Tag Archives: #whyace

Amarillo Area Foundation Announces Completion of ACE Expansion Campaign

Blog_headerWednesday, August 31, 2016

AMARILLO, TX – In 2009, the Amarillo Area Foundation made a commitment to grow the ACE Endowment by $5 million. Growing the endowment allowed the ACE program to expand its outreach to three elementary schools in the Tasocsa High School cluster. Fifth graders attending Bivins, Margaret Wills, and San Jacinto elementary schools are now eligible for ACE scholarship funds if they enter Tascosa in their freshman year and maintain the program requirements for grades, attendance, and behavior.

This past May, 39 Tascosa seniors graduated ACE eligible, joining 154 of their ACE colleagues from Palo Duro and 192 ACE graduates from Caprock High School. Roya and Sheida Jaberiandoraji were the first two Tascosa ACE graduates.  Both girls completed high school in two years and began their college career at Amarillo College in 2014.  They are currently studying at West Texas A&M University this fall.

Since the first graduating class of ACE students in 1998, more than 4,800 students have graduated ACE eligible, 3,267 have attended college on an ACE scholarship, and 1,374 have earned a college degree or postsecondary certificate. Almost $6.5 million has been awarded in ACE scholarships and the Amarillo Area Foundation has helped students obtain more than $16 million in federal funding and other scholarship funds. ACE students have a wealth of resources to assist them in their postsecondary pursuits because of the dedication of ACE donors.

More than 2,000 donors have made gifts to ACE totaling over $9.9 million since the inception of the program in 1994. Individuals, corporations, and foundations made diligent efforts to provide lasting impact in the lives of ACE students and their families and also in the social and economic prosperity of the Amarillo community.

A special gift was made in honor of Robin Gilliland Weir by her husband, David Weir, to finalize the expansion. Gilliland Weir was Co-Chair of the ACE Campaign with Allen Durrett. Gilliland Weir commented, “I am so proud of our community for creating and funding ACE for 22 years. I have always loved this program because of how many lives it has touched.  To educate the youth of our community is a win/win for all of us!”

For Gilliland Weir, giving to ACE was also a familial legacy. “My parents have been donors to ACE since it began at Palo Duro and set an example of the importance of helping others to break down the barriers to a college education.  My husband is also a donor and is so understanding and supportive of the students who face challenges to postsecondary education.”

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#WHYACE: VOICES PAST, PRESENT & FUTURE

Blog_headerTo conclude our ACE series we thought we would celebrate graduation season by highlighting the voices of past and present ACE students, while also opening up the platform to the many future ACE students and supporters out there.

Representing the voice of ACE students past is Ms. Ersela Demerson, the original ACE graduate from Palo Duro High School’s Class of 1997. Ersela graduated ahead of her cohort in three years, the rest of her inaugural class graduated in 1998, making her literally the first ACE graduate.

AAF: Ersela, we think your ambition to graduate high school in three years embodies the driven spirit of ACE students, but in your own words can you describe for us what ACE means to you, and now as a leader in the Amarillo community, what you see it continuing to mean to students in the future?

Demerson: My situation wasn’t a stereotypical situation you might expect to hear about. Both of my parents were college educated, I grew up understanding the importance of education. For me, ACE solved an economic issue. My dad was a minister, and my mom was laid off at the time I graduated high school and was looking to go to college. So going to college was never a question, but how to pay for it was. I assumed I would have to probably take some time off during undergrad. But because of ACE I didn’t have to and I was able to go on after my bachelor’s and receive a master’s as well.

As far as what ACE means for students now and in the future I think it can be summarized as an opportunity for students to invest in themselves and their futures, while also receiving a sense of accomplishment for their work. ACE is a hand-up and not a handout. It may be a model stressing the importance of education and attendance for students not receiving that message at home, but more than anything, I think many students’ experiences were like my own and what they get from ACE is a phenomenal opportunity and a message of hope.

To see a video of Ersela where she talks about the importance of ACE click here

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Providing a voice for present ACE college students, is Makayla Ksor, a sophomore pursuing a degree in Fine Arts at Amarillo College. Unlike Ersela, Makayla’s parents did not attend university.

Ksor: ACE was always there when I needed assistance. I could always just email and make an appointment with an ACE advisor if I needed help figuring out the different aspects of being a college student. They also helped me in high school with deadlines and applications, managing expenses, which classes to take, and which college was best for me. Once in college I was even urged by ACE to become a part of a mentor program so that I could have an advisor with a major similar, if not the same to my own, who would understand my plight on a corresponding level. Yet, the biggest impact ACE has made in my college experience would be the financial support. The idea of student loans scared me.

AAF: Makayla, can you share with us what you wish others knew about ACE?

Ksor: When I ask students if they have ACE or not, most of them say that they lost their ACE in high school. I respond by asking, “Well, did you try to get it back by talking to an ACE advisor?” Usually, they just shrug and say, “No, it didn’t really matter to me.” It surprises me how many students would lose their ACE, not knowing how important it is to have or what it could do for them, or even just too afraid to ask about it. I feel like if students were more aware of what ACE really does for themselves and others they would care more about their own ACE and get the guidance they need.

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#WHYACE: For the Peeples

Blog_headerThis week we are visiting with the 2015 Council of Chief State Officers Teacher of the Year, Ms. Shanna Peeples. CCSO Teacher of the Year is the oldest most prestigious national accolade of its kind. Since receiving the award, Peeples since spent the past year traveling the globe as an ambassador for education.

Peeples is a graduate of West Texas A&M University, an ACE network university, and an AP English teacher at one of our ACE schools, Palo Duro High School. We are delighted to interview Shanna and capture her thoughts on ACE.

AAF: So Shanna, as an award-winning educator, what do you see ACE doing for your students?

Peeples: I am grateful that ACE has an attendance requirement because research strongly supports the correlation between a student just being in school and that student’s probability of graduating. It’s hard to overstate how much low-income students struggle with the demands of helping their families pay the bills. These demands can take the shape of time spent caring for siblings or other family members while the parent or guardian is at work, or in the form of work to help pay household bills. Or both. Those who are blessed with not having to make the choice between these kinds of demands and school attendance may have a hard time understanding the pressures faced by students who grow up in poverty. For many high school students in poverty, life is a constant cost-benefit analysis: what is worth more? Keeping my family on track or going to school today? ACE, in a very concrete sense, helps students see the benefits of education.

AAF: You’ve done a ton of traveling over the last year advocating for education. In your travels, have you recognized or heard about programs similar to ACE?

Peeples: I’ve not heard about programs similar to ACE in the way it is so broad-based and open to so many students.

AAF: One of the belief statements of AISD is that “education is the equalizer in our society and that our schools can and should provide a culture of hope for all children.” How do you see ACE contributing to that belief statement for students?

Peeples: Here’s the thing: hope is not an abstraction. Hope is built by the actions and the attitudes around us. That’s how I translate the belief statement. The use of the word “can” implies that what we do every day in our classrooms builds hope. And the word “should” means that it’s a moral decision to create that hope. What we choose to do or what we choose to neglect has consequences. This foundation of hope depends on our community to reflect the message to every child that they matter, that they have value, and that we expect them to take their places in our neighborhoods as citizens. ACE contributes to the belief with a solid plan for every student to meet those expectations in the way of financial help for college.

AAF: What do you wish our community knew about ACE?

Peeples: I want Amarillo to be proud of the fact that we have programs like ACE that are just plain smart economics. For every dollar we invest in education, we get triple in return, according to data from California State University. College graduates not only return millions of dollars to the state, but they tend to be healthier, have more stable relationships, and volunteer at higher rates – all quality of life indicators that make a city attractive to outside investors.

AAF: Triple the return, we’ll conclude on that note. It’s been an honor, we appreciate you taking the time to speak with us.

Peeples: Thank you for letting me speak about a subject I love: education!

That is all for this week. Join us next week, on the eve of AISD graduation, as we conclude our series with the voices of ACE students past and present.

Till next week!

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WHY ACE: All in

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“After high school comes college!” If you’ve been at any Amarillo ISD campus you’re probably familiar with this gregarious chant. It’s inspiring to see kids putting the pieces together from Pre-K to high school and on to college. In this week’s WHY ACE blog,
we wanted to see how ACE is affecting the college campuses, we’ll focus on Amarillo College this week and West Texas A&M University next week.

I think it’s fair to say that ACE’s success hinges on the willingness of all parties to collaborate. That becomes clear when we look at how much collaboration is required at the college level. At Amarillo College, they have created special processes designed specifically for ACE.

“We start our interactions in high school,” Kelly Prater, Director of Financial Aid at AC, says. “We have hands-on FAFSA nights, at all the ACE campuses while they are still in high school.”

The work doesn’t stop there; because one of the requirements of ACE is to apply for student aid every year. Prater and her team also work with currently enrolled students too.

“Now you have financial aid, and this is what you have to do to keep it,” explained Prater. “Once we have determined a student will qualify, ACE picks up any remaining balance keeping students from needing loans.”

ACE has had a profound effect on the Amarillo College campus through its 20 plus years. ACE brought new demographics of students to the campus and has changed who is attending college.

“Caprock became the number one feeder high school for Amarillo College. Since the 70’s Amarillo High had been,” explained Bob Austin, VP of Student Affairs. “And it’s not like there are less students coming from Amarillo High, but now with ACE, Amarillo College is the college of choice for Caprock students.”

In the early days of ACE, Amarillo College was certainly happy to have a new demographic of students on campus, but with new demographics comes some thinking about how to influence those students. Austin contends that higher education was not set up for students with the unique needs.

“Our attitude, historically, in higher education, has been, even if you’re admitted to the college you haven’t proven you’re college material until you navigate all the stuff we throw at you,” said Austin. “False obstacles that are designed to do nothing more than trip you up, and prove over and over again if you really deserve to be here. We are working hard to knock those down.”

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#WHYACE: A Culture of Hope

Blog_headerAs we begin our fourth week of the ACE Blog series, we are shifting our focus to Amarillo Independent School District’s perspective on ACE. More specifically, we are letting AISD Superintendent, Dr. Dana West; Caprock Principal, David Bishop; and Guidance and Counselling Program Director, Tracey Morman do most of the talking.

Like good reporters we did some research on AISD’s mission and belief statements beforehand. Belief statement No. 2 immediately stood out: “We believe that education is the equalizer in our society and that our schools can and should provide a culture of hope for all children.” Sounds vaguely like ACE, no? So we decided to chat with Dr. West to see if she agreed.

AAF: When did you first learn about ACE and what was your initial perception of it?

Superintendent West: Well you’re going to laugh when you hear this, but I was new to Amarillo as a principal at Travis Middle School and I really just thought ACE was this assembly we did every six weeks encouraging attendance, grades, and good behavior. Obviously, my understanding has changed since then. The conversation transitions from “here’s a certificate and free pencil” to “people in our community will help you pay for and achieve your scholastic goals.”

AAF: That is funny. As an administrator what would you value most then about ACE?

Superintendent West: It’s our community’s commitment to our district’s mission. Graduate every student prepared for success beyond high school. What is your plan? Your community supports you.

AAF: You’re emphasizing both ACE and No Limits No Excuses with that statement. So I was really moved to see that one of AISD’s belief statements is that education is one of the great equalizers in our society and you believe that your schools should provide a culture of hope for all children. How do you see ACE contributing to that belief statement?

Superintendent West: ACE reiterates the culture of hope in our schools by emphasizing that everyone is committed to the economic development of Amarillo. ACE says our community realizes that our economic development relies on our scholars in our local schools. In many ways ACE makes our community put our money where our mouth is to show that support. We can then create hope in our students because we have a program that blatantly displays that community effort and support.

Creating a culture of community support all their own, is Principal David Bishop of Caprock and his staff. We sat down with Mr. Bishop and here is what he had to say:

Principal Bishop: ACE is a tool that helps us build a conversation around a K-16 plan instead of a K-12 plan. If you shape students to believe going to college is achievable and a part of their personal plan just like going to high school is, you would be amazed by how much they listen and internalize that message. ACE has specifically caused a cultural shift on our campus. College wouldn’t have always been a part of the conversation here 10-15 years ago.

AAF: Can you tell me a bit about what you have done to make ACE unique at your campus?

Principal Bishop: Well we have two really special features to our ACE program that are fairly new. We have the $25,000 check we give to each of our incoming freshman students on our Freshman Walk and we have ACE Insurance Agents.

AAF: Explain to me more about these checks. What are they?

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#WHYACE: The Foundational Perspective

Blog_headerAs we have mentioned in our previous blog posts, ACE really began as a high school completion program to reduce dropout rates. However, it has since transitioned and now focuses on a culture of postsecondary attainment.

Whether we discuss high school completion or education beyond high school, the Foundation has a strong belief in the discernable power education affords. So this week we thought we would bring you some more insight into why the Foundation invests so much in education and #whyACE is important.

So first, back to that discernable power thing. Basically the Foundation believes education has visible, positive effects on the circumstances of an individual over the course of his or her lifetime. The greater the population of educated individuals within a community the stronger the community. It’s statistically proven that community with an increasingly educated workforce has a stronger economy, a larger local talent base, and a larger percentage of citizens involved in volunteerism and advocacy work. Education is a powerful tool for the individual, but even more powerful when a community of educated people live and work together.

Responding to donor interest in a local high school completion program, previous Amarillo Area Foundation President and CEO, Jim Allison was instrumental in putting ACE together and worked hard to make ACE a success. We spoke with Allison last week and he had this to say about ACE’s initial intent: “We created ACE because education fastens a community and really allows it to prosper. By creating ACE we wanted to give everyone an opportunity to go to college if they worked for it. We knew if ACE was successful it would make Amarillo unique and make our community collectively responsible for the achievement of our students.”

We also spoke with past superintendent and current Amarillo Area Foundation Board Member, Rod Schroder and he echoes Allison’s sentiments of the ACE program. “To me ACE is all about the vision building. It removes the barriers of college because we give kids the option to visualize how going to college is possible for them if they would like to go,” Schroder said.

“We start by encouraging our students to gain some marketable skills by getting a two year degree at Amarillo College. Then we use that as a springboard to help them go for two more years at WT if they would like to do that.” According to Schroder, “ACE basically says ‘We want to help you change your circumstances and help you attain a living wage.’” Continue reading

#WHYACE: Then & Now

To begin our ACE series it is important to first break down what ACE is, give you some history on how it got started, and explain the direction it is headed. Be advised though, ACE has a lot of moving parts! So a fuller picture about what ACE is and all that it does will be revealed each week.

If you are like me, you may be wondering – what does the ACE acronym even represent?

ACE stands for “Achievement through Commitment to Education.” It is a community partnership and scholarship program between Amarillo Independent School District, Amarillo College, West Texas A&M University, and the Amarillo Area Foundation. Essentially the program helps many AISD students attain a college education. Terms like “low-income” and “postsecondary attainment” can seem heavy, and they are, especially when considering the relationship between poverty and education attainment; but the larger purpose of this WHY ACE blog series is to hold up an investigative lens to those relationships, and ask complex questions. So stick with us as we navigate the current postsecondary landscape together. At AAF we believe these questions are vital because education is everyone’s business.

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