VALDOSTA -- In the middle of her ninth grade year, at the age of 16, one Valdosta High School student gave birth to a bouncing, baby boy. His name was Kamar. The year was 2002.

However, Angelique Carter, now 17, refused to let motherhood stop her from completing her high school education. With her grandmother's assistance, she went back to school, eager to graduate with the rest of her classmates.

But things took a turn for the worst.

"My grandmother kept him for me during the day," Carter said. "Then she got sick and could not help me anymore. At that same time, I started getting behind in school and felt run down. I had no help."

Following the first semester of her 10th grade year, around January or February of 2003, she dropped out of school, promising herself it would only be temporary.

"I just wanted to take some time off to get things situated," Carter said. "I planned to go right back to school the following August. I still knew it would be difficult."

Then she heard about Valdosta High School's new Accelerated Learning Center, which kicked off in August with the full financial support of the Valdosta Board of Education. The center's mission is to provide students -- non-traditional, dropouts, credit recovery, and enrichment -- with more educational opportunities to be successful in their pursuit for a high school diploma. Students attend teacher-assisted, self-paced classes from 5-9 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

"It was simply a better option for me," Carter said. "I can spend my days with my son.

My mom watches him for me at night while I go to school. If this center was not here, I would be way behind."

The Accelerated Learning Center has eased this teenage mother's worries about her education and her future. She's able to concentrate on her studies more and feels more focused in general.

"My dream is to attend Valdosta Technical College and study nursing after graduation," Carter said.

She is one of 63 students, ranging in age from 15 to 19, in the program right now, said Peggy Parramore, principal of the center, which offers both the college preparatory and technical preparatory diplomas. Others wait for admission.

Already, three students have completed their high school requirements through the center, two are now attending Valdosta Technical College. They will be able to graduate in May as members of the Class of 2004.

"This is a wonderful program," Parramore said. "It gives these students a chance to come back and get their education and become productive citizens."

Although these graduates will not be included in state data regarding graduation rates based on the current formula, Superintendent Sam Allen wants everyone to know these students are graduating. It's just taking them a little longer and a slightly different route to reach the destination.

To contact reporter Jessica Pope, please call 244-3400, ext. 255.

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