An alternative schooling program was introduced in the 2019-20 school year to help Bellevue Public School high school students transition out of an overcapacity environment to a safe, one-on-one learning setting.

The Academic Center for Excellence program was developed in May to identify students at-risk of dropping out to get them to receive their high school credits. The first year of the program serves a maximum of 30 students.

Jenny Lynch, ACE program’s lead teacher, said the number one thing that has changed with the program is the students’ attendance numbers.

“All of our students were identified as being at-risk for dropping out either through mental health or behavioral issues, and the attendance piece goes with those,” she said.

“Even though some days they don’t make any progress, the fact that they’re here, they establish a safe place and that’s what we want.”

Students are chosen through their counselors, who meet with parents to explain the program.

“One of the pieces that is critical to this is parent involvement,” Lynch said. “We have to be on the same page and we have to be working together.”

A safer, smaller environment where students focus on more one-on-one learning is important to help behavioral issues, Lynch said.

“All behavior is related to escape, avoidance, emotional attachment or seeking a tangible — we experience those every day in this program,” she said. “At a high school when they have all those students, they can’t meet all those needs. Here, where we only have 26 students and six staff members, we’re able to manage those.”

Students arrive at 8 a.m. every day and can have breakfast before class starts. Classes offered are direct instruction English, math and social studies.

The students also have time to work on other homework and independent studies during the day.

Field trips are also available for group interaction and positive reinforcement.

“Because behavior is a piece every student brings with them here, we focus on the positive-behavior reward system,” Lynch said.

Students also work on the Acellus Academy, an online school that assists in subjects not offered in the ACE program.

“There are a variety of modes of learning happening at any time,” Lynch said.

Students are also encouraged to interact with each other during lunchtime.

The students need 46 credits to graduate, and some come in needing the full 46 or just a couple to be on their way.

“It’s very different depending on the student, but they all make progress at their own level,” Lynch said. “We have to meet the students where they’re at.”

With two graduates of the program in its first year, and multiple success stories, Lynch said she hopes to double the enrollment and introduce full-time staff members.

“More of our seniors will be doing more of that credit recovery, and our ninth, 10th and 11th graders will do direct instruction classes,” she said. “We always want to keep our class sizes small, and that’s to provide more one-on-one assistance.”

Lynch said she’s happy with the first year’s students.

“This program is all about flexibility,” she said. “Different students have different needs at different times.”

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