MONTEZUMA, Ga. — In total, 365 students have graduated from Tiers Free Academy since it was officially started in 2016. On Saturday, 41 students graduated with their high school diploma.
Tiers Free Academy is a homeschool cooperative. It's Georgia's only trauma informed, non-profit, alternative high school program.
High school dropouts, homeless LGBTQ+ youth and sex trafficking survivors are some of the people who are in the program. Founder Dr. Annise Mabry started the academy after she was struggling to find educational help with her daughter who has a mental disability.
"Georgia has 866,000 adults without high school diplomas in some communities. Especially in our rural communities, as many as 38% of our 18-24-year-olds don't have a high school diploma, which means they can't get a job, which means they can't get those post-secondary skills, so when I look at economic development... that's what made me do it. These kids are my why," said Mabry.
The students learn at their own pace from the comfort of their home. Some students say getting their diploma is like getting a second chance at life.
Eartha Jackson and Deneen Porter earned their high school diploma from the Academy. Both overcame difficult obstacles to finally get their cap and gown and walk the big stage.
Jackson said she dropped out of school a year early, but the Academy helped her to make up time.
"I was able to get something that I should've got in 2009," said Jackson.
Porter said she was the youngest daughter at her home and after her mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, she became pregnant with her first child.
"I've been waiting for this moment for a long time," said Porter.
Dr. Mabry says she wants everyone to know that getting their high school diploma is possible.
"A lot of times parents don't know that they have the right to issue their own homeschool, high school diploma. And when they're struggling with their children in school, they think that a GED is the only option and it's not," she said.
Both Jackson and Porter are excited for their futures. Jackson wants to continue her education and become a social worker, and Porter will be starting her nursing degree in the fall at Georgia Southern.