BPS launched the Academic Center of Excellence (ACE) in August that provided an alternate environment for students who do not feel comfortable in a traditional school setting.
Lead teacher Jennifer Lynch said students and their families started voicing their need for a smaller environment that would nurture learning and provide an alternate setting. She said students and families were looking for a place that was homier, and more comfortable.
“Students who struggle in the bigger environment, sometimes it is needing the support,” Lynch said. “Maybe they do not feel like they can ask a question in front of their peers in a classroom environment. Most of our students that we have here wanted a different environment because they wanted that one-on-one assistance because they did not feel like they were getting it and it is hard to give that in a larger classroom.”
Lynch said that she feels it is much easier to meet the students’ needs in a smaller setting where teachers can focus on each student individually. She said that if students need to take breaks, there is more flexibility so when they are feeling overwhelmed, they can take their time without interrupting the school day. While flexibility is a major focus for the program, Lynch said the ultimate goal for the students is for them to graduate.
“We have some students that will graduate earlier than others just because of where they are at in their curriculum path,” Lynch said. “As a result of that, we also help them prepare for that next step, like looking at colleges, trade schools, and employment.”
Similar to the traditional high schools, ACE students receive advice from a counselor in a career class where they look at colleges. Lynch said this is important because while they want to figure out what it means for a student to be successful in school, they want to figure out what that looks like in their future. As for their time at ACE, Lynch said students learn through whatever techniques fit best for them.
“Our curriculum is pushed through project based learning, independent study, or they are in the regular classroom with the teachers for the year, completing those objectives,” Lynch said. “We also have online learning through Acellus.”
Lynch said the program has two part-time teachers, an English teacher and math teacher. Social studies instructor Norma Thompson moved from the middle school level to teach social studies at ACE and to give personalized instruction time to the students. She said she wanted to provide a comfortable environment for students.
“[ACE] is a lot more flexible,” Thompson said. “We are better able to work with students if they have a reason they need to be late to school everyday, we can help them not get behind. If they are having family or personal issues we can give them more flexibility in their schedule while they work that stuff out. It really is a much more flexible situation than a traditional school.”
Senior Chris Padroza, formerly at East, said enjoys his time at ACE. He said the teachers talk every problem out with them, personal or not. He said within his time at ACE, he caught up on four credits, whereas if he were to still be in the traditional school setting, he would not be graduating this year.
“Here they give you that opportunity to be more relaxed and feel like you are in a safe environment because at East it is different,” Padroza said. “It is crowded and there is too much noise, but here everyone knows each other and it is calm.”
Thompson said the student’s anxiety is lowered, therefore they are able to focus on their academics while feeling like they are in a comfortable environment. As for students interested in ACE, they must meet with either their administrator, school counselor, or school psychologist. They will talk with their parents and the student about why they feel like they need a different environment and what that looks like for each student.
“[Students] are still tied to whatever high school they came from,” Lynch said. “They can attend any events, clubs, and organizations. We do have some students that we have talked about maybe returning to do some AP classes at their high school. We want to make sure that we are meeting the needs of all students and they are getting whatever they want out of their education.”