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In Sarasota, Grads Celebrate the Road Well-Taken

April 2, 2024 | Jeffrey Good

In Sarasota, Grads Celebrate the Road Well-Taken image

Addressing the graduates of the Sarasota Acceleration Academies Class of 2024 at their recent commencement celebration, academy director Michelle Llinas reflected on Robert Frost’s most famous poem. 

 "Frost talks about the importance of choices in his poem, The Road Not Taken,” Llinas said. “He talks about choices and deciding which path to take as he looks toward his brightest future. Does he take the ‘worn’ road or does he take the lush ‘grassy” path?’ ” 

Director Michelle Llinas stands next to graduate.

Director Michelle Llinas stands next to graduate.

“Well, as it turns out, he took the road less traveled and that has made all of the difference in his life,” she concluded, looking out at the grads and a crowd of family, friends and educators including Acceleration Academies CEO Kelli Campbell. “I think of you when I read these words because each of you chose this path — the path less traveled — and successfully earned your high school diploma."

Tahana Parker is one of the new grads who chose a different path. During elementary and middle school, Tahana was a diligent student, applying herself to her coursework and earning good grades. 

In high school, however, her focus began to fracture. She struggled with her mental health and ADHD, and began to run with a group of students who didn’t take school seriously. 

“I just hung around the wrong crowd, got introduced to peer pressure, started smoking weed,” she says. “I would skip school to go smoke with my friends.” 

She tried a dual enrollment program in cosmetology but began skipping classes and lost her seat in the program. She then tried an online high school, but again, fell off course. She contemplated pursuing a GED but, when her parents found out about Sarasota Acceleration Academies (SAA) — a high school program in Sarasota, FL., that provides personalized support and a flexible schedule — decided to give a high school diploma one last try. 


Acceleration Academies CEO Kelli Campbell addresses graduates.

This time was the charm. As soon as Tahana walked into the academy, she was struck by how unlike traditional school the academy is. Rather than having to squeeze into a desk in a traditional classroom, for instance, she was able to pick out a comfortable seat in a quiet learning space. 

“It looked like a cafe, not a regular school,” she says. She could get up and stretch her legs when she wanted, grab a snack and use the restroom without asking permission. “I have way more freedom in here.” 

Rather than juggling multiple courses, she was able to take one course at a time. “When I’m focused on just one class and not five different classes, it’s a lot better.” 

Best of all, when she needed help, all she had to do was ask. It wasn’t like that in her former, traditional school. “They expected us to know what we were talking about,” she recalls. “Some teachers wouldn’t teach; they’d just put up a powerpoint — and I can’t learn like that.” 


At SAA, educators met her on her level. She cited in particular academy Director Michelle Llinas and math coach Khaliah Augustin. 

“Some teachers, they’re just there for the paycheck, but there are some teachers who are there to help, and that’s what I get here,” says Tahana. “They’re always checking on me, making sure I’m on the right path.” 

That’s exactly where Tahana wanted to be. With their support and her own determination, she celebrated her diploma and is enrolled in college, laying the groundwork for a career in diagnostic medical stenography. 

If it weren’t for Acceleration Academies, she says, she might not have found her way. “I wanted to be on the right path and find a future for myself.” 

Click here for images of the graduation ceremony by photojournalist Daniel Wagner. 

SAA Graduation March 2024


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