Andre Goolcharan presents himself as a decidedly confident, put together young man. He is an avid reader and exceptionally well spoken. He has a great job in a management position, drives a nice car, and by all accounts is an up-and-comer in West Florida. His current circumstances bely the immense struggles he has gone through before reaching this point.
Today, Andre is a graduate of Sarasota Acceleration Academy (SAA), which is part of the nationally accredited Acceleration Academies Network. In partnership with Sarasota County Schools, SAA provides students who have disengaged from traditional high school an innovative second chance to earn a Sarasota County Schools diploma, and explore post-secondary opportunities.
Andre has great aspirations for the future, but acknowledges that school attendance wasn’t always easy for him. During his early childhood, his mother moved Andre and his four siblings from Brooklyn, New York to Sarasota, Florida in hope of finding a better future for herself and her children. His mother—whom he calls his hero— was a single parent struggling, without assistance, to provide a home for five children. Andre speaks often about the family’s frequent brushes with homelessness, and the challenges of attending school while speculating where he would sleep at night.
In high school, Andre voluntarily began taking jobs to assist his mother in paying family bills. Once he started making money, the temptation to make more was overwhelming. He stopped going to school and began working full time at minimum wage jobs. He, in short order, realized that what he earned was woefully insufficient to support a family—or even himself—and, with the support of his mother, began exploring ways in which he could earn his diploma in a way that would give him some flexibility to work.
That’s when Frank Cruz, a Graduation Candidate Advocate at SAA, contacted Andre’s mother with an offer for him to earn his high school diploma at Sarasota Acceleration Academy. According to Andre, “I knew I had to do it for myself and my family. I didn’t want to be seen as just another high school dropout.”
There are over 1.8 million high school-aged students across the United States who are not currently enrolled in a traditional high school due to multiple factors—many of which are not voluntary: the need to work, lack of transportation or resources or the need to care for family members or their own children. Acceleration Academies’ partnership with Sarasota County Schools aims to meet these students’ needs, increase graduation rates, enrich the local community, and provide dropouts in Sarasota County an alternate, more flexible path to earning a high school diploma—free of charge. “Acceleration Academies offer a second chance for students to complete high school, graduate and open the door to many careers,” says Jane Goodwin, Chair of the Sarasota County School Board, “What an opportunity for student success!”
Acceleration Academies is re-defining the traditional high school experience through a hybrid model that leverages both technology and social-emotional supports to create a personalized learning pathway for each student. The Academy optimizes opportunities for students with access to their coursework online, both day and night. The blended learning approach is supported in-person at brick and mortar academies by fully certified, licensed teachers, tutors, career and life coaches.
“Sarasota Acceleration Academy does not just change the lives of the students who earn their high school diplomas,” says Monetta Rustin, District Director for Sarasota Acceleration Academy, “it changes the future for the whole family.”
Now equipped with a high school diploma, Andre plans to attend college and pursue a business degree. His ultimate dream is to own a chain of restaurants. He also plans on using his success story and his voice in the Sarasota community to continue tackling issues surrounding racial injustice. Andre hopes to encourage others who faced similar struggles to take advantage of this opportunity, and states: “You have to want something better for yourself.” Having a high school diploma has empowered Andre to dream big for not only himself, but his family. He owes his newfound hope to the vision and commitment shown by the School Board of Sarasota County and he couldn’t be more appreciative.
“I am extremely proud of Andre Goolcharan for graduating high school through the Sarasota Acceleration Academy. It took persistence for him to realize that a high school diploma was necessary for him to obtain his dreams,” says Caroline Zucker, Vice Chair Sarasota County School Board, “The students who take advantage of this great academy will be able to achieve their dreams.”
Acceleration Academies currently operates sites throughout Florida, South Carolina and Washington State. The program has graduated nearly 500 students since 2014, and is currently serving over 1,400 graduation candidates nationwide. For more information about the program, visit accelerationacademy.org or call 872-529-5115.
Photo courtesy of Sarasota Acceleration Academy Staff