Editorial: Second chance pays off

 In Camelot News

(Pensacola, Florida – March 21, 2013)

Editorial from the Pensacola News Journal

Earlier this week, education reporter Erin Kourkounis introduced us to Akiya Williams, a teen who was expelled from Washington High School for bad behavior. Rather than join the faceless, unemployed and uneducated in the community, Akiya was given a second chance and is making the most of it.

She is enrolled in the Camelot Academy’s transition program. The academy, now in its third year, is the Escambia County School District’s alternative school for children in grades six through 12. She attends with 187 other young people who have been expelled from their school.

“Here, it’s like a big family, a community of great people,” she told Kourkounis for the Monday story. “I feel welcome.”

Executive Director Drew Stem, in place since the fall, said the academy is achieving its goal of improving the behavior of the students. The number of incidents is down drastically from last year. It’s a credit to the academy’s leadership. Discipline is generally handled through in-school suspension, rather than out-of-school suspension.

“We feel suspending the kids is hurting the kids,” Stem told Kourkounis.

For those who question the effectiveness of something other than the traditional school, we point to the assessment made by Escambia County Schools Superintendent Malcolm Thomas.

“The smaller setting has been beneficial to students and there have been a lot of success stories relayed over time by both students and parents,” he said.

We share his view that the academy has been a success.

Adults sometimes forget the social pressure that, for some children, makes the traditional school more difficult than chemistry, algebra or world history. Some students just aren’t wired to learn in a traditional setting. Throw in little or no parental support, and it’s a recipe for trouble in school. Rather than being expelled for misbehavior, the academy is an option. The academy each year likely saves dozens of young people from leaving school. Few will ever return.

The School District is to be commended for the program that began in August. It’s vitally important that young students, especially teens, be given a second chance to finish high school. Few understand the consequences of being expelled or dropping out. Many will never find a good-paying job, let alone have the basic skills to manage a household, buy a car or balance a checkbook. Without a high school diploma, there are fewer opportunities, especially for those mired in a generation or two of poverty.

Programs such as the Camelot Academy can help to prevent a poor decision that will last a lifetime.

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