School program an ‘ACE’ for special education students


In recognition of autism awareness month, the Oceanside School District put a spotlight on the district’s ACE Program at the recent board of education meeting, as the program continues to shine as a beacon of opportunity for special education students.

The ACE Program, short for academic and career exploration, has garnered acclaim for its commitment to providing comprehensive job training and vocational experiences to students with diverse learning needs. Led by Tracy Murray, the executive director of special education, the program has become a cornerstone of inclusive education within the district.

“Their enthusiasm, determination, and unwavering commitment to their vocational pursuits serve as an inspiration to us all,” said Murray of the special education students. “I cannot express enough how proud I am of our students, our dedicated staff, and the unwavering support of our community members. Together they exemplify the spirit of collaboration, inclusion, and service embodying the very essence of what it means to be a part of the Oceanside family.”

At the heart of the program lies its partnership with local businesses, which play a pivotal role in providing hands-on training opportunities for participating students. The academic and career explorations vocational program is a collaborative initiative, coordinated by the Oceanside school district and led by Jackie Frasca and academic and career exploration teachers, Nicole McCann and Janelle Giannetta. Through these partnerships with local businesses, the students gain invaluable real-world experience, develop essential job skills, and cultivate a sense of independence and self-confidence.

“We want to ensure that our students have a really successful academic journey while they’re in high school but we also want to provide them with community experiences to give them some career exploration,” said the director of secondary special education, Saudia Mahamed. “We take the time to get to know the students and the things that they love to do and we try to turn that into a pathway for them once they leave us.”

Central to the success of the academic and career exploration program is its focus on personalized learning and individualized support. Teachers and aides work to understand each student’s unique strengths, interests, and goals, tailoring their educational experiences accordingly. As a result, students are not only prepared for post-secondary education and employment but also equipped with the social and life skills necessary for success in all aspects of life.

“Partnering with all the different businesses and having our students practice different jobs and different tasks, in different industries, helps them build up a resume so they can leave here understanding their strengths and the areas in which they want to pursue once they leave us,” Mahamed said.

The program’s effectiveness is further underscored by the testimonials of students and staff alike and has fostered a sense of purpose and pride in students through their participation in the program.

“I really think that it gives our kids a sense of purpose, a sense of pride and then also just gives them an idea of what they like and what they succeed. What they want to do post-secondary and it gives them that exposure,” said academic and career exploration, Nicole McCann.

As the ACE Program continues to make strides in empowering special education students, the Oceanside community stands as an example of inclusivity, compassion, and opportunity. Desiree Lucia, a special education aide, emphasized the importance of community integration and social skill development.

“I think that it’s a very great experience for all the students to go out on certain job sites,” she said. “It teaches them social skills, it teaches them how to involve themselves in the community more. A lot of our job sites are helping with students, so it teaches them certain things that they can do in life outside of school once they graduate.”

With support from educators, businesses, and community members, the program remains steadfast in its mission to unlock the full potential of every student, regardless of their abilities.

“We’re so grateful so many businesses have opened their doors to us and really, really make students feel part of their teams,” Mahamed said. “We want them to be able to interact with people in their community and feel and feel connected.”