vanessa-lamarche_web.jpgOAKLAND PARK — Peterson Prosper, 19, tested for the General Equivalency Diploma (GED) 10 times. Each time, he missed the passing score of 2250 by 10 points. A visual learner, the Oakland Park resident found it difficult to find a program that could help him prepare.

Vanessa LaMarche, 17, relocated to Coral Springs from Quebec. Despite her history as an excellent student in her home country, she had trouble working up to her full potential because of the language barrier.
Both students have discovered programs and instructors who accommodate their specific needs at Life Skills Center (LSC), a tuition-free, year-round alternative education charter school, where they are enrolled as seniors.

On Aug. 21, LSC earned accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Council on Accreditation and School Improvement (SACS CASI).

The accreditation, recognized across state lines, will open doors for Life Skills Center’s students, said Derek Stein, the school’s principal and administrator.

“Four-year colleges and employers are looking for that,’’ he said. “Branches of the military look at SACS as a tier 1 diploma. It not only opens doors, but has helped validate our program that much more.”

He continued: “It was one of the most exciting things that ever happened to us. It was a lot of work, making it happen; almost a three- year process.”

Benefits of the SACS accreditation also include transferability of credits from school to school; greater access to federal loans, scholarships, post-secondary education and military programs that require accreditation; access to a range of student activities and support services; qualified teachers continually working to improve their practices and teaching methods in order to increase student performance.

Stein also said that Broward County is one of the few districts in Florida in which every school is SACS accredited, “so now we’ve joined that group.”

The school, at 2360 W. Oakland Park Blvd. in Oakland Park, offers classes tailored to students’ needs through a computer-based curriculum. The school serves students ages 16 to 21.

LaMarche, the 17-year-old from Quebec, aspires to study medicine. She said she was recommended to LSC by her guardian, who felt she could “achieve more at a place that offered personal attention. It was hard for me at first; French is my native language and my English was poor. I found teachers here that are fluent in French, as well as Spanish.

Being able to communicate made all the difference; I can now have all of my questions answered.”

LaMarche admitted that she was worried at first, but her English has improved considerably during her now 18-month enrollment at LSC.

“I’ve since learned how to interview and gained the confidence to speak publically,’’ she said. “My studies have improved as well.”

Although Prosper, the 19-year-old who struggles with the GED test, is self-sufficient and works two jobs seven days a week, he said that through education, there could be a change in his life. He aspires to become an emergency medical technician.

“I don’t like to settle for second best,” he admitted, “which is what I’d consider a GED. Even though I studied for it, a diploma is what I really need to move on to becoming an EMT.”
Prior to his relocation, Prosper attended high school in Jacksonville.

“Things were tough,’’ he said. “I found it difficult to concentrate with all the distractions. I had a hard time learning at their pace and the teachers didn’t understand that.”

Prosper, who has been an LSC student for just under one year, also shared that, “I was kicked out of my house in Jacksonville. After I moved here and found work, a friend, who was a student here at the time, recommended that I check it out.”

Prosper said he was “skeptical at first,” but was sold on the school’s program after his interview.

“They were willing to work with my schedule and, being a visual learner, I could work at a pace that was not intimidating. I’m really learning here; it’s what I needed.”

He said he “just wants to be successful,” and that he views the program offered at LSC as “the bridge to take me there.”

LSC’s focus is on graduates and long-term employment, Stein said. The school boasts a retention rate of 90 to 91 percent.

After graduation, 70 to 75 percent of the students attend college; 10 percent enter into the military.

“These numbers prove that students are not only attracted to our program, but are benefiting,” Stein said.

Photo by Elgin Jones/SFT Staff. Vanessa LaMarche