Short Term Learning Program

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COLUMBIA - The Alternative Continuing Education (ACE) aims to help students achieve academic success during times of suspension or other life interruptions. 

ACE has been running for four years and is housed at the Boys and Girls Club of Columbia.

Kevin Buckner is a high school student and moved to Columbia from St. Louis in the middle of last year. He said the staff at his high school did not think he was ready academically to join a larger classroom. He joined the ACE program in March and has worked with teacher Kathy Juengst since. He said the teachers at ACE use examples he can relate to to put academics into terms he can understand. 

"If you're doing math or something, they'll put it into your way of playing basketball or football," Buckner said. 

Howard Clark, site supervisor of ACE, said he has taught students through the program who simply needed a change of environment. Clark said the program at one time used to be optional, however, with students sitting at home or out in the community during school hours, Columbia Public Schools now requires students attend the program when they are suspended from school. 

Fifth-grader Levi Kimmel has attended the ACE program twice and said he prefers being able to concentrate on his work without the distraction of other classmates. 

"I can really focus here," Kimmel said. "I'm not getting in trouble so much. I used to have a hard time with my peers."

Kathy Juengst has taught at the ACE program for four years and said teaching academics isn't the only part of the job.

"Education, academics--that's all important, Juengst said. "But I think it's secondary to the relationship building and trying to instill confidence in these kids."

Clark agrees, "I think it takes a certain type of teacher to work with students who are coming from an environment that has been interrupted because of some issue at the school."

The district-funded program sparked the interest of researchers. Bryana French said she has been studying the program's effectiveness for kids during their time away from school. 

French said she has collected qualitative notes through surveys and interviews with students and their parents. 

"We really wanted to see, besides the scores, if kids were benefiting from a behavioral standpoint," French said.

French also said the students provided good feedback so far about their time at ACE and the learning processes along the way. 

"It sounds like the youth really appreciate the program because of the classroom size," French said. 

French is scheduled to meet with more parents about their children's time at the ACE program. Her research will conclude next January. At that time, she will have more specific results about how ACE can improve, and what qualities make it a good learning program for students. 

Although this is a short term program, Clark said it aims to help students find their long lasting goals. 

"Most students don't have a focus when they come here," Clark said. "So we want you to start dreaming that you can do well if you start applying yourself."