EVANS, Ga. (WJBF) –  SOAR Academy in Evans, a school for neurodivergent and underserved students, received a $500,000 award from the Yass Prize organization – and they beat out some serious competition.

Out of 2,700 applicants, SOAR Academy was one of the nine schools across the nation selected for the award.

“We fund private schools, traditional public schools, charter schools, micro-schools,” said Caroline Allen, the Vice President of the Yass Prize Foundation. “But, what stood out to us for SOAR was really their ability to give an amazing, individualized option for families who really need it.”

The school gives this individualized education to students with autism, ADHD, dyslexia and other learning disabilities.

“Our model is to catch those kids up that are falling between the cracks,” said Kenisha Skaggs, the founder of SOAR Academy. “We’re after the kids that no one wants, and they come here and they’ve got these resumes that are just terrible. Behavioral, defiance, anxiety in class, shuts-down. And you come here and it’s a smaller environment, multi-sensory, flexible schedule – and they’re soaring. All of that goes away.”

Skaggs is proud of their success stories – especially when it comes to reading levels.

“Tiana is here – she started just last year. She’s not an adult yet, but she was at the first grade level in tenth grade. And now she’s just about on grade level,” she said. “So, if she had stayed in the traditional school, there are no options for her post-graduation. But now she has options to succeed.”

With the money, they plan to purchase land to expand the school in the next few years. They also plan on having enough space for more students to enroll by fall.

“We need a SOAR in every community,” Caroline Allen said. “Every community has students who learn differently. And it’s not a competition between different schools – we believe in collaboratively working with other schools, and allowing families to pick the best environment for their own kid.”

Skaggs hopes to one day expand SOAR Academy nationwide.

The deadline to apply for the 2023 Yass Prize is July 15th.