Pathways Magazine - Winter 2022 Edition

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Acceleration Academies

Winter | 2022

17 Locations in Seven

States Across the U.S.


» Escambia County

• Pensacola

» Lee County

• Fort Myers

» Marion County

• Ocala

» Miami-Dade County

• Homestead

• Miami

» St. Lucie County

• Port St. Lucie

• Fort Pierce

» Sarasota County

• North Port

• Sarasota


» Gwinnett County

• Duluth


» Wichita


» Clark County

• North Las Vegas

• East Las Vegas

• Southeast Las Vegas


» North Charleston


» Ector County

• Odessa


» Bethel School District

• Spanaway

Offering a flexible, personalized

path to success in high school

and beyond.

You can graduate.

We can help.

network by the numbers

Our Graduation Candidates come from all backgrounds and

experiences. They include learners who struggle in a traditional school

setting, need additional one-on-one support or work jobs that don’t fit with

a typical school schedule. Some are young parents; new Americans learning

English; or students who faced bullying, racism or social anxiety in larger

schools. Some are managing medical conditions; others want to accelerate

their studies, graduate early and move on to college, trade school, the

military or professional sports careers. Whatever your circumstances,

Acceleration Academies is here to help you #OwnYourSuccess.















SINCE 2014




A Flexible Education Experience

Meeting the Needs of Today’s


In Wichita, Best Friends, Young

Moms Thrive



Gwinnett County Director

Seeks to Change Trajectories

Lowcountry Guest Speakers

Offer Real-World Lessons in

Career Success


Ector County GC Finds the Recipe

for His Future


Friends Find Fuel for Their

Dreams in Miami





Hour of Code Introduces Learners

to Exciting and Growing Field

Marion County Artist Finds

Encouragement and Support

Escambia County Director Helps

GCs Make Better Choices

St. Lucie Graduation Candidate

Advocate Uses Data to Inspire






Siblings Find Success in


Bethel GC Coming Out And

Into Their Own

A Big Year In The News

Class Notes: News from All



© December 2022


Lisa Meckley


Jeffrey Good

Hali Schaefer


Sarah Campbell

Jeffrey Good

Patrick Gray

Drew Perine

Andrew Whittaker

Acceleration Academies: A Flexible Education Experience Meeting

the Needs of Today’s Families

According to the Choose To Learn 2022 report recently

released by Tyton Partners, “Parents prioritize

their child’s happiness over any other outcome.

What this tells us is striking: While parents have

several expectations for their child’s education, ultimately

its impact on their child’s emotional state —

their happiness — is what matters most.”

We couldn’t agree more.

According to the post-pandemic report, parents

highly value education programs that provide personalized

academic support. At Acceleration Academies,

each Graduation Candidate (GC) — that’s

what we call our students

to remind them of their

goal — receives a learning

plan that is tailored to their

unique needs and schedule.

Personalized Learning

Plans (PLPs) are established

during orientation and are

regularly updated throughout

the GC’s lifecycle at Acceleration

Academies. The

constant re-evaluation and

updating of PLPs keeps

students in control of their

unique timeline for graduation.

One of the top program

features valued by parents

is “flexibility for my child.” Scheduling and environmental

flexibility is a foundation of our program. Our

blended learning model utilizes in-person support

and a web-based curriculum. While there are minimum

requirements for instruction and learning on

site at each academy, students are also able to complete

coursework around their schedule and life circumstances,

and at their own pace.

Unlike many 100% virtual models, at Acceleration

Academies, our experienced educators and counselors

are on site to work one-on-one with GCs from

the moment they walk through the door. They’re

also available when a GC isn’t in the building but

has questions or needs assistance as they complete

coursework remotely.

To ensure that our Graduation Candidates are successful

after receiving their high school diploma —

another flexible education program feature valued

by parents, according to the Tyton Partners report —

our on-site career counselors help each GC prepare

for their next steps after graduation by providing access

to certification and community programs, and

helping GCs navigate postsecondary opportunities

and funding such as applying for student aid, joining

the military, applying

for free career programs,

and more.

to students and families.

While many families

are interested in exploring

flexible, alternative


experiences for their

K-12 students, access

and affordability are

often barriers. At Acceleration


though, we work in

partnership with public

school districts to

provide a flexible and

personalized learning

environment at no cost

While this is in no way an exhaustive list of how Acceleration

Academies supports learners with a flexible

path to a high school diploma, the values we

note are what set us apart and make us a leading

provider of flexible education nationwide. And as

we continue to partner with a growing number of

school districts, we are excited to offer our unique

program to more families seeking a flexible education

in which their students not only thrive academically

but also emotionally.

6 Pathways | Winter 2022

Best Friends, Young Moms Thrive

with Tenacious Advocates and Dedicated Content Coaches


For best friends Magalie Salas

and Celeste Medina, high school

had never been a comfortable fit.

Volatile social dynamics, a need

for more personal attention from

teachers, and the isolation of the

Covid pandemic created a miserable


Add in teen motherhood and these

young women wondered if they

were ever going to become high

school graduates.

“I’ve been to four different schools.

I started hanging out with the

wrong crowd so I started skipping

a lot,” says Celeste, 17. She tried

an alternative program but hated

only being able to come to campus

on certain days and decided to drop


ble, personalized path through high

school — and invited her to bring

her baby daughter, Camila, with

her to campus.

“They told us you can bring the

baby,” she says. “I like that I can

bring her and I can do my schoolwork

and the teachers will help


Her friend echoes that appreciation.

“There’s no other school

like this one that helps,

especially when you don’t

have a babysitter,”

says Magalie, whose son Gael

recently turned one.

One recent morning, these young

parents and their babies joined others

in a room at the school dubbed

“the nursery,” and plugged away at

“I never enjoyed

school before, but

now I actually like it.”

Then she saw a post on Facebook

about the new Wichita Acceleration

Academies, which offered a flexitheir

coursework surrounded by other

young parents, children and an unfailingly

enthusiastic crew of educators.

To name just two examples: when she

was struggling with algebra, Celeste

said math and science content coach

Troy Criss worked patiently with her

to break the problems down into manageable

parts and helped her fit them

together. When she felt exhausted by

her responsibilities as a graduation

candidate and a new mom, Magalie

said that her graduation candidate

advocate provided caring-but-firm


“They don’t let us give up,” says Celeste.

“They tell you every day you’re

going to graduate. And if you don’t

go to school, they’re blowing up your


“I never enjoyed school before but

now I actually like it.”

Pathways | Winter 2022 7


Marco Salazar Finds

the Recipe for His Future

Many high schoolers work low-wage jobs or none at

all. They make plans for building careers after getting

their diplomas, often with help from college, trade

school or military training. When they describe their

adult selves, it’s in the future tense. Not Marco Salazar.

At 17, the Ector Acceleration Academies

learner has joined his older brother Raul to

build a gourmet catering business in West

Texas. The enterprise, Ratengo, features their

unique blend of Mexican, Asian and French

cuisines — and is so successful that they were

recently featured on a CBS news program.

Marco couldn’t pursue his career and his dream

without the flexible, personalized education offered at

Acceleration Academies of Ector County (EAA).

“I just didn’t have time to do full-time school

and full-time work,” says Marco. “It made it

a lot easier for me to actually do school and

graduate instead of missing a bunch of days.”

Marco hasn’t lived a charmed life. Far from it: He

and his brother grew up in a struggling family and

community, and Marco saw many friends cycle in and

out of jail. His brother urged him toward something

better — starting with a high school diploma.

“He doesn’t want me to end up like how some

of my friends are,” says Marco. “Graduating

high school is a big thing for him.”

“Man, to work with my brother, who, when I say we

come from humble beginnings, I mean we come from

very humble beginnings… it’s an absolute blessing”

Marco and his brother were recently

featured on a CBS news program.

Raul told CBS. Marco added, “Now I see a career

path. I see goals in life. I see being successful in the

future. I’m excited for that, that excites me.”

It wasn’t always a big thing for Marco. After

their business took off earlier this year, he

grappled with whether to continue his

education at a school with a traditional

schedule. “I already found what I loved, and I

was like, I don’t want to do school any more.

I was ready to just drop out — but then I

found this program.”

EAA allows the young chef to organize his

coursework around his other obligations. Sometimes

he and his brother will serve at a tuxedo dinner

party late into the night, and then he’ll work on a

math or English class in the wee hours. Other times,

Marco will come to the academy site located at the

Prosperity Bank building and take advantage of the

one-on-one coaching provided by caring teachers,

counselors and advocates.

“Everyone just kind of gives you that home

feel; everyone’s here for you,” Marco says of

EAA educators. “It’s not just like, oh, you’re

just the student. They know you by name

— they come with a real personal approach

and it makes you more motivated to actually

do your schoolwork and get graduated.”

Marco and his brother began their business by

selling their original Mexican sushi and have seen it

grow explosively in 2022. After earning his diploma,

Marco plans to continue working with his brother,

and to pursue a post-secondary education that will

support his dream of traveling internationally and

blending native cuisines into an original, delicious


“If it weren’t for Acceleration Academies,” he

says, “I probably would have dropped out.”

“They come with

a real personal

approach and it

makes you more

motivated to

actually do your

schoolwork and

get graduated.”

“Hour of Code” Introduces Learners to

Exciting and Growing Field

An $80,000-plus annual salary, a career turning

creative ideas into video games and data visualizations,

even a Bronze Star in the U.S. Army

— all these and much more can come your way

if you learn skills in the expanding world of

computer coding.

That’s the message graduation candidates at

Acceleration Academies across the nation heard

recently as educators invited them to participate

in the Hour of Code event during National Computer

Science Education Week.

“I never would have thought that I would be an

IT person, but for me it changed my life,” said

Brandy Gordon, the career and life coach at Wichita

Acceleration Academies.

Gordon spent 13 years in the U.S. Army, entering

as a skilled vehicle mechanic but recruited to join

the satellite communications team helping coordinate

battles in Afghanistan and other war zones.

She told the GCs, “We literally had lines where

the president was talking to the generals, so having

those lines operating was critical.”

Gordon learned so much about coding and other

technology that she was able to overhaul a troubled

system at a key point in the conflict, earning

her a Bronze Star for service.

10 Pathways | Winter 2022

WAA social studies coach Kevin Farlow served 24 years

in the Army, as an infantry sergeant in hot spots including

Iraq. Farlow told Wichita learners that he had made

a “bad choice” in dropping out of high school during

his senior year. But after enlisting in the Army, Farlow

was able to study computer science at the college level.

He put those lessons in coding and other skills to work

maintaining networks that, among other things, pinpointed

the launch sites of enemy missiles.

“I just fell in love with

coding,” Farlow says.

“You’re taking an idea

and making something

from it. It can be a game,

it can be a tool, it can be

a business app. If you

can think of it, you can

code it.”

“Why should I learn how

to code?” Farlow asked

the GCs. Well, for one thing, you can make $80,000,

$100,000, $130,000 or more a year in a rapidly growing

field. “This is why coding can change your life.”

While college study is the most thorough preparation,

Farlow said that shorter-term programs can equip coders

with the knowledge needed to become an expert in one

computer language or another.

“You do not need a college degree. You just need to be

proficient in your language,” he said.


At Acceleration Academies

across the country, coaches and

learners engaged in a variety of

fun and educational activities

during National Computer

Science Education Week.

In Wichita, KS, the coaches invited GCs to

create a simple video game, using code to create

graphics, engage targets, keep score and introduce

sounds. At Lowcountry Acceleration Academy in

Charleston, SC, learners used coding to create

their very own dance routine. In Miami, FL, they

tried their hand at Desmos graph and programming.

In Bethel, WA, they had fun weaving coding

into games. In Escambia County, FL, they

learned that coding is a path

available to everyone, not

just computer geeks. And

in Clark County, NV, they

learned coding basics including

the algorithms now

at the heart of everything

from Instagram to Google to


The Hour of Code activities

are the latest example of an

increasing emphasis on career and technical education

(CTE) at Acceleration Academies, ways to

help learners explore college and career pathways.

“By applying the learning in the Hour of Code

event, you start to see the possibility of doing that

in your career pathway,” said Monique Anair,

model fidelity coach for CTE across the network.

“It’s a skill set that is cool now,” Anair said. And

it’s also practical. “Almost every pathway right

now requires some understanding of coding.”

Pathways | Winter 2022 11

Mako Velez:

‘I Feel Much Better Here

Than At Any Other School’

Mako Velez is a strong student from

a family that values education. Until

she found Marion County Acceleration

Academies, though, she had begun to

wonder if a high school diploma was

within her grasp.

“Education is really important in my

family,” says Mako, who is the youngest

of three children born to Mexican

immigrants. “My parents moved here

for a better life. They want to see us

succeed. And to them, education is the

first step in succeeding in life.”

Like her siblings, Mako had been a

student in the rigorous International

Baccalaureate program during the first

part of high school. But she found the

structure of traditional school — arriving

early in the morning, juggling multiple

courses, and navigating classrooms where

teachers lacked the time to provide oneon-one

support — discouraging. “You

were just like a number.”

As a visual artist who likes to dress with

flair, she also found the social dynamic

to be suffocating. From her classmates,

“I felt an extreme sense of judgment.

There’s no room for style or selfexpression

without feeling weird. I think

it’s okay to be weird.”

During her sophomore year, those

frustrations combined with medical

issues to prompt her to drop out. She tried

virtual school for a time, but found she

had a hard time focusing while studying

at home. “There wasn’t anybody to keep

me on track.”

In her artwork, graduation candidate Mako Velez

including watercolors. Above, Mako used her i

Her older brother and sister had gone on to

college, but Mako feared she wouldn’t even

make it through high school.

“I was like, ‘I’m done with school. I’m just

going to get a GED.’ ”

Then an enrollment counselor from

Acceleration Academies called to tell her about

a new school opening in Marion County, FL,

that offered a flexible, personalized path to a


From the time she started in August, she knew

she had come to the right place — a school like

none other she had known.

The differences began with the physical

environment. Rather than bustling

hallways and classrooms crowded with

desks and classmates, her new school

offered a wide-open learning space with

big windows, comfortable seating, and

an ample supply of snacks.

12 Pathways | Winter 2022


thing, it makes it much easier than six other


After earning her diploma, Mako hopes to go

on to apprenticeships and further studies that

will help her build on her strong drawing skills

to become a tattoo artist, graphic designer or

other creative professional.

Academy Director Wayne Livingston says

Mako has been a wonderful addition to the

MCAA community. “She’s just a very positive

spirit. She’s making great progress here.”

Mako returns the praise for Livingston and

his team. “I feel much better here than at any

other school.”

incorporates both digital and traditional media

Pad to create this image of her classmates.

“School always felt like a cage,” she

says. At MCAA, “it feels spacious. I

love it.”

Even more important, the educators

— who are called coaches — offer

guidance whenever she needs it. For

example, she said that ELA coach

Annette Maldonado-Garcia regularly

checks in to offer encouragement and

academic support.

“She cares about me,” says Mako. “My

old teachers, they didn’t care about

me like that.”

Mako also likes MCAA’s flexible

scheduling, which allows her to get a

good night’s sleep before coming in

mid-morning to start her school day.

Also helpful is the ability for graduation

candidates to take one course at a time,

demonstrating mastery before moving

on to the next. “If I can focus on one

After earning her diploma,

Mako plans to go on to

apprenticeships and

further studies that will

help her build on her

strong drawing skills to

become a tattoo artist,

graphic designer or other

creative professional.


ECAA Director Mathew Taylor:

‘I Want to Help Kids Make

Better Choices’

The new director of Escambia County Acceleration Academies

is a career educator. But that doesn’t mean he’s always

been keen on education.

During middle school and into high school, Mathew Taylor

acknowledges, he often didn’t show up for class — or

for his learning. A hotshot basketball and baseball player

during middle school, he figured he would glide through

high school and into the pros.

Unfortunately, administrators and teachers allowed him

to coast through his classes without engaging. “That’s

where they were failing me, they weren’t preparing me

for the future,” he says.

By the time he reached junior year, Taylor had given up

his pro dreams and realized he didn’t know what the terms

“noun, verb, adjective and adverb” meant. A caring English

teacher told him, “Hey, you’ve got to do better.”

What is a GCA?

At Acceleration Academies, students

are called “graduation candidates” to

remind them of why they’re working so

hard. Nobody works harder to support

them than their Graduation Candidate

Advocates (GCAs), who help and encourage

them stay on track with their

studies and overcome personal barriers

to success.

“That challenged me — and I realized she was right.”

Inspired by his teacher’s high standards, Taylor tapped

into his potential and began putting in the effort to

excel. He went on to college, initially majored in accounting,

but then realized he wanted to follow in the

footsteps of his parents — both veteran public school

educators in Escambia County — and teach.

After working as a 5th grade teacher, technology coordinator

and assistant principal in traditional public

schools, Taylor says he jumped at the chance to lead

Escambia County Acceleration Academies as it enters

its second year of operation.

“I want to help kids make better choices,” much as that

English teacher did for him, he says. “Acceleration

Academies has given me the opportunity to do that.”

Some graduation candidates “are going to be the first

ones to graduate high school in their families. They

might be the first ones to attend college,” he says. In

one of Florida’s most economically struggling school

districts, that can make a huge difference.

“When these kids have that diploma and can get better

jobs, they are going to be better able to support their

families — and contribute to the community.”

14 Pathways | Winter 2022

SLAA’s Coralynn Long Uses

Data to Inspire Learners


Coralynn Long loves education, data and the way the human brain

operates. At St. Lucie Acceleration Academies, she’s found a way to

blend all three.

“My data drives conversations, and my conversations drive the data,”

says Long, a graduation candidate advocate. After taking stock of the

progress a GC is making in a course, she helps them set specific goals,

saying, “If you can do that, you can finish this course in this amount of

time. I try to make it very concrete for them.”

Long brings not only passion to the job, but also expertise. She holds

two master’s degrees - one in developmental neuroscience and

another in educational psychology - and is pursuing yet another

master’s in school counseling. She has also nearly completed her

doctorate degree. Her goal: To use those insights to help graduation

candidates realize their goals. “My goal is to get them to graduate.”


GCAA Director Brings Long Experience, Big Ambitions

After 29 years working in Gwinnett County Public Schools, Clent Chatham decided to enjoy his retirement.

For a minute.

Shortly after wrapping up his career, Chatham heard about a new

school opening in his birthplace of Duluth, Georgia. Gwinnett County

Acceleration Academies was looking for someone to lead a program

that offers young people a chance to pursue their diplomas in a school

with flexible hours and a rigorous-but-personalized curriculum.

“We’re talking about kids who for whatever reason dropped out,” says

Chatham. “They’d gotten off track – and off track in a way that can ruin

the rest of their lives.”

Chatham couldn’t resist the opportunity. Today, he leads a powerhouse

team of educators. “You’ve got people doing this because they want to

help these kids.”

Chatham, 52, is a product of Gwinnett County Public Schools and

the first in his family to go to college. Inspired by a fun and creative high school math instructor known as

Coach K, Chatham decided on a career in education. After 11 years in the classroom, Chatham moved into

leadership roles, most recently as principal for a middle school with 2,400 students.

GCAA is considerably smaller, and no learner slips through the cracks. “We can have a huge impact not only

on individuals but also on the county,” he says, noting that high school grads are significantly less likely to

end up on public support or, in the worst cases, in prison. “You can completely change that trajectory once

they get back in school.”

Pathways | Winter 2022 15


Real-World Lessons

in Career Success

Each Wednesday morning at Lowcountry

Acceleration Academy, successful professionals visit

to tell graduation candidates about their journeys —

and inspire the learners to plan their own.

At one Working/Wellness

Wednesday, the featured speaker

was Mike Warren, a Charleston

native and founder of Kreative

Jooce Art & Design. “When you

hear graphic design, what comes

to mind?” Warren asked the group

of GCs gathered around him.

They ticked off items ranging from

posters to t-shirts to websites.

Warren asked one to lend her

plastic Starbucks drink cup to

point out the holiday cup design.

“Graphic design is not just an island

onto itself. It’s all around.”

From a young age, Warren said he

had been passionate about making

art. Making a living at graphic

design involves not just technical

and business skills, but the ability to

listen to a client’s vision and turn it

into a design. Starbucks, for instance,

wanted a design that would convey

holiday spirit and, presumably,

prompt customers to buy the drinks.

“I have to take what’s in your mind and

paint a picture,” he told the GCs. “It’s

being able to sit with people and listen

to what their needs and wants are —

and make that happen.”

Warren said it’s important to learn

design skills, but that it needn’t take

years to get a start. He got a 4-year

bachelor’s degree, while others opt for

a 2-year associate’s degree or a shorter,

more specialized training program.

Working/Wellness Wednesdays is the brainchild of LAA career

coach Aisha Montgomery, and another example of Acceleration

Academies’ growing emphasis on career and technical

education (CTE).

Launched in August, the weekly program was designed to

introduce graduation candidates to successful professionals in

careers GCs might want to explore.

The presenters who have shared their insights included pastry chef Christiana Fields, merchant mariner

Curtis Pinckney; realtor Ankara Grant; entrepreneur Courtney Shaw-Scipio; trucking company CEO

Tristen Mustapher Simmons; cosmetology expert Sharmin Washington, and digital strategist LaCrystal


The successful professionals encouraged the young people to dream big. Truck industry veteran Tristen

Mustapher Simmons, for instance, left them with a journal and told them to write down their plans no

matter how outlandish they might seem. Cosmetology expert Sharmin Washington advised them to

embrace changes, even unexpected ones, because they open the door to new opportunities.

They also provided practical advice rooted in real-world experience. Digital strategist LaCrystal

Robinson told them to explore careers in science, math and technology (STEM) because demand is

high, especially for women. And like her fellow presenters, entrepreneur Courtney Shaw-Scipio said big

dreams require hard work. Put in your best effort and success will follow — in school, at work and in life.

16 Pathways | Winter 2022

Tim Friday & Anaya Garnes:

Friends Find Fuel for Their Dreams at MDAA

“He’s very motivating,

always positive. He

gives me the energy

to keep going.”


After facing bullying in elementary and middle school, Anaya Garnes decided she was going to map her

own way through high school. During the Covid pandemic, she shifted to an online program but found that

working alone too often meant feeling abandoned by her teachers. “If I could email them, call them, text them,

it would take them ages to reply,” she recalls. “No one would help me.”

Then her friend Tim Friday told her about Miami-Dade Acceleration Academies, where he had found the

guidance and inspiration he needed. “Everybody cares about the students here, and the students here care

about the staff,” says Tim. “Some people don’t get that kind of love in their own household.”

Anaya decided to join her friend at MDAA. And in January, both plan to walk across the stage and receive

the high school diplomas they’ve worked hard to earn.

Tim is a talented and charismatic young man, a musician whose first original song — First and Foremost,

about the need to set priorities — got more than a million listens online. But for too long, he acknowledges,

education wasn’t his first priority. “It took 3 years of going through what I was going through to come to the

realization that I needed high school,” says Tim.

At MDAA, he found a team dedicated to encouraging him to become the best possible version of himself,

citing in particular graduation candidate advocate Erick Velis. “He’s very motivating, always positive,” says Tim.

“He gives me the energy to keep going.”

Anaya found similar support. Among those who’ve made a difference is math coach Eliane Hernandez, who

helped her work through the challenges of advanced algebra. “She takes the time to slow down and explain

the problem.”

After graduating, Anaya would like to go to beauty school and eventually start her own salon. For his part,

Tim would like to not only pursue his musical interests but train to be a boat mechanic and eventually create

business enterprises. “One of my biggest things is giving back to others. If I can help somebody out spiritually,

mentally, helping them find a job, I want to do that.”

- Tim, referring to his

GCA Erick Velis

Pathways | Winter 2022 17


Siblings Find Success in Sarasota

When Lilly Fotheringham got pregnant during her

junior year at her old school, she despaired that she

wouldn’t have the time to fit her high school studies

in with her responsibilities as a new mom. She tried

virtual school for a while, but that didn’t work either.

Then a friend of hers who was studying at Sarasota

Acceleration Academies suggested she check

out the non-traditional school and its flexible,

personalized approach to high school. Lilly took her

friend’s advice, loved what she found, and is now a

grad looking back with gratitude.

“Once I came here I was hopeful, and it all went

better,” she says. “And now I’m in college!”

Lilly’s younger brother, Aiden Sonner, also needed

a different path. At his old school, he felt lost in the

crowd and unable to engage fully in his studies.

“Waking up at 6 a.m. every morning, sitting in a

room with a bunch of people who don’t want to

learn … it just doesn’t work,” says Aidan. At SAA, he

found educators who tailor a learning plan to each

graduation candidate’s strengths and challenges.

“It’s easier to focus on my work and do it at my own


Both Aidan and his sister say they like the

Acceleration Academies’ approach of taking one

class at a time and receiving one-on-one coaching

from caring educators and advocates. “They don’t

act like normal teachers,” says Lilly. “They definitely


The siblings both singled out graduation candidate

advocate Frank Cruz for not only encouraging their

academic progress, but also helping them sort

through the kinds of life issues that can get in the

way. Says Lilly, “He was always there to give good

advice — and not just about school.”

Lilly works at Walmart, a company that will pay

her college tuition as long as she keeps up good

grades. She’d like to earn a bachelor’s and then a

master’s degree and build a career in health care,

focused particularly on care of the elderly. “There’s

a lot of people in health care who don’t really care. I

want to be one of the ones who do care.”

For his part, Aidan plans to join the Army and learn

underwater welding. But he knew that he’d need a

diploma rather than a GED to enlist. “I wouldn’t be

able to get into the military with that GED.”

18 Pathways | Winter 2022


Jaden Bell:

Coming Out and Into Their Own

While Jaden Bell spent the first decade of childhood

being raised as a girl, Jaden says, “I just felt that wasn’t


Rather than wearing dresses, Jaden pulled on pants. Instead

of frilly blouses, Jaden donned t-shirts. The term

at the time was “tomboy,” but at age 11 or 12, Jaden

began learning about the lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender

and queer (LBGTQ)

community and thought, “Oh,

that sounds like me.”

When Jaden (who uses they/

them pronouns) was 13, they

walked into the living room and

shared their realization. Shortly

after that, they dropped their

birth name, Kaili, and adopted

their gender-neutral middle

name, Jaden.

Jaden’s parents had a mixed reaction,

with dad more comfortable

with the news than mom.

Heading into high school, Jaden

found a similar range of reactions — and even some

hostility from classmates.

“There was so much drama. A lot of different people

were harmful,” Jaden recalls. “I didn’t feel safe in


In February 2021, during their junior year, Jaden transferred

to Bethel Acceleration Academies. There, the educators

welcomed Jaden exactly as they are. To Jaden’s

relief, so did classmates, many of whom had faced poisonous

social pressures in their former high schools.

“It’s been so much better. The coaches here are a lot

more helpful, a lot more accepting. I feel much safer

here than I did,” says Jaden. And the students — called

“graduation candidates” to remind them of their goals —

are “definitely much different. I wasn’t used to such an

accepting community… It’s easy to make friends here.”

It’s not just the social dynamic that has improved, Jaden

says. While they had fallen behind

academically, Jaden has

picked up momentum at BAA.

One important factor is the way

BAA’s academic, life coaches and

GC advocates have made it easy

for Jaden to ask for help.

At their old school, Jaden says,

“I thought ‘I have to do it myself,

I can’t ask for help,’ I knew it

was their job to help me, but my

brain was like, ‘You’re bothering

them.’ ” In the quieter, more personalized

learning environment

of BAA, Jaden felt that tension

melt away. They credit BAA educators,

particularly coaches Stacy Nikolaisen and Kevin


“He’s very helpful in getting you back on track. He’ll

give you an explanation you can understand,” Jaden says

of Torres, who also serves as assistant academy director.

“Ms. Stacy has also been very helpful. Her energy kind

of bounces off of you.”

After earning their diploma, Jaden plans to move to

Michigan and study nursing. They can’t say enough

good things about the safe haven provided at Bethel

Acceleration Academies. “It’s very validating to know

you’re not alone.”

Did you know...

Acceleration Academies is a tuitionfree,

nationally accredited program!

Pathways | Winter 2022 19


A Big Year for

Acceleration Academies

in the News

The innovative approach to public high school

offered by Acceleration Academies made a big

splash in national and local media this year.


In August, Las Vegas television stations

flocked to the ribbon-cutting ceremony

for the third campus of Clark County

Acceleration Academies. CCAA now serves

more than 1,000 high schoolers who needed

a flexible alternative to traditional high


Clark County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jesus

Jara addressed the audience to say that his district’s

partnership with Acceleration Academies offers

a vital option for students who have struggled in

traditional settings. While he enjoyed his high

school experience while growing up in Miami, for

example, his brother graduated late “because maybe

he didn’t have the right schedule, didn’t have the

right teacher.”

“What that tells me is that we, as a school system,

have to meet our kids where they are,” said Dr. Jara.

“And this is what we’re doing here. And we can’t

do it alone. All of you who are working, are helping

mentoring, supporting our children, thank you.”

20 Pathways | Winter 2022


In Odessa, Texas, Acceleration Academies

of Ector County has also drawn extensive

media attention. “The Ector County

Independent School District has partnered

up with the Acceleration Academy to

help out high school students get their

diplomas,” reported NewsWest9 TV.

“Many of these students were dealing with family and personal

problems, which led to them dropping out. The program does not

only help these kids get their diplomas, but also allows them to

get the one-on-one help they need to succeed.”

The station interviewed one of the program’s early graduates,

Mariah Arriaga. "My experience here overall was really excellent

like they helped me graduate of course, and obviously it’s not in

a hall full of students where I get anxiety. It really helped me a lot

to get to where I am now. My next step in life is to go to college. I

have always wanted to be a nurse ever since I was little."


In late summer, an Education Week special report

on re-engaging students who dropped out during

the Covid pandemic put a spotlight on the flexible,

personalized option offered by the rapidly growing

network of Acceleration Academies across the

nation — and featured interviews with passionate

educators and re-engaged graduation candidates

in Nevada, South Carolina and Florida.

“Across the country, more districts are opening or

expanding dropout-recovery programs — via district

alternative schools, charters and contracted services — and

the educators in these programs say they must provide

more hands-on care than before the pandemic for students

disenchanted with online remote learning,” Education

Week editor and reporter Sarah D. Sparks wrote in a

package of articles carrying the headline Dropouts Now

Face a Steeper Climb to Earn a Diploma Post-Pandemic.

Pathways | Winter 2022 21

class notes

Bethel, WA

In August, 17 BAA graduation candidates

joined students from other schools, the School

Board, families and friends to celebrate earning

their diplomas. Our very own Ariana Quituga

was selected to lead all the grads through the

turning of the tassel, and Faith Goulding-Booth

was able to have her 4-year-old son accept her

diploma with her. “I didn’t do this alone — he

was with me every step of the way,” she said.

November brought our biggest-ever group of

grads — 35. — Alison Roseboro, Director

Ector County, TX

At our grand opening ceremony in August, recent

grad Mariah Arriaga told the audience and

local news reporters that she had gotten her high

school career back on track with help from the

academy’s coaches, counselors and mentors.

Our GCs require so much more than academic

content; this fall, EAA educators delivered 20

boxes of food to families, most donated by a

local church. We also partnered with our local

Food Bank to become a West Texas Food Bank

distribution site. — Virginia Hunt, Director

Miami-Dade, FL

What an amazing time we had at our recent

Graduation College & Career Fair event, attended

by more than 50 GCs who heard from

representatives of colleges, military, and employers.

One newly minted alum exemplifies

the opportunity young people find with us.

Gemima Barreauny took advantage of MDAA’s

flexible approach to finish her coursework

ahead of pace. When Gemima encountered

additional personal challenges, she refused to

allow it to change her demeanor and work ethic,

and found strength in the guidance of graduation

candidate advocate Nadiuski Sambrana

and the MDAA team.

— Marcus Moore, Director

Sarasota, FL

Gratitude is a two-way street in Sarasota. We

are grateful for the GCs who decide to reengage

in their education regardless of the obstacles

they face. In August, SAA educators gathered

at Suncoast Technical College to celebrate

the graduation of 16 hard-working learners,

and we look forward to honoring at least eight

more grads in February. Theirs is not an easy

road, but our GCs are far from alone. Families,

friends, district and SAA educators fill our

commencement ceremonies; hearing their uplifting

stories reminds us of how lucky we are

to help these young people own their success.

— Michelle Llinas, Director

Lowcountry, SC

LAA launched a “Working/Wellness Wednesdays”

series to give graduation candidates the

opportunity to hear from local business owners

and leaders about career paths including

pastry chef, cosmetologist, merchant mariner,

and real estate agent. LAA launched its Career

and Technology Education website to provide

information to GCs, parents and community

partners. And Career Coach Aisha Montgomery

organized a week-long series of sessions

to invite learners to reflect on their paths after

high school. — Amber Speights, Director

Clark County, NV

In December, we celebrated our biggest-yet

graduating class, with 102 new alumni bringing

the CCAA total to 372 since inception in 2018.

Six are Millennium Scholars, qualifying them

for up to $10,000 in tuition at a Nevada college

or university. Some 37 are going on to college at

UNLV, CSN, Nevada State, Truckee Meadows,

Harnell, New Hope and Arizona State Nursing

Academy. One grad is joining the Air Force

and 41 are pursuing careers in health care,

cosmetology, auto tech and the construction

trades. — Wendy Thompson, Director

Marion County, FL

Marion Acceleration Academies is growing despite

the challenges that come with opening a

new school and getting word out to prospective

graduation candidates, families and the community.

It is encouraging to watch graduation

candidates come to our new campus eager to

work, get coaching on academic and personal

challenges and be pioneers in our new learning

community. We have grown to 140 GCs, and

it is wonderful to hear from GCs that they are

thankful for the opportunity they once thought

was lost. — Wayne Livingston, Director

Escambia County, FL

Escambia County Acceleration Academies is

going strong at our new location. We are having

fun with “holidays” — for instance, we

celebrated National Pancake Day and National

Chocolate Milk Day by serving up pancakes

and chocolate milk. We celebrated our first 12

graduates in December. In the new year, we will

begin a peer mentoring program, and launch a

student government that will oversee events,

provide a GC perspective at staff meetings and

advocate for our program in the community.

— Mathew Taylor, Director

St. Lucie, FL

A year and a half in the making, the new St.

Lucie Acceleration Academies site in Port

St. Lucie is finally open and will be celebrated

with a formal ribbon-cutting ceremony in

January. In our first week, we welcomed more

than 60 GCs into our expansive space. As we

continue to grow our enrollment, which at 234

is the highest since 2019, we look forward to

helping the young people of St. Lucie County

build their success. — Paige Latham, Director

Gwinnett County, GA

Gwinnett County Acceleration Academy is

open for business, enrolling our first two

GCs in October and growing to more than

50 as 2023 begins, with the grand opening of

our permanent site coming soon. As a retired

principal from Gwinnett County Public

Schools, I could not be more proud of the work

and commitment I’m seeing from our young

people and our team of passionate educators.

— Clent Chatham, Director

Wichita, KS

WAA recently started its “End of the Month”

celebration to recognize GCs who are completing

classes and staying on track, step by step, to

graduation. Last month, we invited 123 GCs to

participate. Although these incremental actions

aren’t as glamorous as some achievements,

we feel that the small steps toward success are

commendable — and at WAA we strive to elevate

them. — Chris Turner, Director

class notes

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Chicago, IL 60607




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