At Thursday’s Alternative Center for Excellence (ACE) graduation, almost every one of the 30 graduates said the same thing: ACE changed their lives and gave them direction. They thought graduating from high school was an impossibility; now many are looking forward to attending college in the fall. College or not, they are all headed in a positive direction.
This year’s graduating class was one of the school’s largest, representing nearly a third of the entire school population.
“I’m hoping you didn’t regret the choice to be a part of the ACE family,” said teacher John Webber. “You will have to continue to battle. You will need to make things happen for you or they will happen to you . . . make the ones who love you proud.”
Considering the term “commencement exercises,” Atanasoff told students “this is not the end – this is the beginning.” She then reminded them of the people who made their success possible.
“It is the incredible dedication of the ACE staff that allows us to succeed,” Atanasoff said.
The school, under the guidance of Principal Sandy Atanasoff, focuses on addressing individual needs while providing a nurturing environment in which students can explore their options and develop the skills and interests that best suit them. In addition to a rigorous curriculum, students at the school also participate in an outdoor education program that includes hiking and rafting trips. ACE students also participate in community service. The school, which opened its doors in 1977, has roughly 100 students in grades nine through 12. It has the same graduation requirements as the district’s 3,000-student high school but offers a smaller environment for district students.
Noah Shoffner said that being at ACE taught him to be humble.
“I learned I can overcome any obstacle,” he said. He struggled with math, particularly algebra and “scratched and clawed” his way from a 50 average to an 80. “My hunger to get that 80 was everything.”
Noah will head to Naugatuck Valley Community College in the fall to study physical therapy. He hopes to transfer after two years to play football at the University of Hartford.
“I never thought I would be standing here, but I knew something about this place would be amazing,” said Rashelle Moya, who will join the U.S. Army after graduation.
Christian Espinoza said he came to ACE during his sophomore year with “troubled grades.” His first days at ACE were different than other schools he had attended, so he sat in the back of the classroom and listened to how the teachers communicated with students.
“Each staff member seemed to be close with the students,” Christian said. “Since I’ve been at ACE, there have been many people who helped me. I fixed my grades and got back on track. I tried to participate in every event the school offered. It helped me become a better person. Three years ago I didn’t even think I would finish high school.”
Graduate Marcus Lunetta said he faced many challenges while going through ACE.
“There was still a chance to defy statistics when I came to ACE,” Marcus said. “We all have the potential of abundance wants to travel and do amazing things.”
Marcus said his list of things to do right away includes travelling, skydiving and hang gliding.
“Let’s do this,” he said.