Project Compass helps at-risk teens get through school

By Erin Murray, Reporter
Last Updated: Monday, April 10, 2017

Tucked next to a Goodwill thrift store on Orange Blossom Trail in Orlando is a building titled “Vocational Services.”

  • Project Compass  in Orlando for at-risk teens
  • Partnership between Orange County schools, Goodwill

Inside are four classrooms, each filled with a handful of students.

“You will never lose coming here, you have everything to gain," said Listine Beckford, lead teacher at Project Compass .

The students each wear light blue polos and come from a variety of backgrounds. Some kids have learning disabilities, criminal histories, some are dropouts.

"It was when I got to high school that I decided that I didn’t like school," said Ashley Gaillard, Project Compass  student.

At 16, Gaillard left high school with only 4.5 credits and a 1.2 GPA.

"Started working and then you kinda start thinking about what you want to do with your life. And you are like, ‘Well I can’t do that if I don’t graduate,'" said Gaillard.

It was then a family member told her about Goodwill’s Project Compass.

The program is a partnership between Orange County Public Schools and Goodwill which strives to help the most challenged students graduate. It’s a high school, but with just 42 students who are between 14 and 18 years old.

The small classrooms provide a more intimate learning environment that helps the at-risk students find success.

“What you see is change. When students experience success, that’s immediate motivation for them," said Bill Tovine, Principal of Alternative Education at OCPS.

For Gaillard, this was her last chance to stay in school and graduate.

But during the first few weeks, Beckford said, “She was really distraught. At the very beginning she would cry.”

Beckford became more than just a teacher, to Gaillard she was a mentor. And with time, Gaillard's timidness turned into confidence.

"You can watch the helplessness and the hopelessness shed from these kids, and they become hopeful," said Beckford.

And now after more than a year into the program, Gaillard is set to graduate May 3.

“I am going to cry, I am going to cry in front of everybody at that graduation," said Gaillard.

In total, 12 students will turn over their blue polos for a red cap and gown.

For the teachers, it is an emotional moment.

“That moment is one of the most spectacular moment in our lives, not mine only, but all of our lives," said Beckford.

Project Compass  also helped Gaillard apply to college. She plans to attend Valencia College in the summer of 2017.