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Graduation Double Down

Graduation Double Down

by Jack Ham, Principal, The Academy, Port Charlotte, Fla.

Another school year has come to a close, and The Academy has even more reason to celebrate than usual. Given the school’s unique scheduling flexibility, it’s the only high school in the district to offer two graduation ceremonies per school year. With the larger-than-expected December 2017 class moving on after surpassing its projected graduation rate, the school had a tall order in terms of matching that same measure of success. The conventional wisdom understandably had the school seeing a small drop-off in its May graduation numbers after experiencing such a strong successful showing in December.

But much like the students who go there, The Academy has a way of surpassing expectation. Two months out, the expected graduation number was established.

“I thought our initial projection was a little low, but I expected it to climb,” said Academy Teacher and Senior Class Sponsor Matthew Baker, who helps coordinate the school’s graduation efforts. “It always tends to go up at the last moment, as students race to finish online courses and attain the necessary scores on the required standardized tests; usually by a good 10 or 20 percent, that’s usually the estimate. But nobody saw it doubling.”

That’s right: In the final weeks leading up to the graduation ceremony on May 18, the number of projected graduates more than doubled, and on the evening of the ceremony, 84 Academy students completed their studies.
This year, the school went above and beyond making the event special for the graduates. With some special planning and coordination with the school’s Title 1 program, the seniors’ final day saw a series of events designed to be memorable and a celebration of their time at The Academy. The school’s Leadership program hosted a student talent show, featuring a host of student and staff performances. From there, the students followed the traditional celebratory Senior Walk out to the campus grounds, which were decorated carnival-style, much like the midway at a State Fair.

“We had over 50 family members join us on campus for the day,” Title 1 coordinator Sharon Heidgerken said. “The Papa G’s-provided lunch was delicious, and the talent show was awesome. At the carnival, the students really enjoyed the games and loved the drawing of gifts and prizes. All the help from staff and students is greatly appreciated because they made it all possible.”

Academy Math Teacher Zuzana Lukackova agreed after the May 18 graduation ceremony. “What a great way to finish up the year for our seniors!”

But now the halls of the school have grown quiet for the summer and those who remain behind have adopted a satisfied, reflective mood. Graduation is always a special time. You spend sometimes years breaking down barriers and building positive relationships with these students, and then – Poof! – they hit this nearly magical goal and then they’re gone. All you can do is hope that you’ve done a good job preparing them for what’s to come. A part of you is sad that they’re gone, but I’m proud of the work that the staff does here, and I know these graduates are going to go do great things, and ultimately, it’s time for them to move on.

It’s here every year that I catch myself, pause and smile, because there’s a whole new class coming to take their place.


This summer, Florida Weekly has graciously allowed us, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, to spotlight the nonprofit organizations funded through the Foundation’s 2018 competitive grant cycle.  We have asked these grantees to share their stories. We are pleased to partner with these change-makers.

About the Southwest Florida Community Foundation
The Southwest Florida Community Foundation, founded in 1976, cultivates regional change for the common good through collective leadership, social innovation and philanthropy to address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. The Foundation partners with individuals, families and corporations who have created more than 400 philanthropic funds. Thanks to them, the Foundation invested $5.4 million in grants and programs to the community. With assets of $115 million, it has provided more than $71 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves since inception. The Foundation is the backbone organization for the regional FutureMakers Coalition and Lee County’s Sustainability Plan. Currently, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation’s regional headquarters are located off College Parkway in South Fort Myers, with satellite offices located on Sanibel Island, in LaBelle (Hendry County) and downtown Fort Myers. For more information, call 239-274-5900 or visit






Carolyn Rogers
Carolyn Rogers