“I didn’t do well at all last year,” Sanchez says emphatically.
But Sanchez’s attitude has improved dramatically since he joined the Academic Community for Enrichment Program, or ACE Program, at California High School as an incoming freshman student.
“Now I listen more,” he says. “The teachers are strict but make it fun. You don’t have any choice but to listen. They make sure that you understand.”
The ACE Program was started at California High School more than a decade ago to give freshmen who need extra support a real chance to succeed in high school. The students may have had behavior problems, poor attendance, academic problems, or low test scores, says ACE English teacher Ann Gonzalez. But they are also students who have demonstrated potential and a stated desire to do better. ACE students generally want a fresh start in high school.
The ACE Program focuses on improving academic skills in English and math, so its 60 or so participants are divided into two classes and spend their mornings taking two periods of English, taught by Gonzalez, and two periods of math, taught by Armando Padilla. They rejoin the regular school classes in the afternoons.
During the six years that Gonzalez has taught the English component of the ACE Program, she has seen dramatic improvement in her students – an upswing that has led ACE students to have the highest rate of improvement in California Standard Tests (CST) scores in Algebra I and English I out of almost all the freshmen classes at California High School.
Gonzalez is gratified that the percentage of ACE students who finish high school is rising every year. Currently 64 percent of ACE students from the 2008-09 school year who are still enrolled at Cal High are seniors and the program is on track to have twice as many students graduate this year as last year.
Plans are currently in place to have some students continue in the ACE program into their sophomore year to give them more opportunity to succeed in school.
The promise of a bright future clearly excites the students. “There’s more possibility to go to college if you go through ACE,” says Andrew Salcedo, who is looking forward to the upcoming ACE organized college field trip to UCLA and USC. Salcedo knows he wants to go to college and it’s a goal that the ACE Program is helping him reach.