DETROIT – Thursday was graduation day for Detroit Achievement Academy on Outer Drive. The charter school started in 2013 as a K-2 school and has added a grade every year.
Thursday was its first graduation for the school’s eighth graders and every student received a life-changing graduation gift.
When the 24 students and their families arrived at the pavilion on Belle Isle, they thought it was just that, but they were about to get an amazing surprise that was not in the program.
The student’s names were called, teachers were recognized, speeches were given -- it was a normal graduation ceremony until they were told every single one of the eighth-graders had already been accepted into college at Grand Valley State University.
“I mostly feel good for their families because they took a risk on us when we were opening a tiny little upstart school,” said DAA director Kyle Smitley. “So, to finally make good on a promise to take risk on us, they all got into their top-choice high school and today they got into college.”
“We want to make sure we’re opening doors, eliminating barriers, removing obstacles,” said B. Donta Truss, with GVSU. “Because we want to increase the number of college graduates in the state of Michigan.”
This is the first program of its kind in the country, so the DAA students will be the first eighth-graders in the country who have already been guaranteed college acceptance.
For Justin Hendon, who still has dreams of Harvard and to one day take over the family business, Thursday laid an important foundation.
“I was thinking, ‘Wow, that’s amazing for us kids so young to get opportunity,’” Hendon said. “It’s just so amazing. I was honestly speechless.”
But there was more to the surprise -- the students were accepted tuition-free.
“I was speechless,” said parent Tamara Mitchell. “It was the biggest blessing, because a lot of these kids wouldn’t be able to go to college without their tuition being paid.”
In that moment, her daughter Cionna Mitchell turned and they shared a look, knowing that their lives changed for the better.
“I almost cried and I looked back thinking she would cry,” Cionna Mitchell said. “I did cry.”
“Now they have something to look forward to,” Tamara Mitchell said. “Now they know they’re fighting for something.”
This program aligns with another program GVSU has in place that guarantees a full-tuition scholarship to any student from a family making less than $50,000. That applies to most if not all of these students, so they will basically be getting a guaranteed free ride to college as eighth-graders.