Success Academy a safety net for foundering teens
A pair of 16-year-olds who felt overwhelmed by school have embraced a fitting home at the Success Academy, an initiative that Fayette County Public Schools launched in September 2018. Tykiya Jackson and Kaci Davis agreed the new program has exceeded their expectations. “I was struggling in school and wasn’t focused. I have a hard time going into big environments, so this (program) is good. They can get to everybody. I’m flying through my classes, and the teachers are amazing!” Tykiya said. Kaci, also a junior, praised the staff for their caring approach. “I need one-on-one time,” she said. “They get you to focus on the bigger things and your goals in life, and they help you be successful.”
These girls and some three dozen classmates recently gathered for the academy’s open house, which featured student performances, guest speakers, refreshments, and tours of the building at 1555 Georgetown Road, where the academy occupies several spaces on a front hallway. The safety-net program, which falls under Student Support Services in FCPS, serves students 16 and older who have earned five or fewer high school credits.
“So many students are falling through the cracks and aren’t successful in a traditional school setting, and we were losing those students. It’s the stereotypical skippers – they have anxiety, their schools are too big, and they can’t get the individualized instruction they need. Others feel lost and don’t feel valued or recognized in those huge school communities,” said Janice Wyatt-Ross, the program director. “A lot of them say in ninth grade they didn’t take school seriously and by the time they realized they were so far behind, they couldn’t see any way to catch up and there was no point in going to school.”
The Success Academy aims to re-engage those students through nontraditional and accelerated pathways and to equip them with the skills needed to succeed in the classroom, the workplace, and the community. “We’re very selective in who we accept,” Wyatt-Ross said, referencing the application process. “In that personal interview, you have to present yourself as someone who realizes you made a mistake, you accept responsibility, and now you need help in turning it around and getting it together.”
The academy, which caps enrollment at 60, offers a hybrid of online learning and teacher-directed instruction with flexible schedules. Internships, career guidance, and technical training are also part of the program, which operates in partnership with several community agencies. Faith Thompson, the director of Student Support Services, spoke at the open house about the academy’s vision and the value of each child. “Our goal is to ensure they have a ticket to the workforce or postsecondary education,” she said. “Every student is worth it. Not one of them is expendable.”
The academy’s passionate staff of 12 works closely with the teenagers from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. or 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. as they catch up on credits and regain their footing. A representative from Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) is on site full-time, too. Group sessions on goal setting, self-esteem, positive interactions, and good citizenship also prepare students for the next step in life. “They are getting smothered with services,” Wyatt-Ross said. “We graduate them and get them connected with a job or college. They’ll have their high school diploma, and they’re set on a path for either college or career.”
As students showed their families and other guests around the building, Wyatt-Ross noted how comfortable the teens have become in only a few weeks. “The students love the atmosphere here. We give it a home environment, with music playing in the main hallway and the cafeteria set up café style. The kids say it smells like home,” she said, adding, “We’re small, but we’re not building a school – we’re building a family.”