On Friday, May 19, Pataula Charter Academy held its first high school graduation. 40 graduates took part in a touching ceremony held at Andrew College.
During the graduation, Pataula Charter Academy Superintendent Kylie Holley told the Class of 2017 she can’t imagine life without them. “While I cannot wait to see the wonderful things you will do with your lives and the impact you will make on this world, I also know when you’re gone there will be a hole at PCA that can never be filled, said Kylie. “That’s because of your leadership and example you set for all the kids below you. Thank you for being a class that all the rest of our PCA students could look up to. I am so proud of each and every one of you. You amaze me with your accomplishments and your character and your spirit.”
Pataula High School Science Teacher Jared Lovering offered the following account below of the graduation and the accomplishments by the Class of 2017.
“At Andrew College in the small town of Cuthbert, Georgia, the gymnasium is packed. But it’s not an athletic event that has drawn such a large crowd. It’s the first graduating class of Pataula Charter Academy. Though a small class, less than 50 students, this moment is huge. The ritual and pageantry of the ceremony will symbolically usher in the close of one chapter and the beginning of another. But for the school, it is also a powerful symbol- not of completion, but of achievement. Just as these students are in a liminal state between two worlds, so too was PCA a few years ago.
Pataula Charter Academy was started seven years ago by concerned citizens in one of the poorest regions in the entire country. It serves 5 counties, 3 of which are in the top 100 poorest counties in the nation. But some in these communities felt that should not be a barrier to quality education. And so PCA was started as a public charter school. There was some resistance by local schools and it did not receive local approval. It became a state sponsored charter which immediately put it into legal limbo. By the second year of its existence, when these graduating seniors were in seventh grade, the state supreme court decided that direct funding state charter schools was unconstitutional. It would require a constitutional amendment to keep the door of PCA open.
Despite the uncertainty, like Admiral Farragut the teachers, students, and administrators carried on full steam ahead with faith, determination, and confidence in their purpose. The victory was achieved and six years later a gymnasium sits packed with those reaping the first fruits of those efforts. Now the uncertainty is on the graduates. But this class has faced it before. And if they carry forth with similar faith, determination, and confidence in their purpose they too will find their victories. Pataula Charter Academy will also continue never fearing change guided by purpose.
Maybe it’s because their early existence was so fragile, they feel they are playing with ‘house money,’ so-to-speak. But it is likely something deeper, something in the foundation of this school. It is the spirit that pushed everyday citizens to seek out a charter in the midst of poverty and resistance. It is the determination that sent their voices to legislators across the state. It is the courage to challenge students, parents, and the community to reach for higher expectations. And it is the motivation pushing this exceptional class of graduates in 2017 to achieve great things because of their community, not in spite of it.”
Business Director/Chief Financial Officer Cheryl Weathersby remarked about the number of firsts the graduates had taken part in as the inaugural class to go all the way through the charter school.
“Many of you have experienced our very first day of being a school, our first protest at the Georgia Capitol to save our school from closure, our first Middle School and then High School Dance, our first football game under the Friday night lights, our first varsity football win, our first state champ, our first college acceptance and scholarship, and many, many more,” said Weathersby. “Now, you get to experience our first graduation.”
Pataula Charter Academy was originally envisioned as a Kindergarten through fifth grade school. However, a few persistent parents convinced the Founding Board that the school needed a sixth grade the first year it opened. The school then began adding a grade level per year until it grew to a K-12 school.
Collectively, 68 percent of PCA’s graduates have preliminary eligibility to receive the Hope Scholarship. They’ve also received more than 700 hours of college credit, more than $87,000 in college scholarships (excluding full rides and the Hope and Zell Miller Scholarships). Seniors also earned more than four state championship titles. 30 percent of the students have attended the school since it opened seven years ago.
Pataula Charter Academy is a State Commission Charter School serving Baker, Calhoun, Clay, Early, and Randolph counties.