Back on Track: Donna Dukes And Sernitria Bell

High school graduates earn about $10,000 more each year than dropouts. And they’ll be less likely to end up in jail, or even suffer some preventable diseases, studies show. But what if students could get back on track before an academic plunge dooms them to a life of less than?

The Southern Education Desk, in advance of American Graduate Day on October 3, is highlighting people who got back on track and programs that helped them get there.

Donna Dukes

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Donna Dukes works with students on vocabulary words at Maranathan Academy in Birmingham. She started the school in 1991. Special to the site.

Donna Dukes works with students on vocabulary words at Maranathan Academy in Birmingham. She started the school in 1991.

Donna Dukes founded Maranathan Academy in East Birmingham the same year she graduated college in 1991. She wanted to help students who often fall through the cracks or just need a second chance for success.

She had planned on becoming a lawyer. She was valedictorian of the Miles College class of 1991 and her path was set until she did some volunteer work at Jefferson County Family Court.

She says she saw lots of young people who were falling through the cracks and were not completing high school.

The daughter of a civil rights leader and an educator, Dukes felt compelled to do something.

So instead of going to law school, she launched Maranathan Academy in the fall of 1991. She had one student and one desk. The school house was actually a home her grandmother had left to the family.

Twenty students are currently enrolled for this year, and there is a waiting list of 70, she says. Dukes has seen lots of success stories over the years, and she looks forward to more.

“I really believe that I am in my calling,” she says.

Sernitria Bell

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Sernitria Bell

Sernitria Bell

Sernitria Bell of Birmingham left high school in the 12th grade. At the age of 26, she made a decision that changed her life.

When she was in high school, Sernitria Bell got hooked up with the “wrong crowd,” she says. Instead of being a leader, she followed others and ended up dropping out in the 12th grade.

The next eight years of her life were followed by more bad decisions and dead end jobs. She realized she needed a high school diploma if she was to have a chance at success.

A friend told Bell about Maranathan Academy in east Birmingham. At the age of 26 she went back to school, earned a high school diploma, and went on to get certified as a medical assistant after completing a program at Fortis Institute. Now Bell, a 28-year-old mother of two, is preparing to go on to community college to study to become a surgical technician.

“You have to get a high school diploma if you don’t want a dead end job,” she says.

This report is supported by a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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