ACE helps high school students earn free college credit

Photo by Sue Suchyta

Henry Ford Academy juniors Corbin Ortolan (left) of Belleville, Emma Stark of Detroit, Bianca Gleton of Ecorse and Rodney Hogan (right) of Detroit are enrolled in the school’s Accelerated Curricular Experience program, which allows students to take higher level math, science and language arts classes, and as seniors to take Advanced Placement program classes and Henry Ford Community College courses at no cost.

Downriver Sunday Times

DEARBORN – High school students at Henry Ford Academy have an ACE up their sleeve – and it’s helping them earn free college credits.

The academy’s Accelerated Curricular Experience program enables qualified students take higher grade level math, science and language art classes their freshman through junior years.

Assistant principal Richard Enright said the ACE program was developed in 2000, several years after the 1997 academy opening.

“We started realizing we’re not challenging the advanced kids enough,” Enright said. “And we racked our brains and said ‘how are we going to come up with a program that keeps these kids more engaged?’”

He said the staff wanted to make sure the ACE program wouldn’t separate one group of kids from their class.

“So we keep them in their normal ninth grade classes, minus one… and then fourth block they go to an accelerated version of a tenth grade core class : math, science, English or social studies, ” Enright said. “By the time they’ve completed the year they basically can skip their 10th grade core classes and they move on to 11th grade core classes. So in effect they’re a year ahead.”

Each incoming class accepts 150 students drawn from about 400 applicants through a lottery run by the certified public accounting firm of Plante & Moran. Some freshman applicants change their mind before enrolling in the academy, so the lottery list usually reaches up to about the first 200 names drawn. Enright said an incoming freshman class will draw 20 to 25 ACE program participants.

Enright said the ACE system isn’t perfect, and its students don’t get all As, but that is acceptable since they want to make sure advanced students are challenged.

By senior year ACE students may take Advanced Placement Program courses at the academy to prepare for the AP exam offered by the College Board.

Many colleges use AP exam scores to offer qualified students advanced placement, college credit or both.

ACE participants may also take classes at Henry Ford Community College through a dual-enrollment program, which lets them take classes tuition-free.

Enright said the Dual Enrollment bill passed by the Michigan state legislature in 1996 is a statewide program for students who have exhausted their school’s curriculum in a given subject. It requires a school to tell students in eighth grade and above about college level equivalent and Advanced Placement courses.

It also permits 10th grade students to take the Michigan Educational Assessment Program, or MEAP High School Test to qualify to take post-secondary courses not offered by their high school or academy.

Corbin Ortolan, a 16-year-old junior from Belleville, likes the fact that the ACE program lets him take challenging classes.

He said the ACE students don’t really get any negative feedback from their classmates, who “think it’s cool that we’re smart.”

“We take electives with them but we don’t take core classes with them,” Ortolan said.

Emma Stark, a 16-year-old junior from Detroit, said ACE participants are still able to be involved in sports and extra-curricular activities. She and Ortolan are both members of the academy’s Robotics Club.

Bianca Gleton, a 16-year-old junior from Ecorse in the ACE program, runs cross country track and serves on the school’s student council.

“I always find ways to get… out there, not just get good grades,” Gleton said.

Rodney Hogan, a 16-year-old junior from Detroit, who played on the school’s golf team as a freshman, said his grades in the ACE program are his primary focus.

“I like the fact that I’m not just part of the average class here,” Ortolan said. “I’m like a step up, and that will look really good when I’m going to apply to colleges – that I already have college credits that not a lot of other people have.”

Students and parents are responsible for arranging their own transportation between the two campuses, which may include carpools and mass transit bus service.

Students said HFCC is close enough to the academy that it’s really not a problem.

Enright added that parents are generally motivated enough to find a way to overcome any logistical challenges.

Both Stark and Ortolan said that their parents were happy that they would be earning tuition-free college credit during their senior year of high school.

Enright said that the other students seem to have accepted the accelerated placement of the ACE program students fairly well.

“There’s something about a small school — the kids get to know each other,” Enright said. “I’m sure there are things that go on that the adults don’t know about. But we have not seen the ACE kids stigmatized. They just seem to be welcomed into the class and away they go.”

He added that the staff’s biggest concern is that once the ACE students start taking college classes they may feel and act as if they aren’t high school students anymore, and may have a harder time obeying the academy’s rules.

“There are times when our kids over there (at HFCC) are the top kids in the class as well,” Enright said. “I’m not just bragging – they’re sharp kids – so they do really well.”

He said the ACE program reflects the academy’s overall philosophy.

“We’re trying to give the kids their best opportunity, and just like everything else we do we custom fit it to the kids,” Enright said. “And the ACE program is a result of that. So we are giving kids an opportunity that maybe if their choice was a high school where parents are worried about them just being safe, that’s an opportunity to come here and be safe. There’s an opportunity to come here and be academically challenged as well… To provide that opportunity in a school that’s also servicing a high population of at-risk kids is pretty cool – pretty unique. We’re proud of it.”