AUGUSTA, Ga (WJBF) – Immaculate Conception Academy was started in 1913 to provide a private, parochial education for inner city students.
Throughout the years, it faced challenges which forced the school to end its high school grades.
But, soon the school will hold its first high school graduation since 1967.
School leaders say it’s mission has not changed, instead, it has expanded.
Walking side by side in their caps and gowns Zachery Garrard and Michael Lambert are doing something that hasn’t been done in 55 years at Immaculate Conception.
They are attending their high school Baccalaureate service.
One step before graduating.
Much like the school they are breaking barriers.
Theresa Lambert is Michael’s mother and says, “we just never could quite pinpoint the exact learning disability and it wasn’t until the beginning of Sophomore year that we got a diagnosis of dyslexia and dyscalculia the math form of dyslexia.”
After research and a collaboration with Michael’s high school, as well as the diocese of Savannah, Theresa Lambert was able to enroll her son in Immaculate Conception Catholic School of Special Education.
It’s the only school in the diocese that is solely focused on special needs students.
One of few private schools of its kind in the state.
“They don’t move on until the student has mastered the curriculum. So, they are not rushed. They don’t feel like they have to hurry and get it. It’s at their pace.”
Bishop Stephen Parkes says along with providing a faith based education the small class size is a big part of the school’s equation for success.
“Nothing beats more of that good ratio of teacher to student and I have no doubt that it really helps them but also in the classrooms for the students to form good relationships. That’s so important in the world that we live in,” says Bishop Parkes.
Regina Garrard is Zachery’s mother and says, “they love Zach in spite of his issues. They work with him in every way possible. It’s just changed things for our family all together.”
Garrard says her son Zach was in public schools for many years before they learned about ICCS from a local Autism group.
She says the school staff’s focus on Zach’s ability, instead of disability, has put him on a positive path forward.
“I was getting a call a day having to go get my child and pick him up from school and that sort of thing. Once we got here, I very rarely got a call and if I did get a call it wasn’t necessarily negative.”
By providing a high school education, parents say their children are gaining more than the chance to wear a cap and gown.
They’re gaining hope.
“It has opened doors for him that we never thought were possible and he has options and it’s just wonderful, says Theresa Lambert.
Michael Lambert is not only one of the first to graduate.. he’s also the first to complete dual enrollment with Aquinas High School and I.C.C.S.
Graduation for both Michael and Zach is scheduled for June.