Acceleration Academies holds graduation

Graduate Nayeli Serna hugs Academy Director Natosha Scott during the graduation ceremony Thursday where she was one of 18 students to earn their diplomas. (Ruth Campbell|Odessa American)

Eighteen graduates were presented with their diplomas Thursday during a commencement ceremony at Ector Acceleration Academies.

Acceleration Academies helps young adults who might have been high school dropouts if not for the non-traditional school that offered them a flexible, personalized way to re-engage in their education.

There are currently 203 students in the Acceleration Academies program, Academy Director Natosha Scott said.

Nayeli Serna, a 2024 Acceleration Academy graduate, thanked God for waking them up and bringing them together.

“After all these years, we’re finally done guys. We did it. I have to be honest, if it weren’t for Acceleration Academy, I would not be who I am today,” Serna said.

She thanked Scott, Ector County ISD and Acceleration Academies, her family, her boyfriend and others for providing this opportunity, helping her and pushing her along in her journey.

Nayeli Serna, an Acceleration Academies graduate, speaks at graduation Thursday. (Ruth Campbell|Odessa American)

“About two years ago, I had a horrible experience with COVID and ended up in the hospital. When I came out, I was still having trouble breathing and had so much anxiety. I was worried that if I returned to school or a crowded classroom, I would get sick again,” Serna said.

“I didn’t want to quit school because I knew that if I did, my family would be disappointed and I would regret it for the rest of my life,” she added.

One day someone told her about Acceleration Academies and it sounded great.

“I gave it a try. It was everything I hoped for. I was able to do some coursework at home where I could feel healthy and safe, and also come to campus for one-on-one help I needed to succeed. Because of the flexible schedule, I was able to spend mornings at home taking care of my grandmother and helping my family in other ways. Family comes first for me and Acceleration Academies allowed me to make them a priority. I learned a lot. Taking one course at a time, I was able to really understand each subject and feel like I knew the material before I moved on to the next class. Today … here I am in a cap and gown, so I guess I did it. All of us here have similar stories to tell and I know I speak for my classmates in saying how grateful I am for this opportunity. We’ll never forget the way you have all supported us and helped us become our best selves. As we move on to college and careers, we will do our best to make you proud,” Serna said.

Students move their tassels after graduation at Acceleration Academies Thursday. (Ruth Campbell|Odessa American)

The graduates will receive a framed diploma that includes their photo and a place to put the tassel from their caps. Students will receive a diploma from the high school they would have gone to or a certificate from Acceleration Academies and can walk with their class in the spring.

John Phelps, a graduate who was attending Permian High School, was thrilled to complete his courses.

“I am so happy,” Phelps said. “It took a long time and it was a lot of work.”

He added that he probably wouldn’t have graduated without Acceleration Academies.

Graduate James Anderson said he was told he could graduate faster in Acceleration Academies.

He added that the coursework was easy to complete, and if it got hard, there was a teacher to help him.

Acceleration Academies CEO Kelli Campbell speaks at the Ector Acceleration Academies graduation Thursday where 18 students earned their diplomas. (Ruth Campbell|Odessa American)

Kelli Campbell, CEO of Acceleration Academies, said this was the first graduation she was able to attend.

“It’s a remarkable economic and personal impact to all of these families in here and I think if we can just keep on doing this and growing this community of young learners who are now successful high school graduates, it’s going to have a lasting impact to this region and to the community at large,” Campbell said.

“It’s been remarkable. I’ve seen it on paper, but now getting to see it in person. It just really resonates.”

Also at the ceremony was Acceleration Academies Co-Founder Mark Graves, Regional Vice President Jennifer Lawson and officials from the Ector County Independent School District, which works in partnership with Acceleration Academies to make the program available — free of charge — to students who need a non-traditional path to their diplomas.

The Ector academy is part of a growing nationwide network of Acceleration Academies, which meet the needs of students who have struggled in traditional schools for a variety of reasons, including the need to work full-time or care for young children; the need for more one-on-one attention; or a desire to accelerate their studies in order to graduate early and move forward with plans for college, military service, work or athletic careers.