Destiny Achievers Academy of Excellence: Helping Students Get Back on Track
Moving students from being on the verge of dropping out of high school, to being high school graduates is challenging enough for the teachers and administrators at Destiny Achievers Academy of Excellence. But that’s not their most difficult task.
“Every year, we always have a number of students who end up going on to college in January instead of in the fall because they miss the deadlines for sending in their college applications,” said Destiny Principal Velinda Bailey. “It’s not that they forget or don’t know [the deadlines]. It’s just that they don’t believe they are going to graduate, even though they are making their grades.
“They have developed the mindset of fatalists,” Bailey said. “Things have gone against them so often that they don’t believe something this good and important can and does happen for them. It’s very tough to change that mindset.”
But that’s exactly what the DeKalb County charter school, which specializes in credit recovery, does for its 120 students. Now in its fifth year, Destiny has helped nearly 200 students get back on track and earn their high school diploma. Some have even gone on to attend colleges such as Albany State University, Abraham Baldwin College, Augusta State University and Georgia Perimeter College. Students are referred to the Ellenwood school by counselors in their home/community high school, or they are told about the school by someone familiar with its results.
One of those students is Mercedez Okoye, 19, who will graduate in May 2012. After attending several DeKalb County high schools as her family moved from place to place, Okoye lost focus in class. She learned about Destiny from a friend of her mother and enrolled in the school in August.
“At my last school there was too much freedom, not enough students took [education] seriously and the teachers and other people didn’t seem like they wanted to help you,” said Okoye, who wants to attend college or the United States Air Force. “Here we get a lot of attention. The teachers here really care about helping us take advantage of the new opportunity we have. It’s like one big family here.”
Though Destiny does have a handful of clubs and extra curricular activities, it is unapologetically no-frills. The school offers few electives so that students may sometimes double up on core area classes they may have missed or did not pass at their previous school. This allows a student to possibly graduate early.
Shakora Warfield, 17, is taking advantage of this aspect of Destiny. She said she made several bad choices at her original high school, like cutting class on a regular basis, partly due to the group of friends she hung out with. She enrolled at Destiny at the beginning of last school year and will graduate in December, before moving on to become a dental assistant.
“When I got here I didn’t know anybody or have any friends, but I figured I needed a fresh start,” Warfield said. “I didn’t know it was possible to graduate early, but once I found out that you could I decided to do it.”
Lucas Hardy, 17, will also graduate in December. He fell behind at his home school after becoming more interested in hanging out with friends than going to class. A conversation with his mother turned him around.
“She told me how hard her life had been because she didn’t graduate from high school,” Hardy said of his mother, who works at a local convenience store. “She wanted me to do better.”
Now in his second year at Destiny, Hardy has done so well that he will attend Morehouse College, with the help of DeKalb County Schools administrator Margie Smith, who leads the school district’s high school graduation initiative. She personally adopted the school after visiting last year.
“She was so impressed with what we are doing that she said she would make sure that every student that graduates this year and is accepted into college will be able to attend that school,” said Destiny principal Clarence Callaway. “She said she is going to guarantee this for these students. We’re honored and grateful for that.”