“You put on a new pair of shoes. This was brand-new to them. I’ve been proud of our students. They’ve done the right thing from Day 1,” said Quimby Melton III, principal at A.Z. Kelsey. “I didn’t anticipate how quickly the students would come on board and buy into the program.”
Although any one of the 72 students could return to Griffin High or Spalding High at any time, they understand that a second chance of earning credits at their own pace may not come again.
Three more students will be admitted shortly to reach the maximum capacity of 75. Another 32 are on a waiting list, in case current students decide that A.Z. Kelsey isn’t for them.
“We’ve had a full roster of students since we started. Parents are so excited about this. We’ve had super support from parents. No parents send their child to school to fail,” Melton said.
“This is an excellent program for these children, because it gives them the opportunity to go as fast or as slow as they need,” said Tonga Releford, a full-time teacher at A.Z. Kelsey for English language and arts. Releford worked as a special education collaboration teacher at Futral Road Elementary School before and is happy to be at Kelsey.
“My need was going to be served best here,” she said. “Hopefully I can help them transition to the next level and enhance their character education. These are not students who can’t do. They are students who need it to be given a different way.”
She said guest speakers and company representatives come in regularly to inform the students about job possibilities and expectations in the real world. Some of her students already work a part-time job to support their families.
A.Z. Kelsey students take the school bus every morning to either Griffin High or Spalding High -- depending on where they went before -- and then another school bus takes them to the academy. Classes start every morning at 8:30 a.m. and end at 3 p.m. Attendance is required.
Melton said this past week, the school implemented NOVAnet, a computer software that allows teachers to look at students’ progress and see how much time they spend on certain subjects. After all, all of them need to pass the Georgia High School Graduation Test as well as end of course tests. The latter are given out to students at the end of each month if they decide they are ready to take them.
“This is why I got back in education,” Melton said. “It was for this type of students -- students who need a little push.”
Melton said jokingly that the only thing that has gone wrong so far is the weather. Other than that, the transition for both students and faculty went smoothly.
“Any time you have a new program, a new school, you are going to have some glitches,” he said. “You fix them up and go forward.”
Moving forward, ideally, will last until students hold their high school diploma in their hands.
“It’s their slot (at A.Z. Kelsey) until they graduate,” he said. “Nobody is going to take it away from them.”