Walk into Acceleration Academies of Ector County and you will find sisters Alliyah and Kaisa Navarrette hard at work on the courses needed to earn their high school diplomas and move in the direction of their dreams.
The sisters are close; Kaisa, 16, sometimes helps to interpret for Alliyah, 18, who has a hearing impairment and mostly uses sign language to express herself. But make no mistake — Alliyah is the Big Sister on Campus.
“Oh yeah,” says Alliyah, raising an eyebrow and flashing a wry grin at her sister.
Good-humored sibling banter aside, the sisters have something important in common. Traditional high school didn’t work for them, and they are creating success for themselves with the flexible, personalized education offered by EAA.
“I don’t like being around a lot of people. I get anxiety,” says Alliyah. Her sister concurs, saying of the crowded hallways and classrooms of traditional school, “It was a lot of drama. I don’t want that.”
In addition to a challenging social dynamic, the sisters say that it was hard to get the one-on-one help they needed from teachers who were busy with a large number of students. That problem was especially acute after the months when the Covid pandemic closed schools and they — like so many learners — found themselves falling behind.
“I never felt I was comfortable enough with myself asking for help,” says Kaisa. Her sister added, “I needed more help from teachers.”
The sisters found their way to EAA, which works in partnership with the Ector County Independent School District to provide a personalized path to students who had been frustrated in traditional settings. They found a learning home in the open, airy space with a panoramic view of Odessa; enjoyed the comfy, cafe-style seating, and found the focus they needed in the quiet, studious environment.
“I like being able to study by myself in a room,” says Alliyah. “I don’t have many distractions.”
The Navarrettes say EAA educators are always ready to listen, coach and lend a helping hand. Students in Acceleration Academies are called “graduation candidates” to remind them of their goals, and graduation candidate advocates (GCAs) work to remove the academic and personal barriers to success.
Alliyah credits GCA Megan Whitty with checking in on her regularly and helping her get past obstacles in her coursework. Grammar is sometimes a challenge, she says, and Whitty patiently works with her to clarify word meaning and smooth out syntax. “She wants me to graduate.”
Kaisa struggles with geometry, but says math coach Jennifer Rosario-Perez works patiently with her to break down the problems and help her master the material. “She’ll go over it, she doesn’t get impatient with me,” she says. “Whenever I feel like I’m aggravating a person, I’ll quit.”
Rather than juggling multiple courses in a traditional school, they and their classmates at EAA are able to take one course at a time, demonstrating mastery before moving on to the next. Says Alliyah, “It’s easier for me to do one course at a time so I can focus on it.”
Alliyah is hoping to graduate this summer and move on to cosmetology school. Kaisa likely has a couple of years to go, but then sees herself going on to college, getting a good job and living a quiet life. Both are grateful for the way EAA is helping them to reach their goals.
Alliyah says simply, “I want to graduate.”