Clark County Acceleration Academies celebrated a record-breaking 40 graduates in an early fall ceremony, marking the end of a spirited journey for the young women and men and beginning the next chapter of their lives.
“This diploma means a great deal,” CCAA Director Wendy Thompson told the Class of 2021. “It gives you access to opportunities you didn’t have before. It gives you access into a university or a college. It meets the requirement for a pathway to military service or a career of your choice.
“Each one of you has an individual story of how you accomplished earning this diploma,” she continued. “The hours you spent reading literature and expository text, working algorithms in algebra, collaborating on discussion boards, writing essays and extended responses and taking those mastery, post and final exams across all of the content areas.
“Meeting all of those requirements has earned you YOUR seat at graduation today — It wasn’t easy,” she said. “Each of you had your rigorous academic studies and individual challenges to manage in order to do all that was required of you. Some of you worked two jobs — 40, 50 hours a week and then came home and studied for 2-3 hours a night. Some of you met with teachers and wrote your essays while taking care of your little ones. Some of you have had medical challenges to work through. Some of you have even experienced the grief and loss of a loved one during the months you were preparing for this moment.
“Despite these challenges you found it within yourself to keep pushing on. Your resiliency, your grit and your fierce determination powering you to the finish line. You — the graduates of 2021 — go down in history as students who persevered through a pandemic to earn the educational foundation required to receive this diploma today. You have inspired us all with your commitment and dedication.”
Here are stories and photos from the big day. Photos by Tanya Rasmussen
‘I’m Here to Celebrate the American Dream’
When Raila Mykaela Rabago moved to Las Vegas from the Phillipines in February 2020, she faced all manner of challenges: the Covid pandemic that began a month later, a neon culture far different from where she grew up, and the need to shift from her native language of Tagalog to American English.
“It was so different. It was not easy,” said Raila, who is now 18.
She arrived with a year of high school left to complete and enrolled in a traditional public school. It took some time for school officials to sort out her transcript and transfer credits, but Raila and her family understood that she was set to graduate in May of 2021.
Family members planned a party. Raila went to the school to pick up her cap and gown — only to be told that she didn’t have enough credits in place to walk across the stage.
“I felt crushed,” she recalled.
A guidance counselor referred her to Clark County Acceleration Academies, which works in partnership with the Clark County School District to provide a non-traditional, personalized path for students who need to make up lost ground. Her mother checked it out and helped Raila to enroll.
“When my mom discovered Acceleration Academies, that gave me hope.”
Raila began in May with 6 classes — in English, American government and computer science — to complete. She worked steadily through the late spring and summer, finishing her last class in August. And while she was working remotely, she had plenty of support from the educators and advocates at CCAA.
LIfe coach JoAnne Brown, English content coach Tod Terada and social studies content coach Omar Alvi were particularly helpful, she said, providing regular encouragement as she learned to navigate a new language, new government, a new land of opportunity.
“The United States has much more opportunity than the Phillipines. My dad wanted to give us a bright future,” she said. “So I’m here to chase the American dream.”
Raila is a thoughtful, hard-working young woman. Her family’s budget is such that she couldn’t afford a laptop computer and had to borrow her mother’s cell phone to communicate with CCAA educators. She was grateful for the Chromebook the school provided.
“I’m so grateful to have enrolled at Acceleration Academies,” she said. “I’m just so glad that I can graduate.”
Raila’s American dream is to become a nurse. She earned a scholarship to the College of Southern Nevada, is taking her prerequisites for nursing and trying to figure out in which area she’d like to specialize.
“I like to help to help people a lot,” she said. “Which made me think maybe nursing is for me.”
What advice would she give other students who have struggled in traditional schools and are considering Acceleration Academies? “Don’t lose hope. There’s so much out there and they can help you a lot.”
‘I’m the First Grandchild to Graduate’
Joanna Guevara had a hard time fitting her life inside a traditional school day. She found herself lagging further and further behind — until she found Clark County Acceleration Academies.
And now she’s a high school graduate bound for college.
“I’m the first grandchild to graduate so my mother and grandmother are very proud,” said Joanna, whose parents immigrated from Mexico in search of greater opportunities for themselves and their family.
Because she wants to pay her own way through college, Joanna works the 4 p.m.-3 a.m. graveyard shift at a TJMaxx distribution center. That made the hours of a normal school day hard to keep. But when she came to CCAA in the fall of 2020, she found a curriculum that she could adapt to her schedule.
Taking one course at a time and taking advantage of the ample one-on-one support provided by the Acceleration Academies educators helped her to regain her stride. She said English content coach Ashley Griffiths was particularly helpful.
While some teachers at other schools didn’t seem to have the time or patience to work with her when she struggled with material, Griffiths took a patient, joyful approach, working with Joanna until she mastered the subject matter.
“She made the whole experience a lot easier, “ said Joanna. “She made it fun.”
There was also a lot of hard work — and Joanna didn’t shrink from it. Determined to graduate this year, she woke up at 6 a.m. to do coursework online, squeezed more in during her breaks, and took pride in the progress that earned her a diploma.
“I didn’t want to be behind,” the 18-year-old said. “I was very determined.”
She starts college in January at Grand Canyon University in Arizona, where she plans to study early childhood education. She remembers fondly her 2nd grade teacher, a Latina who helped Joanna — who spoke mostly Spanish at the time — to feel at ease in the American classroom.
“She would help me so, so much,” she said. “I recall it being one of the best years of my life.”
She hopes to be that same kind of teacher for her students in early elementary school. And by becoming the first in her extended family to graduate from high school, she hopes to set an example closer to home.
“I want to be a role model for my little cousins,” she said. “I want them to know it’s very, very important to graduate from high school. I want them to look at me and say if Joanna could do it, I could do it too.”