Volunteer student struggles to graduate, citing impact of COVID

PALMETTO, Fla. (WFLA) — Shortly after Jasmine Alvarez took her state math test again on May 15, her guidance counselor called her.

“She called me and told me,” Alvarez recalled quietly. “And that was it.”

Alvarez was told she wouldn’t be allowed on stage with all of her friends at Thursday’s graduation ceremony. Instead, she saw all of her posts online.

“I think that was probably the worst part,” Alvarez said. “Seeing everyone out there graduating together. Yes, it was really bad.”

The Palmetto High School graduate has taken her state math test or substitute math test nearly 10 times. She said she was one point away from passing her ACT math test.

“That’s what’s stopping me. It’s holding me back,” Alvarez explained. “Because I don’t have my diploma yet.”

She uses this concordant score to substitute the score on her state math test. since the replacement obligations for the 2023 vintage were recently lifted.

“A test just holds me back while all else is good,” Alvarez said. “Everything else is done academically.”

While she wishes that not a single test would decide whether or not she gets a diploma, she is also the result of COVID training. When the pandemic struck, she was a freshman and was sent home.

“We made the best of it,” Alvarez recalled. “But it was really hard having to do everything online, get on the phone, get on the computer and send it to the teacher.”

The math skills she needed to pass the state exam were taught to her during lockdown. When COVID started, she didn’t have a computer either – she had to use one from school.

From 2021 to 2022, graduation rates declined across the Tampa Bay Area. according to the Florida Department of Education. In Manatee County, where Alvarez is enrolled, the rate went from 85 percent to 80 percent in a year. Some county officials said they expect even bigger falls for the 2023 vintage, though those numbers won’t be available for some time.

“It’s hard to watch,” said Genevieve Muniz. “I want her to be successful. And that seems to be the only thing holding her back.”

Muniz is Alvarez’ older cousin.

“It’s a shame that it always comes down to her just missing out,” Muniz said. “And that she has to keep taking it and taking it, it’s not that she’s not trying.”

Muniz also had to struggle with state exams during her school days and had to repeat the exams several times.

“It’s sad because we wanted to celebrate while everyone else was celebrating,” Muniz said. “I just wanted that for her.”

Alvarez wants to attend Sarasota Technical College and start her career as a cosmetologist. She has hired a tutor and plans to take the ACT math test again in June, hoping to get her diploma in time for Palmetto’s smaller summer graduation in July.

“I’m so nervous,” Alvarez said. “But hopefully that’s it.”

Alvarez has plans for her future that require a diploma — including releasing this graduation photo.

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