PAULETTE LASH RITCHIE
Hands-on learning. Smaller classes. Curiosity. All brought graduates to the Academy of Environmental Science.
CRYSTAL RIVER - The Academy of Environmental Science will present its graduating class to parents, friends and relatives at its graduation dinner and ceremony Saturday night at Citrus Hills Golf and Country Club.
Twenty-seven students have completed at least one semester of high school studies at the charter school designed for students interested in science-related careers. Some of the graduates have attended the academy at least one semester every year since their sophomore years.
At their recent awards night, dubbed the school's Academy Awards, many of the seniors shared their reasons for attending the small school and their plans now that they are leaving.
Sandra Horace, 18, was first attracted to the academy because, she said, "my best friend was going." She returned because she enjoyed it so much. She plans to work as a patient care assistant and become a registered nurse. She is the daughter of Harry and Ruth Horace.
Ryan Kirby, 18, went to the academy for better science classes and more hands-on experience. He plans to attend the University of Florida and go into pharmacy or biomedicine. Ryan is the son of Ken and Lynn Kirby.
Raymond Scott Jones, 18, said it "seemed like something that would fit my lifestyle." He plans to attend Central Florida Community College and is the son of John and Janet Jones.
Kevin O'Connell, 19, said he attended the school for "new experience, more options and (to) meet new people." He will be attending Valencia College in Orlando and is the son of Gary and Becky O'Connell.
Mechelle Todd, 18, said, "I figured it would be a good learning experience. Besides that, I like more challenging experiences and outdoor activities." She plans to attend college and study pharmacy technology. She is the daughter of George and Adrienne Todd.
Michael Driver, 17, says he was at the academy because of his interest in science, labs and smaller classes. He plans to attend the University of South Florida and is the son of Donna and Greg Johnson.
Alex Tran, 17, wanted to "learn about the environment." He plans to attend Santa Fe Community College and than transfer to the University of Florida. He is the son of Lynn and David Tran.
Daisy Lewis is homeschooled but attended the academy "because it seemed like a fun way to learn," she said. She plans to attend Sante Fe Community College and transfer to the University of West Florida to study marine biology. She is the daughter of Lori and Tommy Lewis.
Amy Losciale, 18, was at the academy "to expand my science courses and experience a unique learning environment." Amy plans to attend the University of Central Florida to study forensic science. She is the daughter of Gerry and Larry Losciale.
Alyssa Evagash, 18, attended the academy because "it is a different learning environment. The teachers really care about the students and their education." She plans to relocate to Louisiana and, after a year, attend college. She is the daughter of Charrington Morell and Joseph Evagash.
James Dill, 19, said, "I enjoy the familial atmosphere there. I also like the smaller classes and higher education. I plan to remain a cook while attending CFCC and after one year there, I plan to transfer to the University of Tampa and continue to play the tuba professionally." James is the son of Donald Wayne and Suzanne Katy Dill.
Gabrial Branson, 18, attended for "more interesting classrooms, better learning environment and hands-on learning." He plans to attend Brigham Young University to become an electronics engineer. Gabe is the son of Wanda Lee and Thomas Gordon Branson.
Kansas Alexander, 18, said she is interested in science and went to the academy for "a better high school experience." She will attend Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas, and is the daughter of Robert James and Joyce K. Alexander.
Heather Barfield, 17, said, "I like science" and the academy "looked like a school to learn a lot of different sciences. She plans to go to CFCC to work toward becoming a state park ranger or forest ranger. She is the daughter of Tracey Barfield-Duncan and James Duncan.
Christa Davis, 18, said, "I attended AES because I love science and the outdoors. This school was a perfect match for me." Christa plans to become a park ranger at the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. Christa is the granddaughter of Sandy and Jim Duggar.
Nicole Gasiorek, 18, attended the academy "to experience a whole new outlook on high school. It has been something that I have enjoyed tremendously." Nicole plans to study pharmaceuticals in college. She is the daughter of Judy Reed and David Gasiorek.
Laura Lee Ritchie, 18, said she went to the academy because "my mother had heard about it and thought it would benefit me, so I tried it." She plans to attend CFCC, then transfer to a university to study natural history and communications. She is the daughter of Paulette and Thomas Ritchie.
Maria Dapolito, 17, said, "I attended AES because I wanted more hands-on activity and I wanted the one-on-one teacher attention. I plan on going to the University of South Florida and majoring in nursing with a second major in Spanish." Maria is the daughter of Darlene Dapolito and Michael Paini.
Michael Spilios, 17, said, "I'm a visual learner. The academy provided me the opportunity to learn from hands-on experience. It also offered a unique change in scenery from the normal everyday." Michael will attend Florida State University to study marine biology. He is the son of Brenda and Ken Spilios.
Christy Hull, 18, attended the academy for "more learning opportunities." She plans to attend Santa Fe Community College and the University of Florida. She is the daughter of Jackie Tarantino.
Five other graduates of the academy are Krystin Langley, Andrew Shamblin, Autumn Siegel, Jamie Moore and Jason Bruns.IF YOU GO
The Academy of Environmental Science will hold its graduation at 7 p.m. Saturday at Citrus Hills Golf and Country Club. Dinner by invitation is at 6 p.m.