Faced with tragedy, Matthew Smith and the other co-founders of the Alaquest Collaborative for Education (ACE) chose to educate area youth in programs based on Social and Emotional Learning (SEL). It is their hope that strengthening skills like communication, positive sense of self and anger management will lead to better communities.
What is AlaQuest Collaborative for Education?
ACE is an agency focused on increasing access to Social and Emotional Learning (SEL). We are a 501(c)3 designated organization comprised of educators, business professionals and concerned citizens who work together to create and implement programming that fosters social and emotional growth and understanding, especially in young people. We categorize our work into three initiatives: Teacher Training, In-Class Programs and Community Outreach.
What was the inspiration for ACE?
ACE was born out of a desire by the co-founders to turn personal tragedy into positive action. In September of 2012, Joshua Smith — son, brother and friend of the co-founders — was murdered at age 22 along with two of his friends. He was at home and asleep on the couch. The other two victims — Casey Cumberland and Simeon Gilmore — were ages 21 and 19. Their murderer was 20 years old. We believe that the person who senselessly took these young lives and who irreparably damaged his own future might have made a different decision if he had been more emotionally aware of himself, and if he had known the impact of his decisions on others. That is why we work to increase access to Social and Emotional Learning, so that future generations might be more aware of themselves personally and inter-personally. We hope that such social and emotional growth will prevent future acts of violence. Joshua was a kind, benevolent soul with a passion for helping others, and he would be proud to know that his legacy is making a difference.
Who does ACE benefit the most in the community?
Social and emotional skills are universally beneficial. ACE programs engage students, educators and community members in learning that promotes positive sense of self and healthy, productive relationships to others. We aim to increase access to Social and Emotional Learning opportunities for the community as a whole.
What programs and events does ACE host?
ACE provides parent and teacher training on Non-Violent Crisis Prevention and Intervention, in-class Life Skills Education programs for middle and high school students, Self Care workshops for LGBTQ youth and is planning a biennial conference to bring together SEL professionals/ experts with Alabama educators for skills sharing, training and networking.
Why is it important to have a program like ACE in Birmingham specifically?
While many cities and states in our nation have embraced the importance of Social and Emotional Learning and seen the benefits, Birmingham and Alabama have fallen behind. Our children and the members of our community deserve access to learning opportunities that promote skills like effective communication, teamwork, anger management, goal setting and recognition of personal strengths/ weaknesses. These skills are important components of individual success and lead to safer, happier, more productive communities.