Will work for grades

ACE program provides on-the-job experience for graduation credit

One could argue that all high school classes are meant to prepare students for life after high school, but the Alternative Cooperative Education program makes easing the transition to the "real world" a special priority.

The ACE program is comprised of two parts -- classroom study and on-the-job experiences.

What the two factors combine to provide is increased self-esteem and feelings of accomplishment, ACE adviser Rose Siminoe said.

"The main purpose of the program is to provide students with an opportunity to learn work ethics and how to be successful on the job following high school," she said.

The program is directed toward at-risk or special needs students and Siminoe, who's been the adviser for four years, can name several occasions where the program has been a saving factor in a student's education.

"I honestly believe there are some students who would not graduate from high school without going through this program," she said.

Students usually sign up for the program on the recommendation of an adult but can take the initiative themselves. It requires them to take the ACE class and then dedicate one to three credit hours to working in a paid position. That means five to 15 hours a week on the job.

Most students put in more than the required amount, though, Siminoe said.

Students also must meet economically or academically disadvantaged qualifications.

Siminoe also looks for students who need the credit to graduate.

"I don't want students who are just here to find an easy way out of school," she said.

The class teaches students essential skills such as work behavior, attitude and ethics, customer service, how to find a job, how to get a job as well as consumer topics such as budgeting, banking and handling taxes.

"The information is provided to help students be successful in their personal life and with a job right out of high school," Siminoe said.

Many of the students in the program don't have plans to attend a four-year college after graduation.

Their paths likely will lead them to a vocational or trade school or directly into the work force.

Senior Bryce Schell said his participation in the ACE program is very likely the reason he'll receive his diploma May 29.

"It's a good thing I signed up because I probably would have failed (traditional) classes and not had enough credits to graduate," he said.

Schell has been in the program for more than a year and has held a job at Jim's Tire and Auto for two years.

"I like to work," he said. "I'd rather be working than going to school."

Although the held the job before enrolling in ACE, Schell said he thinks he's a better employee because of the class.

"I'm better at customer service and paperwork and taxes," he said.

He's also learned to communicate better with customers and his employer.

There were 39 students in ACE this year -- most of whom found a job before the school year started.

Siminoe had to help match a few with employers, whom she works with closely to ensure students are successful on the job.

Participating employers have been super, she said. She credits the success of the more than 25-year-old program to the support of area businesses.

"They are there to teach the students and train them to be better workers, and they do a terrific job," Siminoe said.

The experience also gives students direction on career choices.

Senior Levi Sherwood wasn't sure what he wanted to do with his life when he enrolled in the ACE program. Two years later, he found he enjoyed his job at Northwest Diesel so much that he plans to stay there and make it a career.

There are three things required in the jobs students choose: It's not a business owned by the student's family; the position is paid; and employment taxes are withheld.

"Because that's what they'll experience in the real world," Siminoe said.

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