace with her coursework.

She knows that the SLAA team — Director Paige Latham, graduation candidate advocate Emerald Jamison, her content coaches — will be there to urge her on and offer helpful tips.

Sometimes the advice has to do with the non-academic challenges faced by most high schoolers, she says. “I was having problems with a boyfriend and Ms. Emerald gave me advice like a big sister.”

Her self-confidence had ebbed by the time she arrived at the academy, but the successes she’s experienced have given her a boost. She’s learned, “I can do stuff I put my mind to.”

After graduation, she hopes to enroll in college and become a radiology technician. After that, she dreams of a Ph.D. in psychology.

“I am very, very fascinated with the human mind, why people act the way they act,” she says. Why do people kill, she wonders. Why do rich people not use their wealth to eliminate world hunger?

She hopes that her example of determination will make her a good example for Samuel, and that she will one day be able to take him to see Brazil (where his father is from), Japan and other places.

“Education comes first. It opens so many doors. It opens up your mind,” she says. “I want him to be able to travel the world and take in everything.”

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