ACE students to be honoured at gala

The York University/Westview Partnership and the York University Faculty Association Trust will co-host a gala celebration today honouring 25 graduates of York’s innovative Advance Credit Experience (ACE) Project. The event will take place from 6:30 to 8:30pm in the Stong College Dining Hall, room 102, Stong College, on York’s Keele campus.

The program provides an opportunity for “at risk” high-school students at Toronto’s Westview Centennial Secondary School and Emery Collegiate Institute to gain first-hand exposure to postsecondary education before they graduate from high school. This year’s top four graduates of ACE are eligible for scholarships to York worth up to $5,000.

York developed ACE in 2003, in partnership with the two local high schools and the Toronto District School Board. It is in the second year of a five-year pilot project. The long-term goal of the program is to partner with a third local secondary school and to bring annual enrolment up to 60 students in total – 20 from each school.

The ACE program was developed to ensure that York is seen as inclusive and open to students in the neighbourhood,says Carol Cabral, the partnership coordinator for ACE. “It allows York to develop closer relationships with our nearby educational institutions and to demystify the postsecondary experience for local youth.”

The program is open to any interested students in Grades 10, 11 and 12. “But we’re not looking for the top 10 per centers,” says Cabral. “They have already mapped out their academic future. For the ACE program we’re asking teachers to identify candidates from the middle cohort of their students – the kids who might not yet have developed their dream of higher education or their motivation to achieve it.”

Students wishing to participate in the ACE program take an elective course in their first semester to hone and focus their skills. Particular emphasis is placed on the development of skills in writing, analysis and research. At the end of their first semester, all candidates are assessed to determine which of them displayed the greatest commitment and ability to take advantage of the university experience.

Successful candidates are then officially enrolled as York students and registered in a first-year introductory half-course in the Faculty of Arts. In 2004-2005 the course chosen was Introduction to Political Science. While at the same time completing their high-school requirements, ACE students sit side by side with full-time first-year York students and are expected to fulfill all the same requirements of the course over the 5-month enrollment period.

As a way of giving back to the community, ACE students also complete 110 hours of volunteer service in nearby elementary and middle schools. They make use of their expanding skills and maturity by working as tutors, reading buddies and mentors to the younger students.

One of the many objectives of the program is to improve the self-confidence of the participating Westview and Emery students and to increase their comfort level with the concept of postsecondary education. ACE students also have regular access to York’s recreation centre and are able to participate in such sports as swimming and basketball. This recreation time enhances the experience of being a real part of university life.

Student response to the project has been extremely positive. Graduates have remarked on how the ACE experience helped them learn to be more self-reliant, independent, goal-focused and intellectually adventurous. They speak of gaining valuable insights that have helped them overcome barriers and take initiative in situations that they otherwise might not have considered.

“ACE provides students with academic opportunity and hopes for the future they would not otherwise have,” concludes Cabral. “Participants are exposed to all aspects of university life, from attending lectures and tutorials to working on campus, and they quickly build self-confidence in their academic and workplace competency.”

The ACE program is jointly funded by the York University Faculty Association, the York University Foundation and program sponsors including: Maytree Foundation (first two years); Foyston, Gordon & Payne (from this year onwards, replacing Maytree); Toronto District School Board; and York’s Faculty of Arts, Faculty of Education and Office of the Vice-President Academic.