Visitors to the Irene L. Chavez Excel Academy will often find confetti on the floor in the school office. It’s not cause for a custodian; it’s cause for celebration. Every time a student picks up their diploma, they are showered with confetti and an announcement of their success is made on the school intercom.
During the 2015-2016 school year, there were 312 opportunities for confetti as 312 students earned diplomas through the Excel Academy, a flexible program for high school students currently located on the Holmes High School campus.
“It’s an academic alternative school, not a disciplinary alternative school,” says Principal Darren Calvert.
“It’s a different way to do academics for students with needs and challenges that keep them from attending school from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.”
In order to be eligible for the Excel Academy, students must reside in Northside ISD, be at least 17 years old, have earned at least 17 credits, and have passed their state exit-level exams. At Excel they can finish core course requirements in a rigorous, self-paced online program they must attend for at least five consecutive hours a day, five days a week. On average, it takes about three months for students to complete diploma requirements.
“It’s a self-paced program, not a snail-paced program,” says Calvert. For students at risk of dropping out of high school due to family, medical, or financial issues, it’s a welcome choice.
Angel Raya was behind in course credits at his previous high school and was also working as an assistant manager at a movie theater. When he arrived at the Excel Academy, he wasn’t self-motivated and took his time.
“But there really is no excuse here with the flexibility,” Raya says. “I learned that the hard way when I didn’t care as much. I started seeing my classmates graduate and thought ‘what am I still doing here?’ To me, the Excel Academy is freedom and independence. It’s all on you.”
Raya is now movie theater manager and is taking online courses at Northwest Vista College. He wants to become a police officer with the San Antonio Police Department.
“This place is about miracles,” Raya says. “It will mature you.”
Rayna Bolden had medical issues that affected her attendance at her previous high school. Her goal at the Excel Academy was to finish her remaining courses as quickly as possible and move on to college.
“Here, it’s about what you want,” Bolden says. “This place motivated me. There weren’t as many distractions and I felt more in control of my education.”
Bolden is now taking courses at Northwest Vista College and hopes to become an athletic trainer.
Both Bolden and Raya say the confetti celebration at Excel was an important milestone for them and their families, even though they also took part in traditional graduation ceremonies at Paul Taylor Field House.
They also agree that the Excel Academy prepared them for college by putting them firmly in charge of their learning.
“We’re a family at the Excel Academy,” says Calvert. “We’re for students, not against them. We know their names and we know their stories. We’re about finding solutions and taking away barriers to earning diplomas. This school is all about moving forward and how we as educators can get students where they need to go.”
Pictured with Principal Darren Calvert (center) are graduates Rayna Bolden and Angel Raya.
Visit the Irene Chavez Excel Academy website to learn more.