The Academy for Career Education (ACE) High School is a tuition-free, construction trades and engineering charter school for 10th- through 12th-grade students. Based in Reno, ACE offers students the opportunity to pursue an integrated academic curriculum while taking specific professional-level construction or engineering courses.
By allowing students to escape the one-size-fits-all pre-college curriculum of traditional education – appropriate for many students but not for all – ACE provides an educational reform model for all who are serious about reaching Nevada’s huge, usually overlooked majority of workforce-bound students.
And there’s no questioning the results.
At the April 24 Nevada SkillsUSA competition, ACE students placed first in six individual events and took the TeamWorks title. SkillsUSA, a national nonprofit affiliated with Vocational Industrial Clubs of America, is a partnership of students, teachers and industry representatives working together to ensure America has a skilled work force. It serves teachers as well as high school and college students who are preparing for careers in trade, technical and skilled service occupations, including health occupations.
ACE plans to take all of its first-place winners (a total of 10 students) to Kansas City for the national SkillsUSA Championship in June. That means that of the 20 students from Washoe County going to nationals, half are from ACE.
Leigh Berdrow, an administrator at ACE, pointed out the significance of the school’s accomplishments.
“In our first year of having CADD [Computer Aided Drafting and Design] and full-time Diesel programs, we swept the medals in Diesel and earned first and second in CADD,” Berdrow said. “That says a lot about our teachers and the level of programs they have.”
Overall, 42 ACE students competed in 12 events. Taking first-place honors were Josh Jones (Architectural Drafting), Josh Snyder (Diesel Equipment Technology), Jose G. Rodriguez (Masonry), Jeff Flores (Plumbing), Tayler Dahlberg (Power Equipment Technology) and Bobby Wilson (Sheet Metal). The team of Gilbert Brenneman, Mike Fauth, Isaac Rodriguez and Jason Williams took first in the TeamWorks competition.
Across the board, medal winners were thrilled by their performances.
“Winning that medal was the best day of my life so far,” said Adam Brayton, an ACE senior who won the bronze medal in the Architectural Drafting category.
“Competing in this event last year really helped me to do better this year,” added Amanda Wendland, a senior who took the bronze in Masonry.
Others were thankful simply for the opportunity to compete.
“This was great. I wished I had been at ACE last year so that I had more experience. I’m sad I can’t do it again,” said Zach Trainor, a senior who competed in the Residential Wiring category.
For those who placed first in an event, the next stop is Kansas City for the SkillsUSA national championship. The showcase for the best career and technical students in the nation, the championship is a multi-million dollar event that occupies a space equivalent to 12 football fields. In 2006, more than 4,800 contestants took part in 84 separate events. This year, nearly 1,500 judges and contest organizers will make the event possible.
The philosophy behind the national championship is to reward students for excellence, to involve industry in directly evaluating student performance and to keep training relevant to employers’ needs.
Berdrow said that going to nationals is quite expensive – over $1,000 per student. A large portion of that is being funded with a grant, while efforts are under way to raise an additional $5,000 needed to cover costs of transportation, shipping of tools and other incidentals.
Berdrow said that those interested in helping to pay for those costs can contact her at (775) 324-3900 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org .
ACE is currently accepting student applications for the 2007-08 school year. A limited number of spots are available. Because of the high level of interest in the school, seats tend to go quickly.
Based on the results, it’s easy to see why.
Joe Enge is education policy analyst at the Nevada Policy Research Institute.