POCATELLO — It was a dream of establishing 30 schools that led Dr. Esther Howard and her husband, Duane Howard, to found a system for private Christian schools in 1970 called Accelerated Christian Education.
That dream has grown into a national and international movement with more than 6,000 schools and centers in 145 countries.
Also known as the School of Tomorrow, ACE held a regional Christian Educators’ Convention in Pocatello’s Red Lion Inn on Monday.
“It’s not a movement, it’s a tsunami,” said Dr. Greg Mutsch, the executive director of business administration for ACE, in his opening address to about 70 participants. This was the eighth regional convention so far this year for the ACE staff, which holds regional conventions nationwide to provide continuing training for their teachers and staff members.
“ACE is the world’s premier provider for private Christian schools,” said Mutsch at the Red Lion Inn in Pocatello.
The curriculum is based on self-instructional units called Paces and is described as a mastery-based, back-to-basics education. Mutsch stressed its individualized approach to learning.
“We’re not teaching to the average,” he said, noting that the system allows students to progress through the curriculum at their own pace.
ACE curriculum is also characterized by an emphasis on Biblical scriptures and character building, as well as using the advanced computer capabilities available in today’s high-tech climate.
Maintaining that high-tech climate is what Donald Cooney, a technical support representative for ACE, does on a day-to-day basis. Cooney assists ACE clients with issues they may have while using the curriculum software.
As an ACE graduate himself, Cooney said he feels that he received an excellent education. After using ACE curriculum from kindergarten through high school, Cooney earned his college degree in business.
“One of the strongest things about the curriculum is the individual attention experienced and the goal-setting,” he said. “I think the reason why I did so well in college was that I already knew how to set goals.”
The Christian Educators’ Convention included breakout sessions covering issues common to all kinds of schools. They included learning strategies, helping students with ADD or ADHD, new computer applications and a session titled “Cybertraps,” to help combat the misuse of technology.
The conference also offered breakout sessions that were specific to education in a Christian context such as character building, enhancing spiritual foundations and the 12 traits of a Godly leader.
The ACE program stretches far beyond just an alternative form of private classroom education in the United States. Its BLESS program seeks to increase global literacy.
For those ACE students 16 years of age or older, ACE offers the Service Adventure program, which allows ACE students from all over the world to participate in a service project. This coming July, ACE Service Adventure participants will be going to Lima, Peru, to help in constructing offices, developing and presenting puppet ministries and other activities.
ACE high school graduates can take part in the Educational Assistance program to serve outside the U.S. in schools or centers using ACE curriculum.
In countries such as Namibia, Haiti and India graduates have the opportunity to work as reading monitors, youth center workers or even web designers.
As a provider of religious education in private schools utilizing a self-instructional method, ACE schools have faced criticism for bucking the public school system.
“The proof of the pudding is in the eating,” said Mutsch, noting that ACE students take the traditional ACT and SAT exams and perform as well as, or better than, public school students.
“Our graduates are doctors or lawyers or housewives and are in all walks of life,” he said.
Regional Student Conferences and International Student Conferences let ACE students connect with other ACE students from across the country and around the world.
Diane Musson has been an ACE teacher for 30 years, and has recently joined the staff of the ACE home offices in Nashville, Tenn. A native of Ogden, Utah, Musson trained as a teacher at Weber State University and taught in the public school system for two years.
“But it wasn’t individualized learning like I had been taught,” she said. She plugged into the ACE system and has been there every since.
“This is very close to my heart,” Musson said.
Through its Lighthouse Christian Academy, ACE also provides home school or distance-learning services for students from K-12. For more information about ACE schools, see the organization’s website at www.aceministries.com or call them 800-470-8991.