Thousands of KELOLAND students will walk across the graduation stage this month, but two of those students say they are especially proud of their diplomas. The President’s Academy in Sioux Falls breaks down barriers for young men and women and their families who have recently moved to the United States.
That includes 19-year-old Innocent Mukunzi. Through courses he has taken at the Academy and CTE in Sioux Falls, he says he has learned to build things. He says the foundation for his love of making things with his hands comes from his education.
“I’m so proud to be here!” Mukunzi said.
He moved here from the Republic of Congo a year and half ago.
“First time when I came here, it was hard to understand because my English was not good the first time. Now I understand everything,” Mukunzi said.
Sharpening English skills is just one focus here. The five-year-old academy helps students who are 17 or older who are behind on high school credits. Many of them and their families immigrated to the United States.
“Their families brought them to our country for a better future in order for them to have a better future; education is part of that,” Tom Hooker, Director of President’s Academy, said.
Both Mukunzi and Lydia Adiang are getting their high school diplomas. For Adiang, who was born here to a family from South Sudan, the biggest help is a flexible class schedule and course load.
“It’s just better, because after I leave here, I go straight to work and before I couldn’t work on the weekdays when I went to Lincoln, only the weekends,” Adiang said.
Hooker says many of the students are helping support their families. As for the teachers, they give their students more than just words and numbers.
“The most important thing is to meet them where they are emotionally. They have to feel like they belong, and they’re a part of what we’re doing here and that you care about how they’re doing,” Perry Killion, math instructor, said.
Students get to walk with their high school class at graduation. Hooker says even though the academy allows students to work at their own pace, it helps them earn their high school credits faster than they would at a mainstream high school.
Mukunzi, whose love for building is inspiring him to eventually study engineering when he goes to college, says the President’s Academy helped create a blueprint for a bright future.