‘We make things happen:’ Milford’s Academy celebrates graduation

MILFORD — Danyelle Williams could not stop crying as she watched her students earn diplomas earlier this month.

Williams, principal of The Academy, the city’s alternative high school serving grades 9-12, said the tears were those of joy as she handed diplomas to 10 students, many of whom she says may never have reached commencement if not for the opportunity afforded by this small school.

“I know all these tears are for good reason,” Williams said. “I am grateful for the kids to have this opportunity. I know if this was not available, many would not have finished high school.

"Some of these kids have overcome some difficult obstacles, so difficult even adults would have had a hard time coping.”

Williams, who just completed her first year as Academy principal, said the alternative high school is a place that supports students that may be struggling in larger settings, such as those at Jonathan Law or Foran high schools.

“They are struggling for a number of reasons — it could be behavioral, maybe anxiety or sometimes they just need a smaller school setting,” Williams said. “We provide what these students need to go on and lead successful lives.”

This year’s graduates were Edward Alicki, Hozan Balu, James Barnum, Jacob Bishop, Evelyn Cardoso, Michael Gleason, Nicholas Higgins, Elizabeth Hueffman, Zachary Marchetti and Nathan Visconti.

“This was not your ‘traditional’ graduation,” said Kathy Bonetti, communications director with the school district. “With an emphasis on each graduate’s ‘story,’ it made the event that much more personal and joyous.”

The Academy, in existence for more than two decades, can hold a maximum of 85 students at its Gulf Street location, former home of the private school Milford Academy.

While it is an alternative high school, it offers the same curriculum and graduation requirements as Foran and Law. Class sizes are small, according to Williams, which allows the flexibility to support students emotionally as well as academically.

"We’re small but we make things happen,” Williams said.

Students fight battles every day, Williams said, but these students come to the Academy wanting to learn and to succeed, and graduations like the one on June 16 allow the students to see the impact of their efforts.

“The other battle we fight is perception,” Williams said. “People think the kids are ‘troubled’ or ‘do not want to go to school.’ That could not be further from the truth. These kids are fighters. Our job is to help them … not just to finish and graduate but to also give them the tools to succeed in life.”

Students must apply to attend the Academy. Students are interviewed and then ‘shadow’ a current Academy student, so they have a clearer view of the school’s offerings.

Next year, Williams said the Academy has some 40 students enrolled, but that number increases each quarter annually. By the end of the second quarter, she expects the enrollment to be near maximum, especially in the wake of student issues with mental health in the years since the onset of the pandemic.

The Academy has nine full-time faculty with several part-timers as well as counselors to assist students. In the end, Williams says the outcomes are even more satisfying, and the smiles as they grab their diplomas are proof of the program’s success.

“The students had T-shirts made … the Academy logo on the front, ‘Best Kept Secret’ on the back,” Williams said. “How true … I truly believe (the Academy) is the best kept secret in Milford.”