The Salt River Accelerated Learning Academy (ALA) celebrated the graduation of six students on June 26. This year’s graduates are Brooklyn B. Chiago, Murray J. Gardner, Toni C. Sine, Michael L. Smith, Jr., Marquis W. Toney and Victoria T. Wood. Each student plans to attend college in the fall, starting the next chapter of their lives. A few graduates will stay local and attend the Maricopa County Community Colleges (MCCC), and others will attend automotive and culinary schools.
“The students’ success provides ALA staff with the motivation to continue to help other students achieve their goal and obtain their high school diploma,” said Mary Ann Wood, administrator -alternative sites for the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Higher Education Program.
Wood explained that the ALA program is dedicated to assisting students from ages 17 to 21 who are at least a year and half behind in high school. They attend classes at least seven hours a day.
“Students enroll in the ALA because they still want their high school diploma and they are willing to work hard to earn it. The reasons that led them to qualify to attend are extremely varied, and no two student situations are the same. At the ALA, we prefer to focus on what brought the student to the ALA, and where they are now, and what they need to do to finish school,” Wood said.
According to Wood, students must meet certain attendance, behavior and credit requirements each quarter to remain enrolled in the program. “Sometimes students struggle and have to take a break, but we always expect students to return and try again. All students can succeed once they make education a priority in their life, and at the ALA, we have seen many students make that decision and earn their high school diploma over the last six years.”
When asked why he teaches for the ALA program, instructor Jason St. Louis said, “It’s a feel-good, make-a-difference type of job, and when things are jelling and everyone is working together focusing on the same goals, it’s also pretty fun.”
St. Louis has been with the program since it started in 2007. He explained that he was one of those kids that struggled in school, was easily distracted and knew it all. In that respect he relates to the ALA students, learning from them about their struggles and how they get through each day, as well about their culture and beliefs.
“They have to deal with hardships that I never endured, so it makes me incredibly grateful for the consistency I had in my life growing up, yet remorseful for the unnecessary worry and aggravation I put my parents through as a younger man. There’s camaraderie with my coworkers as well,” said St. Louis.
After the graduation ceremony, students walked up to St. Louis, chatting and thanking him for all he has done for them, showcasing the relationship that teacher and student developed.
If you or someone you know is between the ages of 17 and 21 and meets the enrollment requirements for the Accelerated Learning Academy, call MaryAnn Wood at (480) 362-2132.