Story and photos by Matt Baide
Even though the pandemic is slowly winding down and things are returning to normal(ish), there are still some things that haven’t returned, including traditional graduation ceremonies.
That hasn’t stopped Bethel Acceleration Academies from celebrating their graduates. BAA team members held their sixth graduation caravan since the pandemic shut down school buildings and traditional commencement ceremonies in March 2020.
BAA celebrated five graduates on a sunny Friday, May 14. Cassidy Kovacs was the first stop for the caravan. After falling away from high school, Cassidy re-engaged with her education at BAA in September 2016. Here she found a welcoming, flexible atmosphere — and graduation candidate advocate Jeanne Courtney.
“When I met Ms. Jeanne, I was like, ‘OK, you’re my mom now’,” Cassidy said. “I only listened to Ms. Jeanne, anyone else could mind their own business and leave me alone. I could work at my own pace and I could do it the way I wanted.”
Cassidy has travel plans for the summer and hopes to buy some property in the near future. “I’m so glad I never quit.”
When the caravan arrived at the home of Arianah Toves, the grad was already surrounded by family and friends and she was sporting a personalized cap and gown.
Arianah, who joined the academy in September 2017, said she arrived needing to work on her time management. “It was really hard because I was still struggling with mental health problems as well, so every day was a challenge,” she said.
“I pushed myself to go forward ,and the outcome of getting my diploma was what I wanted. So I’m really happy that I stuck with myself and believed in myself to finish — and I did.”
Her favorite part of BAA? Arianah credited the staff.
“They’re really welcoming and they’re always there when you need them,” She said. “I just love the staff, they’re just so amazing. I cannot get over it.”
Arianah has already begun college and is a business major but would also like to get into the medical field as a caregiver. She hopes to combine business and caregiving into a future career of helping and giving back.
Bladen Wheaton joined the academy during the pandemic in September 2020. “I always had help whenever I needed it pretty much,” Bladen said of his time at BAA. “Any time I had questions, they were pretty much instantly answered. They had my back, no matter what.”
Bladen is going to save money and figure out what he wants to do with his future, but for now, he’s happy to have his diploma. “It feels great. It took me long enough, but I finally got it done. It feels amazing.”
The last stop on the graduation caravan was Garrett Lefebvre. Garrett joined the academy in January 2021 and made quick work of his remaining credits, graduating earlier than he would have at a traditional high school.
“A lot of my teachers from other schools just didn’t really get to me,” he said. “But here, they get your attention to make sure you’re going and get done.”
Garrett said his next stop is college. “Finally done!” he said, high school diploma in hand and a smile spread across his face. “It’s what I’ve been wanting.”
This is the sixth and possibly final graduation caravan of the pandemic; BAA will hold an in-person graduation with the Bethel School District on Aug. 10.
“From the start of the day to the end, we saw smiles from GCs as well as their families right by their side showing support,” BAA Career and Life Coach Jennifer Hyppolite said. “Every graduation candidate in this caravan overcame something to obtain their diploma and it was an amazing feeling to celebrate them and their accomplishments.”