Las Vegas Academies Celebrate Class of 2024
February 7, 2024 | Jeffrey Good
Clark County Acceleration Academies (CCAA) began the new year with pomp and circumstance, celebrating the latest class of graduates — 142 young people who pushed through adversity to earn their high school diplomas and move ahead toward college, trade school, military service and well-paying jobs.
The challenges included needing to work to support their families, taking care of small children, balancing medical and academic issues and grieving the loss of loved ones.
“Despite these challenges you found it within yourself to keep pushing on,” Wendy Thompson, who led CCAA’s three academies through a period of rapid growth, told the grads. “Your resiliency, your grit and your fierce determination powering you to the finish line.”
One of those celebrating his hard-earned success was Justin Watson. Before he enrolled at CCAA, Justin had cycled in and out of several schools — and in and out of trouble.
“It went from ditching one class to ditching every class for an entire week,” Justin says. “Me getting into trouble got to be a habit. At that point, it was easier to do bad than to do good.”
Part of the problem, he says, was running with a crowd who would rather skip class than engage in their studies. There was also the violence that regularly erupted in an atmosphere of racial tension, amid educators who seemed powerless to stop it.
At one point, a good friend was shot to death. “When my friend’s life was taken from him, it was like a part of me had left.”
Even when things were relatively calm, Justin feared speaking up in class. “I was afraid that if I raised my hand and said ‘I don’t get it,’ everybody would laugh at me.”
Those troubles all led him to drop out temporarily, but neither he nor his mother wanted to give up. “I said, ‘I don’t want to do school any more.’ My mom said, ‘Why, when you have so many big dreams?’ ”
Justin’s mom, Lakisha Brown, began to research alternative schools on the internet. While there are many out there, she said Clark County Acceleration Academies and its promise of a personalized education stood out.
“I wanted him to have a diploma, I wanted him to have something more than a GED,” she says. “Acceleration Academies had everything and more than I could have imagined. They presented themselves like ‘we’re going to be with them every step of the way.’ ”
CCAA educators made good on that promise, inviting Justin into a calm and studious learning environment at the North campus. “It felt like home,” says Justin. “Kind of heaven-like. It was peaceful, it was quiet, literally no fights at all. None.”
Making matters better, he found a team of educators who stood ready to help him overcome the academic and personal obstacles to success.
Particularly influential was graduation candidate advocate Katya Riley. “There were times when I would call her and say ‘Coach Riley, I can’t do this. I don’t think I can graduate,’ ” Justin recalls. “She said ‘You’ve been through so much and you’re so close to the finish line; don’t give up. I won’t allow you to give up.’ ”
Justin’s mom says he’s had to face challenges from the very beginning. A difficult labor led to an emergency Cesarean section — and a distinctive name: Justin Thyme Watson.
“They pulled him out of there just in time,” recalls his mother.
Twenty one years later, Justin strode across the stage to claim his diploma just after celebrating his 21st birthday. Now, he’s off to pursue his dream of becoming a paramedic. “Ever since I was younger, it’s always been my dream to save lives.”
That dream might have been out of reach if it weren’t for the second chance he found at Acceleration Academies. “There’s literally no doubt about it,” Justin says. “Acceleration Academies saved my life.”
Clark County Acceleration Academies, with three locations across Las Vegas, NV, accepts new students year-round. For more information, check out the academy web page and fill out an online enrollment application.
For more pictures from the January 2024 Clark County Acceleration Academies graduation, visit our Flickr.