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ECAA Grads Celebrated for Their Attitude and Effort

December 19, 2023 | Jeffrey Good

ECAA Grads Celebrated for Their Attitude and Effort image

More than 300 people filled an auditorium recently to celebrate the newest class of graduates from Escambia County Acceleration Academies (ECAA) in Pensacola, Florida. ECAA Director Mat Taylor congratulated the Class of 2023 for their determination and urged them to build on their early success. 

“Attitude and effort will determine your destination,” Taylor told the grads, stressing that their work at re-engaging in high school after encountering a wide range of challenges enriches not only their lives but also the lives of their families, friends and community. “What you do in this life echoes for eternity.” 


The ceremony honored 28 grads, including Andrew Lewis, who was chosen to deliver the commencement address. 

3 high school graduates.Andrew will be the first to tell you that, at his old high school, he and his friends just couldn’t stay out of trouble. The academics didn’t capture his imagination, the educators didn’t seem to have much time and his enthusiasm fizzled.  

“Before I got to Acceleration Academies, I didn’t have a care in the world whether I graduated or not,” says Andrew, 19. “The only reason I didn’t drop out was because my parents would have been upset.” 

After washing out of one traditional high school and then another, Andrew found his way to ECAA. From the minute he walked through the door, he knew he would find a different kind of learning experience. 

Instead of having to spend hours in a hard seat in a row of desks, Andrew could pick out a comfortable chair in the cafe-style atmosphere. He could take one class at a time, focusing on the subject until he had mastered it. He could set his own schedule, allowing him to balance academics with his job and life priorities. 

Man stands at graduation podium“When you’re at Acceleration Academies, you work at your own pace. You don’t have teachers bombarding you 24/7,” he says. “That’s just what I needed.” 

At the same time, he had educators — particularly Taylor and ESE coach Amy Weaver — holding him to a high standard. 

Every day when he would walk onto campus, Taylor was there to check in. “I can’t remember a day when he didn’t come back to ask me how I was doing — or already know,” says Andrew. “He stayed on top of me.”

Some of Andrew’s friends joined him at ECAA, and at times, they focused more on cracking wise than getting their coursework done. Weaver, who told them that they reminded her of her sons, would sit right there with them. 

“Miss Amy, she was always there,” he says. “She kept us out of trouble.” 

At one point, Andrew got into trouble outside of school, when a friend of his stole some Delta 8 from a convenience store and both faced a criminal charge. After the arrest, he says, Taylor and Weaver sat him down and told him, “You’re at a crossroads in your life and you either go right or left.” 

That got his attention. 

“Every man in my life had been in and out of jail and I’ve seen what that does to people and I’ve heard the horror stories — and that’s nothing I want to experience,” says Andrew. “I figured it was time to buckle down and get my diploma and get on with my life.”

And get on with it he did, becoming a member of the Class of 2023 and preparing to go on to trade school and build a career as a mechanic. 

“I am very proud of myself. I didn’t think I was going to do it,” he says. As for the encouragement and accountability he found at ECAA, “I am extremely grateful.” 

Click here for a gallery of images from the day by photographer Laura Rena Muehl. 

Escambia County Acceleration Academies Graduation December 2023

Escambia County Acceleration Academies accepts students on a rolling basis. For more information, check out the academy web page and fill out an online enrollment form.

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