By Wendy Gragg
Killeen Daily Herald
Family and friends nearly filled the chairs and lined the walls of a small auditorium at Central Texas College on Friday morning.
Flashes popped as students' names were called, audience members catching the moment on video, digital and disposable cameras when the beaming students picked up their neatly rolled, ribbon-tied sheets of paper.
The 42 students weren't graduating from college, or even from a local high school. These teenagers, through a special program, were celebrating their eighth-grade graduation and a second chance at a promising future.
"There are so many people who said, You'll never do it, you'll never get through this.' And she did," Teresa Arteaga said about 15-year-old Macy Hamilton.
Arteaga is the legal guardian of Hamilton, who, thanks to the Summer Accelerated Program, completed eighth grade this summer and now has a scholarship to CTC when she completes high school.
That's what the Summer Accelerated Program – a joint venture by Communities in Schools, Bell and Coryell counties, CTC and the Killeen Independent School District – does for students. It catches them up and gets them ahead.
"We have some kids who are 15, 16 years old and know that if they don't get through this summer, they might lose their opportunity to finish high school," said David Biggs, director of the program.
The 42 students came from middle schools across KISD. Seventh-graders last year, the students had already failed a grade and many of them are 14 or older.
During the Summer Accelerated Program, they attended school five days a week for about one month, taking math, science, English and history classes. The students had to be motivated and work hard to succeed, Biggs said.
If they stuck with it, didn't miss more than two days, made at least an 80 in each class and passed a practice Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test, the students graduated eighth grade and will move on to high school in the fall.
David Holmes, 14, called the summer program "phenomenally hard," but the degree of "hard" seems to vary by student. They all agree on one thing: There were mountains of homework.
"I don't think it was bad to go through eighth grade in this amount of time," Hamilton said.
Even Holmes had to agree. He said he wished each grade could be completed as quickly.
The intense summer session has been about more than just chapters in U.S. history and eighth-grade spelling words. The students say they have learned about responsibility, the real world, personal health and about "just being good."
"We've been talking to them about having goals, about what they want to be when they grow up," teacher Kim Wilkes said.
Their reasons for falling behind are as varied as the students themselves, but many of them say they have no intention of getting behind again. And if CIS has anything to do with it, they will do nothing but continue moving ahead.
The idea is to get them through the next four years so they can take advantage of the other reward from completing the summer program – a two-year scholarship to CTC.
"At least now they know there's a light at the end of the tunnel," said David McClure, CTC associate dean of guidance and counseling.
Biggs said he has known summer program students to go on to be nurses, teachers and involved in the music business.
"It's wide open to them once they get up to college," he said.
Hamilton said the scholarship gives her an excuse to go to college.
But on Friday, as students ate enormous pieces of cake, and their family and friends hung on them and took more pictures, it seemed the graduation was as much about putting something behind them, as it was about moving on.
Contact Wendy Gragg at firstname.lastname@example.org