Archive » May 6, 2010
By Christie Tarman, Contributing Writer
The Academy of Classical Education (ACE) may be coming to the Santa Ynez Valley as early as September, offering an additional tuition-free educational alternative to parents and their children. Sponsored by the Family Partnership Home Study Charter School, ACE seeks to integrate at home learning with classroom experiences, serving children in K-8th grades.
ACE operates in several states, such as Arizona, Colorado and Texas, as well as in many parts of Central and Southern California, including San Luis Obispo. A high school curriculum is offered in several locations, and local ACE schools may one day expand to include 9th-12th grades.
“The best thing about this program is, it is truly a partnership (between parents and teachers) in educating a child,” said Trisha Vais, program coordinator of the Lompoc ACE, which started last fall. Vais is excited about the 2010 school year, wherein ACE will expand to Santa Maria and possibly Solvang.
“There are people very dedicated to this model, besides myself, and we work together to create the best possible programs that we can,” said Vais, who chose the ACE curriculum for her own four children while living in Orange County. When her family moved to Lompoc 18 months ago, she knew she wanted to take this classical approach to education with them.
“I believe that children learn better when everything is connected,” said Vais, referring to the way ACE curriculum uses historical time periods as the backdrop for studying other subjects. Upon studying the Renaissance period, for example, students learn about art, astronomy and earth science. While learning about Early Modern times, students learn the roots of modern chemistry. Vais praises the “whole school approach,” which allows students in every grade to study similar subject matter at the same time.
Lompoc ACE students attend combo-classes on Tuesdays and Fridays, studying math and language arts at home Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Sarah Bruce, parent of a fifth-grader in the Lompoc ACE program, described how this structure works for her son. “My son is strong in math, and ACE allows him to work at his own level and his own pace in math and language arts at home, rather than being on the same page with everyone else like he would be in school.”
The Lompoc ACE opened its doors in fall 2009, initially operating out of a gymnasium at the Lompoc Boys and Girls Club. Since then, the student body has grown from 31 students to 55 and re-located to First Presbyterian Church of Lompoc, where they rent classrooms. Class sizes range from 11-18 students per class, with four credentialed teachers on staff, working part-time.
About half of the Lompoc ACE students are children from military homes, with one or more parents living or working on Vandenberg Air Force Base. Vais claims that these children integrate easily into the ACE community, which operates a lot like a family.
“The older children look after the younger ones. The kids know it is their responsibility to take care of each other,” Vais said.
When asked why she chose to become part of the Lompoc academy, Bruce stated, “I work full-time from home, which makes it a challenge to provide for all of the academic and social needs of a homeschooled child, and still get my job done.”
Bruce praised the teaching staff at the Lompoc ACE: “The teachers have brought a lot of enthusiasm and creativity to the classroom. They are doing science experiments all the time, history re-enactments, creative writing projects, large-scale art projects and many things that are hard to do at home and there is not time to do in the regular school classroom.”
Bruce lives in Santa Maria, and is looking forward to having a Santa Maria-area campus next year. Support for this hybrid alternative to homeschooling and traditional classroom attendance is high in the Santa Maria and Orcutt communities, where a waiting list of 60 students has formed for the 2010-11 school year. As with the Lompoc school, students will study at home on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and attend classes on Tuesdays and Fridays.
Vais and others are in the process of determining where the students will meet, and finding more credentialed teachers for the Santa Maria academy. They are also planning to hire some clerical support for the fall. Since the biggest challenge to Vais in coordinating the program is scheduling her time well so that she is able to properly support the program and still home-school her four children (who span grade levels first through eighth), she is looking forward to this support.
Although her full-time work load is rarely reflected on her paycheck, Vais doesn’t want to complain. “I am thrilled that this program has been so well received.” she said.
Parents like Bruce are pleased with their children’s response to the ACE model. Bruce said of her son, “My son loves the program. He is eager to go every week. He gets his homework done, even planning out how much to do each day, on his own. This shows that the quality of the program is recognized by the students as well as the parents.”
The success of the program depends largely on the parents, who are ultimately responsible for meeting their children’s academic needs. Each family is provided with an overview of what is done in the classroom – and how it relates to state standards, so they know what they need to address on their home-school days. Vais praises the ACE families for being generous with their time and also with their pocketbooks.
Explaining how ACE can expand their services at a time when other government-supported schools are making cut-backs, Vais said, “Instead of trying to trim our budget, we just build it on a shoestring. It works.” Vais also gave credit to local businesses, which provide occasional donations.
The academy in Santa Maria will be coordinated by Vais, as well as any programs that start up in Solvang. Since 30 students is the minimum number required for an ACE program to thrive, Vais is uncertain if any classes will be offered in Solvang at all, since the interest up to this point has been small. One option being discussed is the possibility of a one-day program in Solvang for local ACE students, who could then commute to Santa Maria or Lompoc for their additional day of classroom learning.
A meeting has been scheduled for anyone who would like to learn more about the Academy of Classical Education coming to the Valley. It will take place at 7 p.m. Monday, May 17, at the Family Partnership Charter School Office, 320 Alisal Road, Solvang, Suite 206. Contact program coordinator Trisha Vais at email@example.com.
For additional information about other tuition-free options for families in the Valley who are looking to custom-make their educational experience, contact the Family Partnership Home Study Charter School, which serves Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Ventura counties.