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In a class all by himself

The sole graduate of Five Oaks Learning Center recalls small groups and self-paced learning.

[Times photo: Fred Victorin]
Richard Esposita has enlisted in the Army. He wants to be a pilot.


Revised June 5, 2000

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 2, 2000

PINELLAS PARK -- To the strains of Pomp and Circumstance, family and friends craned necks to watch the procession of the Class of 2000.

Wearing a traditional blue cap and gown, a beaming Richard Esposita marched down the aisle Wednesday and took his place in the first row.

It was a proud moment for the class valedictorian.

In fact, Esposita also was the most popular kid in class, the most likely to succeed, and he had the best smile.

Esposita after all, is the graduating class.

In a season resplendent with platitudes, time-worn class songs and massive commencement exercises, Esposita is an anomaly, a throw-back to the old one-room schoolhouse.

He was the sole graduate this year at Five Oaks Learning Center.

"I'm going to miss everyone a lot," said Richard, who enlisted in the U.S. Army and will be stationed at Fort Lee in Virginia. He hopes to become a pilot and a career officer.

"I'll probably wish I was back here," he said.

Richard, while clearly in a class by himself, had plenty of schoolmates. The non-denominational Christian school, with grades one through 12, specializes in junior and senior high school education.

Esposita enrolled at its inception seven years ago. As one of the 25 students this year, he said he benefited from the small groups and the self-paced learning that took place in the school's single classroom.

"There's no real division between classes," said Janet Esposita, mother of the graduate. "Because it's small they've become friends, and Richard hasn't missed having a group of seniors to be with."

Dr. Kent Austin, school administrator and pastor of Live Oak Community Church, handed Richard his diploma in a ceremony in the sanctuary.

"This is the finishing of the task," Austin said. "Richard's worked hard to finish, and he's made it."

Said the graduate:

"I'm really glad to be done. But this place has been like a family to me."

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