Staff Perspective: Bas Wolf, HRHS

Staff Perspective: Bas Wolf, Highlands Ranch High School
Posted on 05/18/2020
Staff Perspective: Bas Wolf
Highlands Ranch High School

Bas Wolf heads the in-school Alternative Cooperative Education (ACE) program at Highlands Ranch High School (HRHS). Though ACE falls under Career and Technical Education, the program is unique among Douglas County School District. Stacy Blaylock, DCSD Communications Coordinator, chatted with Wolf about his focus on self-discipline and community and how that has made the shift to remote learning meaningful for both him and his students.

Words of Wisdom from Bas:

Just because you don't want to do something doesn't mean you're off the hook. We want students to be able to say, "This isn't going to be a very fun thing, but I have the capability of doing it with a good attitude."
First off, can you give an overview of ACE?

The program was founded at HRHS 14 years ago, and I took it over five years ago. The basic idea of ACE is two-fold. One, we're here to help you survive today. Quite often, that's a very literal thing. We have kids for who today, and tomorrow, is a question mark. Two, we're building the tools and skills for creating an amazing future.

What kind of students participate in ACE?

We have a pretty crazy diversity in there, pretty much any kind of stereotype you can have at a high school. We have rich athlete kids, kids that are transgender, kids that are on the honor roll, and kids that have almost no credits to their name when they come into the program. Their similarity is they struggle with knowing what their value is, either because of a historical absence of parenting or a lack of buy-in with academics. Most of them are just great kids that don't know they're great or haven’t been given ways to tap into their greatness.

How do students get into ACE?

Students are recommended by teachers, counselors, and friends. Anyone who thinks they would benefit. Though I always joke that we have 1,100 ACE students in our school, there's only 85 of them that are enrolled. Wherever kids are hurting and struggling, ACE can help.

What challenges have you faced during remote learning?

Trying to get as many students on the check-in calls as possible. Even at 11:00 a.m., I run into three reasons kids don't check-in. Some kids are grinding out work in other classes, so they've spaced our call. Some are still asleep because they were up late because something happened in the family or, let's face it, they played video games. Others are working more hours at their jobs. For some of these students, not being at school means being at home, and that's not always an ideal situation for them. So if they can get more hours at work, they do.

What was it like going from teaching in a classroom to teaching through a screen?

ACE Classroom Coffee Lounge It's hard. So much of what we do, like daily check-in, is nuanced with body language, even just eye contact. Usually, the students have set up their own rules to keep everyone focused. But it's changed a lot because you don't get the sense that everyone is here just to listen to you. So that's been a big challenge. Even simple things like I have to look at the camera, so it looks like I'm directly talking to students, but then I'm not truly looking them in the eye. There's really subtle psychology behind eye contact that technology seems to hinder.

We have a full-blown coffee lounge in our classroom, and we do a lot of life around the coffee bar. It's really hard to not have that. Kids miss coming in and the smell of coffee and good music playing and that intimacy of being around people. We describe ourselves as a family a lot, and missing that takes a noticeable toll on all of us.

What approaches do you use to counteract the barriers of technology?

The only thing I try to do to combat technology barriers is to look at the camera. It's such a silly little nuanced change, but you try to make it a little more personal for the kids. I'm a huge fan of the everybody-is-not-on-mute kind of meetings, which can be a little chaotic, but I don’t want students to have the feeling that it's just me talking at them; it’s a feeling that it's us talking with each other. That makes a simple difference to a lot of the kids.

What skills and tools are your ACE students working on?

We're continuing to work on personal projects, but they're not the ones from school. For example, a group was putting together a planner that was part calendar for assignments and part mental health tools. Now they don't have the technology to share with others what they're creating. Since going remote, they've started to pursue projects at home that incorporate a SMART goal and three Colorado Academic Standards they are going to master. Then we apply what we do in "Daily Discipline."

"Daily Discipline" is just a repetition of talking about and then doing things that require discipline. It's something we work on every class period. We even have a quote that says, "I didn't feel like doing it today, so I did it." Students have to choose projects that will lead to self-improvement, like doing something you don't want to do, but you know is good for you. One student is doing a ridiculous amount of different exercises at 7:00 a.m. Then, afterward, he's pulling apart his motorcycle and learning how the engine works. There's a lot of those individual projects that combine Project-Based learning and the idea that it should challenge you, and force you to do what you normally wouldn't do.

Why is discipline so important for your students?

You can take geometry, and some people will use that ten years down the road, and some people won't. But if you look behind the universal truths behind what makes people successful, without fail, every successful person has discipline. Just because you don't want to do something doesn't mean you're off the hook. We want students to be able to say, "This isn't going to be a very fun thing, but I have the capability of doing it with a good attitude."

So many of us have heard that discipline works, that the idea is good, but we don't know how to practice it. So that's what we try to cultivate a culture for discipline in ACE. There's gonna be times in your life that are not very fun, but your attitude can make things achievable.

How does this class of seniors compare to classes in the past?

My seniors know how to approach what they're doing based on the ACE model. So for them, the challenge of going to remote learning has been much easier. I know that when they're getting into something they don't like, they know how to handle it. It becomes more obvious that they're getting what you're saying the longer they are in the program.

Thank you, Bas, for taking the time to chat with me! Good luck with the rest of the year!

Thank you! You as well.

Learn More About the ACE Program at Highlands Ranch High School

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