Learning in the fast lane
St Helena Secondary College accelerates learning with ACE, Annie Facchinetti
n air of purposeful concentration pervades the Science lab as I enter to talk to Year 9 students in St Helena Secondary College’s Accelerated Curriculum and Enrichment (ACE) Program. Since Year 7, this group has attended core subject classes together, and although I am told they are not the most cohesive cohort in the program, I am struck by the diligence and attention that students are giving to their investigations. A quick conversation with some of the pupils soon confirms my suspicions that although they have reached the time in their high school careers that is often the peak of disengagement and bad behaviour, these young people are genuinely motivated to wring all they can out of their secondary education. St Helena is located in Melbourne’s outer northeast, somewhere between suburban Greensborough and semi-rural Yarrambat. Now in its 10th year, its well-regarded ACE Program was established to cater for the needs of high performing students, offering a pathway that supports and encourages their interests and talents. Students typically work at a year
above their current level in the fundamental curriculum areas of English and Maths, while receiving extension in other domains such as Science and Humanities. ACE Program Coordinator Brian Daniells explains that to successfully apply for the program, students must first and foremost want to attend the school, nominating it as their top preference on their secondary school enrolment forms. Students are put through a multifaceted selection process, which includes the Higher Ability Selection Test and assessment questionnaires from both their primary teacher and parents. All students who sit the test are offered a 20-minute interview at which parents are present. Daniells emphasises that more than one factor is considered when deciding who will enter the program. “We try to choose students that will form a great class,” he says. The program accepts 26 students each year, who form an ACE class that remains together for core subjects through to the end of Year 10, although as electives increase, the number of common subjects for the group decreases.
In 2012, the new ACE Class is one of 10 Year 7 classes. Far from being an elite and isolated group however, the students mix well with the rest of their year level. Loretta Marazzato’s son Matthew is in his first year of the ACE Program and has settled in quickly. “There have not been any social issues in terms of integrating with other Year 7s for my son... in fact [he] has friends in the other classes,” she reports. One of the reasons for this is that students are mixed in with their peers from outside the ACE Program whenever practicable. In Years 7 and 8, they attend subjects such as art, music and design and technology with the rest of their cohort, while in the later years, electives give the opportunity to mix with a broad range of people. Indeed, Daniells identifies the fact that the students work as a class as a highlight of the program. “One of the strengths I’ve observed is that the students are together. There are conflicts, but students learn to resolve issues and deal with problems.” The students themselves also seem to like the way the program is organised. Year 9 participant
Education Today – Term 4 2012