BISD’s PRIDE Academy bestows diplomas


Bullard Independent School District continues to celebrate a high mark level of success achieved by its newest campus.

The Bullard ISD PRIDE Academy held its second graduation event, presenting a total of seven high school diplomas to students in the Bullard High School Class of 2018 during a ceremony Friday, March 2, inside the Bullard High School Audry B. Owens Auditorium.

On hand at the celebration for the PRIDE Academy was Bullard ISD Superintendent Todd Schneider, as well as Bullard ISD Board of Trustees Vice President Jason Campbell and member Cory Zahirniak, to bestow the diplomas upon the new graduates.

“The Bullard ISD PRIDE Academy graduation was a terrific event that celebrated the culmination of many efforts,” said Schneider. “The School Board had a vision to provide this opportunity, Mrs. Jeffus and the staff put the vision into action and, most of all, the students have embraced the challenge, rapidly achieving their goals. We hope the families and friends that were able to attend recognize how important these students and this special ceremony are to the entire BISD community.”

Graduates of Bullard ISD’s PRIDE Academy receiving their high school diplomas at the ceremony In March included Jacob Richard Garrett, Daniel Jose Hendricks, Jordyn Nicole Loe, Zoe Gail Sanford, Allison Nicole Sisco, Chelsie Marie Stewart, and Nicholas Bryan Zachry.

“We are very proud of the achievements of our graduates from PRIDE Academy,” said Donna Jeffus, Bullard ISD Coordinator for Alterative Education and CTE. “Many of these students have overcome great obstacles in order to graduate with their high school diplomas through PRIDE Academy. A lot of people do not realize that there has a lot of blood, sweat, and tears involved with these graduates; we’ve been through a little bit of stress, we’re very proud of their hard work. We also had a few high achievers in this graduating class who decided to attempt to graduate high school early. We love them all an wish them the very best.”

The ceremony served as the second event honoring graduates of the PRIDE Academy, as the campus’ inaugural commencement was held Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017. December PRIDE graduates included Hunter Garcia, Laisha Magdaleno, and Emily Pinson.

According to Schneider, with the second PRIDE Academy graduation now in the books of the program’s history, the impact of the new campus is now felt throughout Bullard ISD.

“We now have a total of 10 graduates from the Bullard ISD PRIDE Academy in just its first school year of existence,” said Schneider. “With a high number of graduates, we now see the increase in the impact within the school district and in our community. We are very proud of our students for their hard work and determination, and we wish them the best in their future endeavors.”

Within PRIDE Academy’s Class of 2018 March graduating class, Jeffus said a percentage of students would have dropped out of high school altogether without a second alternative to graduation such as the new campus.

“The primary reason a lot of school districts look into programs like PRIDE Academy is because there are many, like Bullard ISD, who believe that one high school dropout is one too many,” said Jeffus. “In the March graduation, I believe there were three students who were close to dropping out and walking away. They decided to come back and give it one more chance. There are two more who are working hard to receive their diplomas at the May commencement that are in that same category. Preventing one student from dropping out by offering an alternative program is worth it all.”

The Bullard ISD PRIDE Academy graduation program is a separate program and campus for nontraditional students, as well as a program developed for at-risk students, potential dropouts, and accelerate graduation program for students to successfully graduate BHS with an individualized schedule.

According to Jeffus, she was approached by Schneider in January to research the new program, which was approved by Bullard ISD in March, allowing PRIDE Academy to officially open its doors in August to begin the 2017-2018 school year.

“More and more schools across the state and the nation are offering alternative methods to allow students to achieve and receive their high school diplomas,” said Jeffus. “We’ve also seen a lot of students who have a nontraditional home life, have fallen behind in credits and are at risk of dropping out, and students who need to speed things up in terms of graduating. The answer to this for many school districts has been to offer a different setting away from the main campus at their own pace.”

While attending PRIDE Academy, students use a web-based platform called “Edgenuity” to complete their graduation requirements. In addition to their school work, Jeffus emphasized the necessity for students and staff to take periodical breaks, called brain breaks, which can range from working on puzzles to simply sitting in the quiet, in an effort to both recover and relax.

“Students at PRIDE Academy are still learning the knowledge they would learn in a normal classroom setting,” said Jeffus. “The courses are still in line with the Texas Essential of Knowledge and Skills. Students are able to work on earning credits one at a time, but the major difference is the setting; there are not many distractions, we’re not switching classes every 45 minutes, and it’s a calm and quiet setting for them to concentrate and work.”

Jeffus said that in her research into what is now known as the Bullard ISD PRIDE Academy, she visited with a number of school districts in search of answers, finding a great example of what the new campus should resemble in a school district that borders Bullard ISD.

“Our program is modeled very similarly to the program at Whitehouse ISD,” said Jeffus. “Along with Whitehouse, school districts like Henderson and a couple in the Dallas area have given me a lot of information about having a campus such as PRIDE Academy. Then, I started meeting with our high school principals and counselors and we started to form the basics of our own program; we take from their examples, but make it our own.”

According to Jeffus, the graduation ceremonies continue to serve as the the highlights of the first semester of the new campus’s existence, allowing PRIDE Academy and its staff to celebrate the successes of each graduate.

“The saying that it takes a village to raise a child has completely applied to PRIDE Academy,” said Jeffus. “Many of the students who attend PRIDE have special challenges or circumstances. This alternative graduation program gives us an opportunity to celebrate kids who might not have ever been celebrated. Saturday was special in that we were able to personalize and recognize each student individually and allow the teachers to say a few words about the students without losing the formality and tradition of a commencement ceremony. It was such a special culminating moment over a year of research and preparation coming to fruition.”

Qualifications for student consideration for the PRIDE Academy include being at least 16 years old, having previously completed six credits, and reading on an eighth or ninth grade level, as students who have dropped out and are returning to school, students who have completed four years of high school but do not have the credits to graduates, students who are in their fourth year of high school and need more credits than the high school can offer to graduate, students who have children, and maternity.

Additionally, the program can be used as an accelerated option for students wanting to enter college early or graduate high school early.

The vision of the new Bullard ISD PRIDE Academy is to “provide an alternative path to a Texas high school diploma, eliminating as many distractions as possible while serving students who do not thrive in a traditional setting.”

Likewise, the Bullard ISD PRIDE Academy’s mission is to “provide a structured environment serving the students of Bullard ISD who need an alternative setting for completing high school graduation requirements.

Despite the daunting task of helping a large number of students who are enrolled in the new Bullard ISD campus, Jeffus said the staff at PRIDE Academy also takes the time to celebrate when a student receives credits for completing a class.

“The PRIDE staff often feels exhausted and mentally drained at the end of the day, simply because every student here has different needs that are somewhat urgent to attend,” said Jeffus. “No two students are working on the same subject at any given time. We also feel fulfilled at the end of the day, as well. It’s very rewarding to have a student compete a credit, sound the ‘horn,’ and hang a certificate on the wall.”

With the upcoming May commencement ceremony for the Bullard ISD Class of 2018, scheduled for Saturday, May 26, inside Tyler Junior College’s Wagstaff Gymnasium, Jeffus estimates an additional eight to 10 graduates from PRIDE Academy will also receive their diplomas.

For more information about the new Bullard ISD PRIDE Academy, contact Jeffus by emailing


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