Students develop academic and social skills at Greencastle-Antrim ACE

PAT FRIDGEN, Echo Pilot
Bob Crider and Christine Reiber, school administrators, sit at desks used by students at Academy for Character Education.

The four portable classrooms on the Greencastle-Antrim School District campus serve a purpose for a select group of students. The modular building was turned into ACE, Academy for Character Education. It houses middle and high school students who in the past would have been sent to Manito or the alternative high school on Brown’s Mill Road.

The switch in the means to educate students with discipline issues, in particular, came about for a couple of reasons. And as far as administration is concerned, it is working out well.

“We wanted to keep more of a connection with the students,” said Christine Reiber, G-AHS assistant principal, and liaison to ACE. Her middle school counterpart is Melissa Shuey.

“At Brown’s Mill you lose it,” Reiber continued.

Dr. Bob Crider, chief educational officer overseeing the program, agreed, and added the change was not because the district was unhappy with Manito. It still held two slots at the school in Kauffman for students who could not be successful at the high school or ACE, or had to be placed due to the seriousness of their behavior.

The other reason ACE came into being was financial. The school board had planned to renovate the high and middle schools, enclosing the passageway between them. Partly  because of the inadequacy of state funding through its Hold Harmless law, the board canned the building project. When it discovered Lancaster School District was giving away four cottages, the members jumped on it, and in April 2014 agreed to spend up to $75,000 for the transport and setup of the structures. They were placed between the two secondary schools and ready for classes that August. The cost to operate ACE was less expensive than tuition at Manito, as well.

ACE success

ACE can serve up to 15 students, but enrollment has not been that high these past two years. The facility contains one classroom, a virtual classroom (VC), a room for secondary students serving in-school suspension (ISS), and a conference room.

Students 16 years of age and younger participate in the classroom setting, while those 17 and older are in the VC, attending one of three sessions available during the day. Crider stated they chose this path to complete their education because they were not successful in a traditional setting for a number of reasons - social, emotional, health, or not having enough credits. They worked entirely online and carried more individual responsibilty to get their studies done.

At ACE across the hall, the students also use computers for classes, but have more direct contact with a teacher. Curriculum comes through Franklin Virtual Academy, a part of Blended Schools. Staffing is provided by Laurel Life, which offers educational and behavioral health services. Three certified employees act as teacher, behavior coach, and counselor, and a para-professional handles ISS. Matt Hillwig and Matt Pensinger spend the most time with the kids.

The students are monitored with individualized service plans, their academics and attendance. Learning to get along with others is a priority. They participate in activities to gain self-awareness, awareness of others, team building, discussion skills and peer treatment.

“We always want them to eventually move back to traditional education,” said Crider. “It’s been extremely successful with Laurel Life.”

The number of students in the alternative setting was down, and more students at ACE were returning to regular classrooms than had been the case at Manito, he said. The VC enabled many students to graduate, as well.

Reiber and Shuey appreciate the ease with which they can track the progress of the students, and pay daily visits to the pods.

“This has been very positive for the kids,” said Mark Ryan, Laurel Life supervisor. “For some of them, it is the first time they have experienced success.”