The Academy of Seminole celebrates its first high school graduation

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Academy of Seminole seniors celebrate their graduation.
Academy of Seminole seniors celebrate their graduation.
Academy of Seminole seniors celebrate their graduation.

The Academy of Seminole (TAOS), one of only two Oklahoma public charter schools offering an Early-College High School curriculum, celebrated a milestone Monday evening -- graduating its inaugural class of seniors.

Proud parents, elated faculty, staff members and students gathered at the commencement ceremony at Immanuel Fellowship Church to honor the class of 2021 and to recognize a school which has achieved hard-fought success in just three short years.

Among the 17 graduating TAOS Spartans were six who concurrently earned associate degrees from Seminole State College (SSC). Two more will graduate from SSC in December.

“TAOS is focused on college, they’re getting you ready for life,” said Salutatorian Allison Holley. “Even if you want to go straight into the workplace, they prepare you for jobs. They prepare you for the future.”

Holley, who received her associate degree in Liberal Arts from SSC on May 5, will attend Oklahoma State University to pursue a bachelor’s in history and strategic communication.

TAOS’ rigorous Early-College High School curriculum provides dual-credit at no cost, reducing barriers to college access and improving career readiness in an area where state test scores have recently fallen below average. TAOS administrators strive to meet each individual student’s needs. They know the program may not be right for every student, but the model is a strong foundation.

“We started with 30 brave souls who decided to take a chance and believed in what we wanted to do,” said Head of School Wren Hawthorne, noting enrollment will top 300 in August. “In that first year, we were in the top three to four schools in the state for academic growth. Our students, on average, grew over 85 percent.”

TAOS is the product of tenacious efforts by entrepreneur and businessman Paul Campbell, founder and CEO of Spartan Energy Services. He opened TAOS as a public charter school in 2018 with a goal to build an inclusive, accelerated educational environment for children in Seminole and surrounding communities.

“What makes this school so special is the culture we’ve created,” said Campbell, TAOS founder, president and chairman of the board. “We foster a community where people feel safe, cared for and hold each other accountable. Each senior is graduating with a plan for their life, a direction of where they are going and who they are as an adult.”

Jessica Waddell picked up her diploma Monday but has already landed an industrial position in geology at a local company and will receive an associate degree in December.

“Before attending TAOS, I wasn’t sure if I would ever be able to go to college,” said Waddell. “Now I’m in a college honor society and was elected president this semester. I was the first concurrent officer to be in the group and I’m now the first concurrent president.”

TAOS, which has expanded to PreK through 12th grade, is determined to nurture and support each Spartan with a personalized curriculum. 28% of its students are on an individualized education program.

“We listen to our students; they’re part of the process and we value their input,” said Hawthorne.

Graduate Dali-Anne Owens found her voice at TAOS. She plans to major in nursing at East Central University and rented her own apartment.

“It can be scary growing up this fast,” said Owens. “But in the end, it’s worth it, and I feel more prepared and I have more confidence in myself to achieve what I want.”

Above all, says Salutatorian Allison Holley, the graduates will take with them the enduring connections they gained at TAOS.

“TAOS is a community. You’re not just a number,” said Holley. “They’re your family, they’re your friends. They’re something I’m never going to forget.”

TAOS students start back to school August 9. To learn more, visit theacademyofseminole.org.