Fresh Start Academy is changing futures

Published 1:23 pm Thursday, April 21, 2022

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New beginnings were explored at Fresh Start Academy on Friday, April 15, 2022. Higher education institutions and military representatives were on site to welcome the students to dream about their future. This is indeed selling out to the idea of a fresh start. Fresh Start is where Sumter County Schools (SCS) assign students who need to recover credits to get on grade level, or those who have displayed some behavioral issues. Travis Lockhart, CEO of Fresh Start Academy and his teachers have a special touch in reaching students who have every reason to be frustrated with a traditional educational setting. Friday was a day of celebration. There was not one frustration noted. Upon arriving on Friday, it was easy to see the excitement brewing. A BBQ food truck and grill was set up and the cooks as well as some instructors were loaning their talent to ensure the students knew this was a day of new beginnings.

Beginnings, no matter how bright or exciting can produce an anxiety. Stepping into something new is a grand event, but as with anything new, change is something which demands to be handled with care. Travis and his staff are used to handling change with care. Often students of Fresh Start feel changing environments is a loss. An option for the students is to become mired down in the face of falling behind. Fresh Start understands this sentiment and in understanding it they are prepared to manage the narrative and meet the need. Fresh Start approaches each student with, well, a fresh view. The employees, while knowing the stories which follow these students, do not define their future by their past. Each student is given a new space in which to write a new story and they are encouraged to do so with a tender and determined kindness. As Travis states, “We turn a blind eye to whatever reason they came here, and they get a fresh start and a great start. The kids absolutely love the program. That tells me the type of love that’s been poured into them.” The change in the student is evident. Travis sums it well when he says, “The parents, the kids and the community are really excited about what we are doing over here and it’s a testament to the teachers, directors and leaders.” How does Travis know the students are excited about the program? He sees it firsthand. A student comes in battle weary, but they don’t stay that way long. “They embrace the program. Within two days they love it.” Travis credits teachers for this and claims they are “some of the best in Sumter County.” The staff at Fresh Start has a large charge because a student’s future is at stake. Without programming like Fresh Start, many students would either drop out or not make the grade for graduation. Fresh Start’s success speaks for itself. Travis approximates 25 students in one year have gone on to graduate.

Fresh Start Students and Instructor try their hand at recruiting L-R: Ayanna West, 10th grade, Akira West, 11th grade, Ashunye Roberts 11th grade, Keena Clark, Instructor

Brandon Samford is a great example of the quality student enrolled at Fresh Start. When he came, he had four credits. After a year he now has 20. He has work himself up from ninth to eleventh grade. He too reports initially not liking the idea of alternative school and has a history of attending one prior to coming to Fresh Start. In his first placement he got in further trouble for being involved in fighting. When he came to Fresh Start, he reports beginning to see a change in himself. Travis calls him, “motivating and a leader.” Although Brandon is shy about owning those qualities, he sees in himself why Travis would describe him as such. It was at his time in Fresh Start he decided to not only succeed in school he also procured a job. Brandon puts in his hours at school and then goes to work. He reports learning to save his money as has gotten older because he knows, “when you get older you have to start paying bills.” Brandon is also quick to say when he came to Fresh Start, he was ready to call it quits. He credits his time at the Academy for growing his motivation as he started to “catch up.” Brandon remarks he was told over and over again, “I can do it, I can do it, so I started to do it.” Brandon has not firmly decided on his future plans, but he has identified welding as his hope. He began to research out the need for welders as well as how much money they had the potential to make. Brandon also has an interest in the military. Brandon was able to speak with a military representative as well as technical schools and four-year programs at the day’s event. By his own admission, Brandon has transformed from a frustrated student into one who wants to take his time in school, eventually going back to Sumter County High and playing basketball. He reports seeing the importance in creating good memories for himself.

Navy recruiter providing opportunities for students

One of the interesting partnerships Fresh Start has is with South Georgia State College. The college is a two-to-four-year program and is part of the University System of Georgia. With a 2.0 grade point average a student is guaranteed acceptance. Programs are varied to include nursing to mechanical engineering technology. The college is set up to offer special supports to students and keeps a 20:1 student/teacher ratio.

Representatives from South Georgia State College L-R, Melissa Williams, Admissions Specialist, Jamarie Williams, Student Ambassador, Meagan Day, Recruiter

Want to be part of the excitement? Travis holds the doors open for you to visit Fresh Start. He also wants the community to offer some real-life supports to include mentoring, leading student groups, resume building and etiquette. He is hopeful community folks will step up to be familiar faces to the students. In seeing what it takes to be successful after school by meeting folks who are doing it, the students learn lessons not necessarily taught in textbooks. Significant relationships with others are imperative. When the students go out into our community, they will have a resource and begin to see their own place within the community. When a student has a place to belong, the chances of them staying and contributing through their talents and occupation becomes stronger. A healthy economy is dependent upon finding such a place to belong and having a connection makes this process much more likely to happen. If you have a talent you would like to share with Fresh Start, please contact them and know you are invited to impact an individual life and a community for the better.

Fresh Start Academy is housed in the old Staley School building on North Lee Street. Email them at