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ECAA’s Kennede Thomas: I’m Proud of Myself That I’m Graduating on Time

July 13, 2023 | Jeffrey Good

ECAA’s Kennede Thomas: I’m Proud of Myself That I’m Graduating on Time image

Kennede Thomas had always been a strong student. She remembers with pride earning a place in honors geometry at her old high school. But when the Covid pandemic shuttered schools during her freshman year, everything changed.

Taking classes remotely over a computer didn’t work for her. “I just couldn’t learn because I didn’t have anyone who was actually teaching me.”

By the time in-person schooling resumed, she had fallen so far behind that she despaired of being able to graduate on time with her Class of 2023. “I was like, ‘Okay, you should drop out and get a GED.’ ”

But then she heard about Escambia County Acceleration Academies, which works in partnership with the public school district to provide a flexible, personalized path to graduation for learners like Kennede. It proved exactly the right fit.

Recently, she donned cap and gown and realized her goal of a real high school diploma. “I’m proud of myself that I’m graduating on time, graduating with my peers.”

Kennede Thomas smiles at graduation with Acceleration Academies teachers and staff

Kennede with ESE coach Amy Weaver and Academy Director Mat Taylor.

Coming to ECAA’s studious and upbeat campus in Pensacola, Florida, Kennede found a very different way to learn. She loved being able to take one class at a time, mastering the material and then moving on to the next subject. She appreciated the class notes built into the coursework, tools that helped her break down complex topics into manageable chunks.

Most of all, she appreciated the constant encouragement provided by ECAA Director Mat Taylor and his team of caring educators. From the cheerful greeting she heard each time she arrived to the one-on-one help available whenever she needed it, Kennede found the ingredients she needed for success.

“Here, you know that they want you to graduate and they’re always making sure you’re on top of your game,” she says.

She cited in particular career coach Yalonda Tibbs and ESE coach Amy Weaver. Tibbs helped to provide not only career guidance but also study tips when Kennede encountered obstacles in her coursework. Weaver provided a steady supply of encouragement as Kennede worked to make up lost ground.

“Sometimes, I just wanted to give up — but Miss Amy urged me to keep going,” she says. Weaver would tell her, “You’ve got this. If you need more help, I’m always here.”

Kennede Thomas studies alongside friend at Acceleration Academies

Kennede in the academy with friend Haley Hicks.

Taylor, the academy director, said Kennede brought her own spark to the ECAA learning community. “When she comes onsite no matter what’s going on in her life, it’s a ‘Good morning!’ Kennede brought a caring, friendly personality.”

School wasn’t the only thing on Kennede’s list of responsibilities. Her mother works long hours at a pediatric medical clinic and Kennede, the oldest child, took responsibility for looking after her younger siblings. She also works 20 hours a week as a department store cashier, helping to pay the family’s bills.

“My family and I aren’t rich,” she says, and the flexibility afforded by ECAA’s personalized scheduling allowed her to keep her job, successfully complete her coursework and meet her family commitments.

Today, with diploma in hand, she’s making plans to study cosmetology and go into business for herself. Without ECAA, she says, those goals might have been out of reach.

“I wish I would have found out about it sooner.”

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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