Siblings Jashila Daniels and Jamonte Applewhite were just 16 and 14 years old, respectively, last month when they both completed all requirements to graduate virtual high school through Ypsilanti Township's Achieving College and Career Education (ACCE).
Charles Davis, principal of ACCE, says the siblings' accomplishment is proof that if you hold young people to high standards, they will rise to the occasion. ACCE is a target high school that accepts students by referral only. Its attendees are more than 80% minority and more than 90% low-income. The program offers both in-person and virtual options, and specializes in helping students with "credit recovery," which allows students to re-take a previously failed course. Daniels, now 17, and Applewhite were able to complete their high school graduation requirements in just four and a half months, though they'd started out as 10th- and 9th-graders.
"The number of kids getting free and reduced lunches [at ACCE] is over 90%, but what this story proves is that, if we don't put limitations on our students, then there are no limits to what they can do," Davis says.
Davis notes that ACCE provides many wrap-around services including a laundry room and a food pantry, so it's remarkable that this achievement came from students who weren't getting as much support from ACCE staff as an in-person student might. He credits their success in part to their mother, Dyette Conner.
Conner says she told her children there was no reason for them not to "load up" on classes and "keep going until it's done."
"Education is really important to me," Conner says. "I tell my kids, 'If you don't get a high school diploma or college degree, you're not going anywhere in life.'"
She told the siblings they had to put in seven to eight hours on online courses every day, just as they would if they were attending in-person school. If they hadn't completed their school hours for the day, they didn't get television or socializing privileges.
Conner set them a deadline of finishing their ninth-grade curriculum by the end of September, and they did. On Oct. 1, she called Davis to get the okay for them to start 10th grade. They completed 10th grade in October, 11th grade in November, and their senior-year studies in mid-January.
Davis says he's been in education for 28 years, and still he was "blown away" by the determination of the two students and their mother.
"For me as an educator, having a parent do that was so phenomenal," he says.
Applewhite would like to attend college, while Daniels would like to go to trade school either for culinary arts or cosmetology.
Davis says that because the two learn online so well, he's hoping to connect them with Washtenaw Community College or another partner to start online classes and earn some college credits soon.
"These days you need a college degree to start a business and make your own money," Conner says. "So, you have to focus on your education, because that's going to get you where you're going."
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at email@example.com.
Photos courtesy of Jashila Daniels and Jamonte Applewhite.