Meet Avon Academy's First Graduate
Sam Clemens won't let adversity stop him from achieving his goals. When you meet him and witness his determination first-hand, you can't help but be impressed by his maturity, focus, and character.
His desire to overcome obstacles is what drove him to transition to Avon Academy for his senior year, and it is what propelled him to master the subject matter of his final classes early enough to wrap up his studies on September 15, making him Avon Academy's first graduate. He knew he would need to graduate as early as possible because he and his girlfriend, Trinity Thompson, had a special date circled on their calendar — the due date for their weeks-old daughter, Willow.
"I knew [attending Avon Academy] would be a good opportunity for me to graduate early and that it would be better than me having to worry about work, school, and baby at the same time," says Sam. If not for how he was able to handle his course load at Avon Academy, he would have had a couple of months of working, school, and taking care of the baby all at once. "It would have been a lot," he admitted.
"Avon Academy is a very welcoming place," says Sam. "The first day I came here, all the teachers and staff were nice. I felt very welcomed. They took care of me every day." He points out that he appreciated all the incentives Avon Academy uses to keep students like him on track: Mindful Monday presentations, free donuts and juice each Wednesday, and much more. Most importantly, he enjoyed his studies. "All my classes were pretty fun. They were never boring," he says. Due to Avon Academy's convenient schedule and mastery learning philosophy (i.e., students get to move on to new subject matter once they've mastered what they're learning), Sam was able to earn all his credits by September 15, just a couple of weeks before Willow was born.
They say it takes a village to raise a kid and Avon Academy is that village. Kellie Rodkey, Avon Academy Coordinator
Avon Academy focuses on three groups of students: students who are credit-deficient and have fallen behind in their studies, students who thrive in a smaller environment with more direct attention from teachers and staff, and students who are parents.
"Nationally, over 50% of students who become parents drop out of school," says Avon Academy Coordinator Kellie Rodkey. "Not only am I proud that Sam stuck with it, but he has such a work ethic and determination. While he was here going to school, he was still going to work on top of that. The maturity he is showing, you don't often see that. It makes me proud that Sam is our first graduate. There's no better kid to represent us. I'm so thankful we can offer this school for kids like Sam and other kids who are facing obstacles. They say it takes a village to raise a kid and Avon Academy is that village."
"Avon Academy got me out of school early so I could go to work," says Sam, who is deeply motivated to provide for his family. "The last day of school, I told my boss 'I'm open' and I started working and working. I was working for my Dad, too. I was racking up hours so I could have money to take off work to care for Willow and be there to help Trinity. I want to help her get adapted to motherhood so she's not home alone all the time, stressed out taking care of Willow. The school helped me out with being able to do all of that."
When I walk across that stage, I'll feel proud of myself for accomplishing this in spite of the challenges I faced along the way. Sam Clemens
Sam has enjoyed the support and flexibility provided by his current employers, but he has an eye on building a rewarding career. He forged strong connections with Avon Academy teachers that are likely to materialize into careers. They've helped him network with a couple of prominent local businesses where he's pursuing jobs. He's weighing out important factors like salary, advancement opportunities, benefits, and more. "I had to have my diploma to pursue these opportunities," says Sam.
"Whoever employs Sam is going to be so lucky to have him," says Kellie.
"It felt great to be the first graduate of Avon Academy," says Sam. "They kind of surprised me on my last day. After lunch, Mrs. Rodkey made an announcement that I was the first graduate and pretty much the whole school was standing in the hallway to congratulate me. I was shocked. Mrs. Rodkey used me as an example for all the other kids to try to get out of school as well so they can get out and do all they want to do with life."
"When I walk across that stage, I'll feel proud of myself for accomplishing this in spite of the challenges I faced along the way," says Sam. Sam will return to attend Avon Academy's first semester graduation event and then he'll walk with the rest of the Avon High School class of '24 in May. His family will be there to experience it all with him.
If you would like to learn more about Avon Academy or how you could be involved in helping students like Sam succeed, visit academy.avon-schools.org.
- All Belong Learn Grow