Leigh Berdrow, director of ACE High School, said the school’s model of education differing from traditional high school curriculum offers their student the option to work in a hands-on environment. She said the skills being taught in their career class are applied in the traditional classroom as well.
“The career major is very different. Kids are earning high school and college credit through Truckee Meadows Community College and we integrate it into their academics,” she said. “Kids who come here that want to be a diesel technician are not real interested in English, but if we can get them to read and write about diesel class they are more receptive.”
Students at ACE complete state curriculum requirements in English, science, math and reading in addition to the career class of their choice. Their small class sizes allow for more personalized learning and a strong student-teacher environment, according to Berdrow.
“It goes without saying that small class sizes are better, but it’s really about building the relationships with the students,” she said. “One of our graduates was asked that question and he said because the staff around here knows me and cares about me, I care about them. I don’t want to disappoint them or make them mad. It’s a relationship and its very different.”
In forming to state requirements, ACE’s test scores meet the requirements by the No Child Left Behind Act and they have a 77.8 percent graduation rate. Principal Bob DeRuse said the school does not offer remediation or credit recovery classes, but does give students the chance to study in trades that may not be offered in other schools.
“It brings choice. Not everybody knows what they are going to do when they are starting out as freshmen,” he said. DeRuse said one student who received the chance to speak at a skills competition said his hands-on training allowed him to apply classroom materials to real-world variables.
The hands-on training students receive comes when they work together to build a house “from the ground up,” according to DeRuse. Every step of the work is supervised by an instructor and up to code with building standards, and the school then sells the house when the team is finished.
Being a charter school has also given ACE some trouble because of the sometimes negative connotations that can be attached to them. Berdrow said local family legacies can also keep students in the high schools their parents attended instead of branching out to a charter school.
“Stigma is a good word, sadly, but truly we are unique in that most charter schools are designed to provide better education for students who are struggling in education and we are about making you career minded,” she said. “One of the things that we fight is people don’t know we exist. I think we would have a waiting list every year if we had transportation to and from our school. That’s a huge detriment. We also fight the pride and loyalty that generations who have grown up here attend the same high school.”
Despite competition with other charter schools and local high schools ACE staff members take pride in helping their students find a school or program that is right for them, even if it means them not enrolling in ACE High School.
“It is about the kids and we are never going to take a kid so someone else doesn’t get them; Never going to happen. People think we play that game but ACE doesn’t need to play that game,” Berdrow said. “We want to be full, we always want to be full. We are not in the business of turning kids away. We counsel every student that comes in and if they are unable to go here we pride ourselves on making sure we get them into a school that is right for them.”