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Lee County Students Happy To Drop Their Dropout Status

By Jason Wermeres | June 20, 2008 | News-Press.com


Marcos Caputo, 19, is ready to take another shot at getting a high school diploma.

The south Fort Myers resident hopes one of Lee County's newest charter schools, Florida High School for Accelerated Learning, will be right for him. The school is set to open campuses in Fort Myers and Cape Coral on Aug. 18.

It doesn't hurt that his mother, Sylvia Montes, 39, found the school online and gave him an ultimatum: Go back to school or get a job. She did not offer an escape clause.

"I was really wasting my life away at home," said Caputo, whose job was recently eliminated at Southwest Florida International Airport.

He dropped out of Cypress Lake High three years ago, about halfway through his ninth-grade year. He said the computer-oriented courses at the new charter school will make it easier for him.

"It's all on computer," Caputo said. "Before, when a teacher talked to me, honestly, it was in one ear and out the other. I was bored."

Teens such as Caputo are the ones Florida High School for Accelerated Learning hopes to reach. The schools are for anyone ages 16 to 21 who is behind the typical four-year track for earning a diploma.

"Our school has an academic focus for students who have fallen behind," said David Stiles, director of charter schools for the school's parent company, Accelerated Learning Solutions of Fort Lauderdale. "We can give them schedules that fit their lives. If they are behind a little bit, we can get them to a point where they can get a regular diploma."

Stiles said 25 students have enrolled at the two campuses, which are former businesses that are being renovated. He said he hopes to have at least 300 students enrolled by the end of the 2008-09 school year.

The schools feature classes that rely heavily on computer software. The software contains the coursework the students will need to earn the credits required for graduation as well as prepare them for the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests. Every Florida public school student is required to pass the 10th-grade FCAT reading and math exams to graduate.

The school day lasts four hours, and two sessions are available each day. Stiles said that will help students who need to work or have other obligations a traditional school can't accommodate.

Yashira Rivera, 21, of Fort Myers, is an enrollment specialist based at the school's Cape location. She said she hopes teens who have already become parents will be among those looking for another chance to get a high school diploma.

Teen parents enrolling at the accelerated schools can get free day care for their children while they are in class. And any student can get free LeeTran bus passes to get them to either campus.

"So they have no excuse," Rivera said. "I'm excited about helping students get their diplomas."