FILE - ACE students were set to move into the AESS building on Oct. 28, 2019 according to SD78 superintendent Karen Nelson. (Google Maps)

YEAR IN REVIEW 2019: ACE students being relocated to Agassiz high school

The Observer is taking a look back at some of our top headlines of 2019

From community events to short term rentals and realities about opioids, housing affordability and homelessness, as well as film crews and a cultural hub proposal, there was no shortage of news in Agassiz, Harrison, and surrounding communities this year. In the days leading up to New Year 2020, the Observer is taking a look back at some of these headlines and more.

ORIGINAL STORY: ACE students being relocated to Agassiz high school

Students at the Agassiz Centre for Education were moving to the AESS building starting on Oct. 28.

According to school district superintendent Karen Nelson, the Fraser Cascade school board made a decision to move the ACE program to the high school during a closed board meeting on Oct. 15.

The decision was made partly because of declining enrolment numbers in the district, as well as concerns about safety for students and staff in the small building located next to AESS, Nelson said.

“Our enrolment numbers have been decreasing over the years as you know, and we just felt this was a good opportunity for students to move over and have some enhanced programming opportunities there,” Nelson said.

ACE had an enrolment of 17 students at the time, up from 16 in 2018-19, although down from around 27 students in 2014-15.

The students were to be moving with ACE administrator Sandy Balascak to the AESS building, where they would have their own classroom.

Students would be able to integrate into other classes if they chose, or continue to learn from Balascak, who was the only teacher at ACE since Ray Steiguilas retired at the end of last year.

Nelson said she was at ACE on Oct. 21 to share the news with students, many of whom expressed concerns about returning to AESS.

“We know that will be a difficult transition of course,” she said.

“It’s going to be a big transition, we understand that for our students, but we believe it will provide enhanced programming options,” she continued.

“Sandy’s the only teacher at ACE right now and she can’t be expected to … be an expert in every area.”

According to Nelson, students at ACE would be provided with counselling during the move to AESS, which would take place gradually as the school moves its equipment to the new space.

Concerns were also raised by Alison Loosdretch, a student at ACE, in the Life in Agassiz Facebook group, who later added that what Nelson told the Observer was not what she had heard from the superintendent.

“We are told this will be better for us, but we already know it’s not,” Loosdretch wrote in her post. “We left AESS. Our school is our safe place, as well as our teacher and has helped each one of us in our own way.”

RELATED: ACE setting itself up for success

She went on to say that staff at AESS had said students who eventually went on to go to ACE “didn’t belong in a mainstream school” and were made fun of for their mental health issues.

“We are anxious, nervous, and scared to go back, many of us were bullied at that school, not other by students but the staff as well!” she wrote. “We voiced that, but again our opinion doesn’t matter because we are students.”

Loosdretch ended her post by asking parents to contact the school district about the move, and an hour after she published it, had already received more than 45 comments from people who were shocked that the alternative school would be moving.

Many said they would be contacting the school district or members of the local government.

At least two ACE graduates also commented on the post, speaking about the importance of the school to their own education.

“If I was still in ACE at this point I would most definitely had dropped out,” Emma Potts said in her comment on the post. “AESS is a good school but not for everybody. I have been personally victimized by people there, not only the students but staff.

“Regardless its not about putting other schools down, it’s about making our students feel safe and excited to go to school. This is outrageous, and very sad to see.”

RELATED: Bullying remains key concern in ACE move to Agassiz high school



grace.kennedy@ahobserver.com

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