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ACE program expands to Tascosa
Scholarships provide funding for educationBy Brenda Bernet
The rising cost of higher education - particularly during an economic recession - can dampen the brightest of dreams.
But Amarillo civic leaders announced Tuesday the expansion of a program to advance the aspirations of students.
The Amarillo Area Foundation revealed during its annual meeting at the Amarillo Country Club that a scholarship program now will include students in the Tascosa High School cluster.
The Achievement through Commitment to Education program - more commonly known as ACE - ensures that students can pay for their education at either Amarillo College or West Texas A&M University. The program started in 1994 with Palo Duro High School and grew to include Caprock High School students in 2002.
With the expansion announced Tuesday, fifth-graders at Lee Bivins Elementary School, Margaret Wills Elementary School and San Jacinto Elementary School can qualify to receive ACE scholarships if they meet certain criteria once they graduate from Tascosa High School.
"One of the barriers to college for economically disadvantaged students is the cost," district Superintendent Rod Schroder said. "Kids learn real early that they may not have the money. The ACE program eliminates that."
San Jacinto began a "No Excuses University" program last school year that puts college - really training beyond a high school diploma - at the forefront of students' minds, Principal Doug Curry told the gathering. The school serves about 650 students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade; 95 percent are from low-income families. Parents love and support their children, but there are many challenges, Curry said.
"Children in elementary schools are a blank slate," Curry said. "There's no reason to make the dream small."
The ACE program provides assurance that college can become a reality, he said.
"It's beyond belief," Curry said. "I can't wait to tell not only our kids, but our parents."
Students at Margaret Wills have big dreams, Principal Karen Atkinson said, and they already have careers in mind. During tough economic times, families have a difficult time making ends meet, and college can seem like an impossibility, she said. The ACE program puts a college education within reach.
"There's no excuses," said Jim Allison, president and chief executive of the Amarillo Area Foundation.
Plans to expand ACE to include Tascosa students began two years ago, Allison explained. The foundation's board of directors, along with the Don and Sybil Harrington Foundation board, decided in December to focus on students in that cluster who come from low-income backgrounds.
They approved a three-year, $5 million increase to the ACE endowment to support the addition of the students from the three elementary schools. The foundation has started a new fund-raising campaign to cover the increase.
To receive ACE scholarships, high school students must maintain at least an 80 grade-point average, be in school 95 percent of the time and have appropriate behavior at school. The scholarships have gone to students who attended Palo Duro and Caprock for four consecutive years and met the criteria.
Fifth-graders at Bivins, Margaret Wills and San Jacinto will be eligible if they go on to Sam Houston Middle School and Tascosa High School and meet the requirements for grades, attendance and behavior.
Through the ACE program, students first apply for federal aid and other scholarships. ACE scholarships cover any expense that remains for a student's tuition, fees and books.
ACE pays for a total of 130 hours of college. Students receive the greatest benefit if they take 45 hours of core courses first at AC and then continue their education at WT. They can choose to start at WT, but ACE will pay only as much as the cost of taking 45 hours from AC, Allison said.
For additional information about the Achievement through Commitment to Education program, call Charlotte Rhodes at 806- 376-4521, or e-mail her at email@example.com. Information can also be found at www.amarilloareafoundation.org.
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