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Bethel Grad: Finding a Second Chance at Acceleration Academies

March 14, 2024 | Jeffrey Good

Bethel Grad: Finding a Second Chance at Acceleration Academies image

When Jax Randles looked out at other members of the Bethel Acceleration Academies (BAA) Class of 2024, he marveled at how far he and his classmates had come. 

The grads arrived at BAA for a variety of reasons — the need to work full-time to support their families, a wish for more one-on-one academic and personal support and, as was the case with Jax, a wish for a calmer environment. 

There was a time — a long time — when it seemed like Jax Randles would never see graduation day. He had trouble getting up early enough to make the first bell at school, felt overwhelmed by the crowded classrooms and hallways, and couldn’t shake an anxiety that became crippling. 

Beginning in 6th grade, he began to drop out. Again and again, he promised truancy court judges that he would re-engage in his studies. Again and again, he couldn’t bring himself to do it. 

“Traditional school was a nightmare,” says Jax. 

Read Jax Randles: ‘I Never Thought I’d be Able to Go to School Again’ >>>

Entering his high school years, Jax knew that he needed a different way. He heard about BAA in Spanaway, WA, which works in partnership with the public school district to provide a flexible, personalized path for learners like Jax. 

From the moment he walked in, Jax could see it was unlike any school he’d ever known. The lighting was gentle, there were plenty of comfortable places to sit and the teachers and coaches did their best to create a serious-but-soothing learning environment. 

Two people hug

Jax felt immediately at home. “You go in and you choose where to sit and you just work,” he says. “It's a very comforting atmosphere.” 

Jax is quiet and thoughtful, not the type to stand up in class and pepper the teacher with questions. At BAA, he found all the support he needed from educators who work one-on-one with graduation candidates. Jax likes to take time with subject matter, and he found a bottomless well of patient assistance. 

Particularly helpful was Kevin Torres, BAA’s social studies content coach and interim director. “With Coach Torres, I’ve always felt safe asking for help,” Jax says. “He’s like Acceleration Academies’ dad. He listens, he understands. I’m going to miss his dad jokes.” 

Jax was born biologically female and for the first part of his life went by the name his parents gave him at birth. But he realized early on that he was a boy on the inside and, with support from his parents, began to bring his true identity out. 

Being a transgender young person can be tough under the best of circumstances. Classmates can be cruel and society’s judgment looms large. 

There were times when Jax struggled with suicidal thoughts and self-harming. But after enrolling at BAA, the turmoil eased. Educators respected his identity and used his proper pronouns, and other graduation candidates created a community full of support and free of judgment. 

“That’s another thing I love about Acceleration Academies; they’re very accepting,” says Jax. “If you need someone to talk to, someone is always available.” 

Jax has come to accept that he learns at a slower pace. “It takes me a little time to understand, but that’s okay. I get it done,” he says. “That’s the beauty of this school; they mold the classes to what you’re capable of.” 

Jax was chosen to give the graduation speech on commencement day. He holds a deep gratitude for the opportunity BAA provided, and wonders what might have happened if he hadn’t found his way here. 

“That’s why I love this place,” says Jax, 21. “It gives you a second chance.” 

Click here for photos from graduation day by photojournalist Drew Perine. 

BAA Graduation 2-27-24


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