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ECAA Celebrates Grads Who Bloomed Where They Were Planted

June 10, 2024 | Jeffrey Good

ECAA Celebrates Grads Who Bloomed Where They Were Planted image

A joyful group of family members, friends and educators gathered to celebrate the latest class of graduates from Escambia County Acceleration Academies (ECAA). 

Each of the grads had their own story to tell of encountering frustration in traditional high schools but then planting the seeds for success with the personalized curriculum and firm-but-loving  support they found at ECAA. 

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Take, for example, Aaliyah Schuyler. As much as she wanted to succeed at her old school, Aaliyah struggled with the lack of personal attention from overworked teachers and a social dynamic rife with bullying. “It was just too much for me.” 

When the Covid pandemic temporarily halted in-person schooling, Aaliyah tried to study remotely but was dispirited by the lack of one-on-one support. She dropped out — but she wasn’t ready to give up. 

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When she learned about ECAA, she checked it out and knew she had come home. Instead of crowded classrooms and rows of rigid desks, she found a cafe style atmosphere with comfortable seats and a quiet, calm vibe. 

“It was different. There were no crowded areas,” Aaliyah says. “You don’t have to move from class to class to class. You can pick a spot where you’re comfortable and just stay there.” 

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She also found an accepting social environment and a team of educators who stood ready to help her whenever she needed. “They always told me, ‘We’re not here to put you down; we’re here to help you,’ ” says Aaliyah. “ ‘If you need us, we’re by your side.’ ”

She said career coach Yalonda Tibbs was especially helpful, working with Aaliyah to map out a plan that would carry her not only to graduation day but on to enrolling at George Stone Technical College, where she plans to lay the groundwork for a career in cosmetology. “She did a lot of stuff I would never have expected her to do.” 

Also inspiring was academy Director Mat Taylor. At graduation, Taylor recalled the day when he and Aaliyah bonded over the subject of snapdragons. Aaliyah had struggled with a question about the flowers on a science test, and Taylor confessed to her that he didn’t know much about them, either. 

ECAA Aaliyah and Mat

They teamed up to do some research, and learned together about the flowers that grow slowly during the hot months of summer but then greet fall with a burst of vivid color. As Aaliyah prepared to receive her diploma, Taylor gave her some snapdragon seeds to celebrate the way she had worked to bring her high school career into bloom. 

“Aaliyah, your story is like all of ours,” Taylor said. “While everyone had obstacles to overcome, we are here today because you persevered and overcame them and have earned this diploma.”

Click here for a gallery of photos from graduation day by photographer Laura Rena Muehl. 

ECAA May 2024 graduation


Escambia County Acceleration Academies enrolls students ages 14-21 in grades 9-12. To learn more about the free, flexible education program in Pensacola, FL, sign up for our interest list.

Applications are accepted year-round.

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