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Students concerned with proposed ACES move

News Photo by Crystal Nelson Kenzie Kolnowski, a junior at Alternative Choices for Educational Success Academy, is pictured with her son, Miles McNeal, Friday at McRae Park in Alpena.

ALPENA — Current and former students of Alpena Public Schools’ alternative high school are concerned the program will not be as successful if it’s relocated to Alpena High School this fall.

Samantha Wheeler, who graduated from Alternative Choices for Educational Success Academy in 2009, said relocating the academy is “a horrible idea.”

Wheeler said she bounced between several school districts when she was younger and found high school to be “one big clique.” In high school, she ended up skipping class and had physical fights with other students.

But things were different when she attended ACES.

Wheeler said the class sizes were smaller, the teachers were different, and that she was able to graduate with a 4.0 grade point average and get a scholarship to college. Wheeler said she remains friends with many of her teachers today.

Wheeler has since become a certified medical assistant and certified phlebotomist and is currently employed at Omni Metalcraft. She is also a medical first responder with the Green Township Volunteer Fire Department.

“I think it’s sad they want to sell it, because it’s the best place for a lot of people,” she said.

Alpena Public Schools Superintendent Dave Rabbideau said in his April 26 column in The News said district officials plan to relocate ACES Academy to Alpena High School for the upcoming 2021-22 school year.

Rabbideau told the Board of Education’s Property Committee earlier this month that district officials are conducting an inventory of district-owned property and are considering the marketability of ACES and the Central Office building.

On Tuesday, Rabbideau told The News he understood right from the beginning how important the separate identity is to the program, and believes district officials have developed a plan that allows the alternative high school to keep its separate identity.

The ACES program would move into the high school robotics room and a couple other rooms that aren’t being used, according to Rabbideau, and students would be able to arrive via a separate entrance.

Rabbideau said when students arrive at the school, they can go right into their classroom, and lunch would be brought to the academy’s portion of the building. He said academy students wouldn’t have to go outside of their designated area for any purpose.

“The benefit is because they’re in the same building it saves us on costs of the building, it saves us on additional staffing for busing and food service and custodial,” he said. “We also get the benefit of a teacher who can devote time to both the high school and ACES, which opens up a whole bunch of possibilities that weren’t available to the kids when they’re off on their own separate building on their own separate campus.”

Kenzie Kolnowski, a junior at ACES Academy, said she, too, does not believe relocating the program is a good idea. Kolnowski said academy students choose to leave the high school for their own, personal reasons.

“Us ACES students cannot make it in the high school,” she said. “Even if they do have their own separate little area, it’s not going to be the same as being out of the high school.”

Kolnowski said the high school was too big, too loud, and that in the lunch room she felt like she was being stared at all the time. She has enjoyed the smaller class sizes, and has better connections with teachers at the academy.

Teachers at ACES Academy allowed Kolnowski the flexibility to attend school online when she was pregnant, she said, when teachers at AHS told her her grades weren’t good enough to take online classes.

She was able to continue her online learning after her son Miles was born, but is worried about what the transition back to the high school will mean for her.

“Once I go back to the high school, I truly don’t think they’re going to let me do online, and that’s going to force me to make a difficult decision because I can’t leave him,” she said, motioning to her son.

Additionally, ACES graduate Wheeler isn’t convinced administrators can keep the academy completely separate from the high school while they’re sharing the same campus and believes there could still be an opportunity for a student to cause trouble if they really wanted to.

“Do you know how easy it is to sneak around and sneak out and cause the person you hate problems,” she asked. “Being away from the property, you can’t do that.”

She also said some academy students struggle with self-esteem and relocating the program to the high school would feel like a constant reminder they’re not good enough to attend a traditional high school.

Superintendent Rabbideau told the Property Committee district officials are looking for ways to consolidate operations to account for the district’s declining enrollment.

Rabbideau noted in his column the district’s enrollment has decreased by 17% in the last 13 years.

He said on Tuesday board approval wouldn’t be required to relocate the program to the high school, but would be required to sell the property the academy is located on, 700 Pinecrest St.

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