Graduating from high school typically is a special day for members of the graduating class, and their families.
But, there’s a group in Wesley Chapel High’s Class of 2017 for whom graduation on May 26 at the University of South Florida Sun Dome was particularly meaningful.
That’s because these students — among the approximately 380 graduates from the school —were offered a second chance, and they took it.
Eighteen-year-old Mauricio Lorenzo, who lives in Lexington Oaks, is one of those graduates.
“Since February, I’ve been in the program, trying to recover as many credits as I possibly can,” said Lorenzo, who had to take several courses including English, math, biology and World History, to graduate on time.
He finished his work around noon; graduation was set for 8 p.m.
“I’ve been here like 10, 11 hours a day for the past week or two,” Lorenzo said during an interview on May 23. He planned to keep at it right up to the last day, to try to graduate with his peers.
Lorenzo was one of 20 students enrolled in the Support our Students program, new to Wesley Chapel High, this year.
Students from the high school that are good candidates for the program normally are sent to James Irvin Education Center, in Dade City, explained Danielle Johnson, principal at Wesley Chapel High.
However, James Irvin didn’t have enough seats to accommodate all of the Wesley Chapel students who could benefit from the program, the principal said.
So, she allocated a room with 20 computers and a teacher to establish the program at her school.
The idea is to give students a chance to make up the work they need, or raise their grade point average, so they can meet graduation requirements.
In some cases, the students are recovering credits for classes they failed. In other cases, they’re starting a course from scratch.
The program uses online instruction, with a teacher accessing the courses that students need.
Johnson, who has been an assistant principal at the school for several years became principal this year when Carin Hetzler-Nettles moved to Cypress Creek Middle High, set to open in the fall.
Johnson said she knew she had made the right decision when students began coming up to thank her for the second chance.
Lorenzo is one of those grateful students.
“I’m kicking myself now, but I’m very appreciative and very glad that I get the chance to do this — and make up for the mistakes I’ve made in the past.
“The normal school system, I didn’t really connect with it,” Lorenzo said.
“At one point, I had felt like I had given up on the school system. I felt like they had given up on me,” he said.
Lorenzo said his attitude changed, when he was given the opportunity to join the program.
“It made me realize: These people are giving me a second chance,” Lorenzo said.
The program is demanding.
“There are certain things you need to know beforehand,” Lorenzo said.
“They will take electronics away from you.
“You are taken out of the normal population of the school. You won’t eat lunch with the same people. You are going to be basically isolated, and set apart from everybody else, to ensure that you’re working hard,” he added.
But, the potential payoff is worth it, said Lorenzo, who aspires to go into music, and plans to pursue a real estate license, too.
Now that he’s made up for lost time, Lorenzo offers this advice for other students: “Focus on completing things the right way the first time. “
After all, he observed: “No matter where you go, no matter what you’re doing, you’re going to have to put the work in, if you want to get anywhere or do anything — here, or just anywhere.”
Johnson plans to keep the program going next year.
“Every kid has a different path,” she said. “That’s what we should remember. Some kids, it takes a little longer to master the concepts. Some students, it takes a little bit longer to mature.
“This is a great way for us to say, ‘We’re not giving up on you. You can still make it. And, here’s how we’re going to give you a chance to make it’,” the principal said.
Published May 31, 2017