‘ACE’ing Class: Concurrent Enrollment Teaches LLA Students to Persevere, Thrive in College Courses

“At this point, she’s committed to it. She’s not backing down from it anymore.”

By Justin Warren


By the middle of Giselle’s junior year in high school, she had already started college. 

After only one semester at Life Learning Academy, her teachers identified her academic and interpersonal strengths, and the school’s Academic Committee invited her to join a small cohort of classmates to pilot a new program that places students into college classes while they complete high school.

On a wet day in January, she walked onto campus at Skyline Community College to get a head start on higher education.

“In the beginning, the work was easy,” Giselle explained. “We were easing into things. It was cool. I was just intimidated.”

In the following weeks, Giselle’s intimidation vanished, and her workload grew, at times so much that she felt she might not have continued without LLA’s support.


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Giselle was one of five students to pilot the Academic Concurrent Enrollment (ACE) program, which has proven successful at breaking down barriers, building student confidence, and showing promising results according to Sean Lyons, Director of LLA’s Academic and Transition Services.

“We realized we do a good job helping students move through high school,” Lyons said, “and that we could do more to prepare them for college.”



From top: Giselle and Ashanti at Skyline Community College; Eileen adding to in-class notes; Ashanti works on scholarship applications in LLA’s College and Career Counseling office. 


Led by Academic Director Ely Gonzalez, the committee started designing the ACE program a year ago to facilitate the continued improvement of academic programming and support for LLA students. 

The committee designed a nuanced vetting process, an active partnership with Skyline College, and a fully supported college enrollment experience that prepares students for demanding academics, while breaking down the intimidation that some felt around entering a post-secondary classroom.

“I’m a data-driven person,” Lyons said, adding that he uses the school’s info about student “attendance, on-time arrival, academic success across disciplines, and social-emotional maturity” among other factors that can identify a student who will likely excel in college.

Among those selected was Eileen, 17, a shy, personable senior whom they had not initially considered a strong candidate.



Top: Eileen meets with Sean Lyons, who coordinates the ACE program, and LLA alumnus Jesse Meek (left) who supports student enrollment. Above: Ashanti discusses class progress with Lyons.


After the committee took a closer look at her track record at LLA, Eileen’s strengths stood out. She attended consistently, sought extra help when she needed it, and made clear that she was highly motivated to improve.

As an English-language learner, Eileen herself has built confidence during her two years at LLA. Even so, she wasn’t sure how well she would do.

“When I got to the midterm, I thought I would just get a B,” Eileen said of her first in-class essay test. Instead, she was one of two LLA students to ace the written exam.


“I always think positive, never give up, face my struggles, and do my best.” — Eileen, 17


Eileen’s improved GPA and strong writing recently earned her a Maisin Scholarship, which she will use to pay for college expenses after graduating this May, according to Lyons.

“She’s been phenomenal,” said González, who was not sure whether college level language arts requirements would prove overwhelming for her. With her enrollment at Skyline, González said, Eileen is a “much stronger reader and writer.”

For her part, González has helped Eileen improve her language arts skills in a custom-designed College Support class that helps those in the ACE program manage the workload, practice time management, and work on class assignments.

“Because she’s so committed to bettering herself, she’s really pushed herself,” Gonzalez said.

Like Eileen, Ashanti, 18, has pushed herself to realize that college is not only accessible, but also a place she can both achieve and fit in.

“I thought that [making friends] was going to be a huge challenge,” Ashanti said.

“There’s less drama. I think everybody [in college] is more focused on their work, and what they want to do in their future.”



Ashanti and Eileen share a light moment as they work on an essay about restorative justice and the green economy. 


LLA senior Chazorae, 18, is just such a student. When he joined the LLA community at 14, he already carried a deep appreciation for literature, evidenced by the hulking backpack of books he bore on his growing shoulders.

Through LLA’s Workforce Development program, he gained experience working at the San Francisco Public Library’s “The Mix” Teen Center. Now, as an ACE program student at Skyline College, he realizes that his passion for the written word can evolve into a career in Library Science.

“I’ve worked at the library for about three years now,” Chaz said, “and it was about a year and a half into it that realized I wanted to continue my path toward becoming a librarian.”



Chazorae discusses college classwork with LLA Academic Director Ely Gonzalez. 


He plans to transfer to City College of San Francisco in the Fall to complete an associate’s degree at the college’s Library Tech program in pursuit of his long term plan to earn a masters in Library Science.

The key to succeeding in college, Chaz said, is “managing everything you have to do, all at once.”


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For Giselle, the youngest student in the ACE program, that challenge became truly daunting. With her first college midterm exams looming, the pressure on the LLA junior felt unbearable.

“There was this one day when I just felt like it was too much,” she said, recalling the challenge she felt in the Intensive Composition class.

Giselle left her seat and stood in the hallway of the Pacific Heights building outside her classroom. Choking back tears of frustration, she called González, who was driving home after a day of instruction on LLA’s Treasure Island campus.

González answered.

“I just told her everything. I was crying,” Giselle recalled. “I needed to hear from her, like, ‘what do I do right now?’”

As an undergraduate at Yale, González experienced first hand the “culture shock” of a place “so foreign” and in which she was such “a stark minority” among her classmates. After taking a year off to work at a school in Watts, she said, she “came back and was stronger than ever.”


“I am available if they struggle with anything.” Ely González, LLA Academic Director


Giselle credits that conversation for keeping her on track in the ACE program. Following González’s advice, Giselle found a way to breathe, a place to unwind, and the strength to continue. She approached her professor after class to share her frustrations, which, she said, “brought us closer together.”

For all the LLA students enrolled in the ACE program, college has proven more challenging than they imagined, but it’s successes more attainable, explained González.

“It’s been really transformative for the students in the program,” González said, sharing that by being in real college classes, seniors practice gathering the support and cultivating the resolve that ultimately leads to success.

For Giselle, González said, the worst is behind her.

“At this point, she’s committed to it. She’s not backing down from it anymore.”


Discover how LLA’s new initiative, LLABUILD, will create success for teens who lack safe, stable housing. Visit, and follow our progress at @LLASF!