MIDLOTHIAN — For five Midlothian seniors, three from Midlothian High and two from Midlothian Heritage, graduation day could not come soon enough — so they expedited the process. In fact, the students crammed an entire senior year of high school into three short months.

Angela Conner, Samantha Honaker, Trevor Larsen, Chaz Richie and Kelsey Sargent accepted their diplomas and moved their tassels in front of family, friends, faculty and staff Monday night inside the Midlothian ISD Board Room. The ceremony marked the first graduating class of MISD’s newly installed LEAP Academy, a “non-traditional option” to obtain a legitimate high school diploma — not a GED.

Not only is a “leap” often faith-based or a name for a group of large game cats, such as panthers and jaguars, but it is also a program headed by Dallas Horne that stands as an acronym for Leadership, Excellence, Academics and Perseverance.

Horne, who is in his first year as MISD’s Alternative Education Program (AEP) coordinator, was brought in to develop the first-year program focused on credit recovery and advancement.

According to Horne, the five graduates have never been in disciplinary trouble with the district, so the alternative route to graduation is not to be confused with an alternative school placement. He explained that just as each student donned their respective school’s colors and received a diploma with one of the two insignias, each graduate carries his or her own story as to why the traditional high school path did not align with the course being chartered through life toward adulthood.

“We are definitely proud that they took a chance on LEAP Academy because it was a risk for them, as well,” Horne said. “But, with just a little bit of hard work, anything is possible, even finishing their senior year that fast. We are very proud of them.

“[…] The MISD Board of Trustees, as well as Dr. Lane Ledbetter, and just all of MISD central office and the two high schools at some level have all had an impact on what we have been able to create with LEAP Academy.”

The successes of the first five graduates has the staff at LEAP Academy excited for its next class, which is expected to “walk the stage” sometime in May or June, according to Horne.

And, while neither the first or the second or possibly even the third or fourth classes will have the opportunity, the recently passed MISD Bond has plans to repurpose an existing MISD school to make room for LEAP’s expected growth. The academy is currently operation out of the rear of the MISD Administration Building.

“We have students who are working on courses right now, so we will have another LEAP Academy graduation at the end of the [school] year,” Horne said. “We should have maybe another five, or maybe more, students that will be able to finish their courses for graduation.”

It should also be noted that, because she walked first, Samantha Honaker became the first graduate in the history of Midlothian Heritage High School, with Chaz Richie a close second.

“Now it is my honor, that I present these LEAP Academy students as candidates for graduation,” said Horne as he concluded the commencement ceremony. “Each student has fulfilled all academic requirements as set forth by the Texas Department of Education and Midlothian Independent School District.”

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Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith

(469) 517-1470