ACE Charter Schools: Growing Everyone, Every Day

June 13, 2016

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ACE Charter Schools knows exactly what they need to do in order to serve their unique community of students. It starts with this motto: "Grow. Everyone. Every Day."

These four words are behind ACE's commitment to help students grow academically in middle school and achieve college readiness in high school. The charter school is poised to help its students - those who may not think they can accomplish anything - and help them grow.

Founded in 2008, ACE Charter School was designed from the ground up to serve the most underserved, disaffected students (and their families) in San Jose's most troubled neighborhoods. ACE includes four middle schools and one high school, with an enrollment of more than 1,000. The schools are projected to see 3,000 students by 2021. June 2016 will see the school's first graduating class of 67 high school seniors.

Helping Students on the Edge of Failure
ACE students typically start out as the ones who were not poised to succeed in traditional schools. "We're all about engaging with people who are pessimistic about school and we help them build optimism about college success," said Greg Lippman, Executive Director of ACE Charter Schools. "Many of our students began as kids with behavior problems, or were not making the grades to succeed academically."

Lippman stresses that ACE's distinguishing feature is it finds those students and their families, and assures them they have a school choice and their kids will succeed in the ACE environment.

"There are great charter schools in the Bay Area, but many families and parents don't think their kid will make it at any school because they aren't smart enough or can't handle the homework," said Lippman. "Those are the students we help. And we get them to the point where they can handle a traditional college-prep high school and go on to attend a four-year college or university."

Teaching to Improve Lives
Teachers at ACE Charter Schools find great satisfaction in touching the lives of students who are on the edge of permanent failure. Many teachers use the creative process to help students stretch and explore beyond their supposed limitations.

"When a student is working on a piece, it often requires them to sit with discomfort in the unknown, and persist through mistakes and unforeseen challenges," said Rebecca Wyke, art teacher and Art Club faculty sponsor.

"These problem-solving skills are a key part of building college-ready confidence. When they get to college they will be required to engage in critical thinking and embrace the rigor, rather than recoil."

The teachers and administrators at ACE realize that recognition is a large part of student success, and honor student achievements in core subjects like reading and math.

"Even if a student is still levels behind in the subject, if they have achieved their milestones in reading or math, they will be recognized for that hard work," said Lippman. "We honor growth, even when there's still a long way to go."

This student empowerment is reflected in the success of the student body. Ninety percent of ACE's high school seniors are University of California (UC) or California State University (CSU) eligible.

Finding Students Where They Are
ACE realizes that families are a critical component to whether a student succeeds in school. As such, staff and teachers make sure they are not only working with students to thrive, but with their families as well. This process starts as early as the enrollment process.

"Our commitment to the community is simple," said Lippman. "If your child is struggling, then they will find a home at ACE." To reach those students, the ACE staff visits neighborhood schools, community organizations and churches to find the kids and families who are the most disengaged and need the help. Whether a student lives in an apartment, house or shelter, the ACE teams will go where the family resides and complete the physical enrollment process with them.

Parents appreciate the specialized attention their students receive at ACE Charter Schools. Olga Israde was tired of seeing her two children left out of the traditional school. She enrolled them at ACE and now watches them thrive.

"My son, who never spoke in class or in public, is now interacting with others," said Israde. "Since he was a Special Education student in a self-contained classroom, he was always isolated. This is his first year attending and interacting in a regular classroom. Right now he is getting all A's and B's. He told me, 'No more C's mom!' He is proud and I am proud."