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Anova Matters Blog    

Where you'll find the ACE wonders of the world...

Each month, we will travel to an extraordinary corner of Anova's world. We will be highlighting Anova students, parents, staff, and alumnus that represent some of the special people that emulate the true heart and spirit of Anova.

This month, Anova wonders ...

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Can robotic dogs bark and wag their tail?


ACE Contra Costa has a pet robot named 

At ACE Contra Costa, many of our students on the autism spectrum are talented and passionate about computers, mechanics, and engineering concepts. Wanting to utilize their natural interests to help students develop in-demand job skills, Sarah Aguilar (behavioral assistant and Mathematician) developed a new Lego Robotics program that introduces students to engineering, mechanics, computer programming in an enjoyable, kinesthetic, and interactive environment.

Robots are built by hand and animated using Lego motors and connected to PCs where they are then programmed by students. Students also learn about sensors and incorporate different robotic sensors into their robots and write programs utilizing them. Students are naturally engaged and passionate about Legos and the lessons are designed to either reinforce what they are learning in their current classes, or capture their excitement with colorful robots they can recognize. Students also strengthen their fine motor skills, practice following visual written directions, solving problems, and creativity.

RoboticsIn high school, Lego Robotics is offered as an elective course. Students use more advance robotics kits with more sensors and work in teams to build complicated robots that move autonomously using multiple motors. So far our high school students have built an autonomous humanoid robot, a robotic puppy, rovers, Lego spiders, robotic arms, a batting machine, and other robots. Our high school students also invented a Lego Dahlic (Dr. Who reference), complex wing systems, rebuilt Leonardo Da Vinci's flying machine, a line follower robot, a dancing robot, a rock paper scissors game, lego chain ball lifts, ramps, and perpetual motion machines, and other numerous designs. During Thanksgiving students used their programming skills to make their robots play a song in 3 part harmony perfectly synchronized.

Elementary and middle school students study simple machines and mechanism such as; pulleys systems, gears, torque, crank systems, levers, energy transformation, friction, and concepts from physics. Students are also introduced into computer programming basics and problem solving. Despite all this science, there is still plenty of time for social play, creative free building, and design time. Above all else Lego Robotics is fun.

Teamwork is essential in high school and students must develop and utilize social thinking skills to solve problems, communicate with each other, and work together on projects. The majority of our students come to us with social, emotional, and behavioral challenges that accompany their autism diagnosis and this project offers students an opportunity to practice teamwork, and understand how social thinking is used in the workforce.    

RoboticsUltimately there are 3 goals to Anova’s Lego robotics program; to utilize our students passions to create valuable in demand job skills, to give our students a safe place to enjoy their natural creativity after long day of hard work, to reinforce concepts and themes from their existing classes. The real goal is to help our students find their niches in life outside of Anova, vial their own passions.

Thank you Sarah for spearheading this fun project, and incorporating this emerging new technology into an exciting way to learn! 

Posted by on Tuesday February 23, 2016 at 03:38PM
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Who Aced the Race for Student Council?

The new ACE Marin Student Council leaders are a class-act!

ACE Marin Student CouncilLucas Adelman

Any politician will tell you it takes a lot of work and enormous drive to run for office. The same is true for running for Student Body President! A lot of students would opt out of taking on all that responsibility. Not 6th grader Lucas Adelman of ACE Marin, who was recently elected as their new school Student Council President. He also wins the record for the youngest President in the history of Anova. This young leader served on the Student Congress last year and enjoyed it so much, he decided to run for President this year. Lucas says he wants to make a positive impact on the school and shared some great ideas such as fundraising to buy additional P.E. equipment. When asked what he liked best about his new role, he said it was when the Council gets together to meet every other week.

Lucas has been attending ACE Marin since 3rd grade. He is a very caring and talented young man with a preference for retro ‘80 classics and art. For example, his favorite movie is Back to the Future, he loves 80’s music, his favorite video game is the original Super Mario Brothers, and he is currently learning to play Black Sabbath and AC/DC on this guitar! Great taste, Lucas! He also loves anything that is iconic pop culture and blew the audience away with a superb rendition of “Wrecking Ball” by Miley Cyrus at this year’s ACE Marin Talent Show. You would have never guessed that Lucas never had formal singing lessons and had only been playing guitar for a few months prior to the show. 

Lucas is also a Marvel trivia enthusiast and he and his dad have made an annual pilgrimage to Comicon for the last 3 summers in San Diego. In addition, he loves movie trivia and reading about or finding "Easter eggs" (inside references hidden in movies).

His talent doesn’t stop there. Lucas wants to be an actor when he grows up and shared his charisma on-screen as one of the shining stars in our Anova CAREs about Autism video. Great stage presence is a good characteristic for both a budding politician and actor! Congratulations, Lucas, on your many achievements!  We wish you an abundance of success during your tenure. 


ACE Marin Student Council Jack Hamill

Jack Hamill just might actually be our US Vice President one day. His enthusiasm is contagious as he talks about his new role as the ACE Marin Vice President. This 7th grader joins Lucas as the youngest Vice President to serve on the Student Body Council. His classmates call him “Jack-a-pedia” and rightfully so. He is a plethora of information, trivia, and ideas! One of the things that stands out about Jack is his desire to help others. As Vice President, not only does he want to help other ACE students, he wants to help those in need within the community. Jack’s ideas span from school supply trading to projects to feed the hungry. In fact, he wants to be an engineer when he grows up to discover new technologies to battle cancer.

When he’s not coming up with great new ideas, Jack loves P.E., math, video games, playing golf with his sister, and swimming. Jack was also one of the entertaining stars of our Anova CAREs video, sharing his plentiful and heartfelt endorsements of the school.  In fact, as we were closing up the interview, Jack pointed to me and authoritatively said, “Anova helps kids and changes lives.” Thank you Jack for bringing your entrepreneurial spirit, leadership qualities, and big heart to the ACE Marin Student Council. Through your new role, you are on the road to helping kids and changing lives as well.

Melissa WarrenMelissa Warren

Melissa Warren, an ACE Marin Classroom Assistant has taken on the role of Student Council Leader/ Staff Advocate overseeing the bi-weekly meetings and council activities. She said the meetings are a way to brain-storm fun ideas including how to raise money for the student body and the community.  They are busy with a Holiday Canned Food Drive, Toys for Tots, and voting on Spirit Day themes. The Canned Food Drive and Toys for Tots is happening now until December 12. Each classroom will compete in collecting the most cans and the winning classroom will be rewarded with a "Good Samaritan" prize!

Melissa feels the Student Body Council is a great way to teach students leadership, responsibility, being on a committee, working as a team, helping the community, how to vote, and thinking of others.  She is excited to guide this top-notch group of students in accomplishing great things this year at ACE Marin.

Thank you, Melissa, for taking on this worthy cause. We wish you and your innovative young leaders a very successful year!

Posted by on Monday November 17, 2014
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Who's got the 411 on ACE Sonoma?

Laura and Dean Szanyi



Want the inside scoop on ACE Sonoma? Just ask Laura Szanyi, the ACE Sonoma school parent that should have a title like “Chief School Correspondent” or “Parent Team Leader.” She is THE go-to person for parent communication, advice, events, fundraising, organizing, and all-around ACE Sonoma cheerleading. Her son Dean just started his fifth year here at ACE Sonoma and he loves school and life!

Before he started at ACE in the 2nd grade, Laura felt like her family had been left wounded from Dean’s struggles with school.  Her story may sound familiar to other ACE parents. Dean, who is a smart boy with an IQ of 144 had become labeled as a “problem child.” Because of his severe social and emotional challenges Dean would write down pages and pages of his thoughts to help himself deal with his anxiety about school. When he started at ACE, Laura immediately saw a change in Dean as he began to see that the staff understood how he viewed the world and could help him cognitively and socially. Laura said, “It was a uniform team effort working with him from all sides in the best way possible.” Everybody got it. Dean soon began “thinking of others” and exercising flexible thinking. For her, the trek all the way from their home in Sonoma to the Santa Rosa campus every day is well worth it because Dean has grown into a happy teenager who was very excited to start middle school this year.

As Dean’s social world blossomed at ACE, so did his ideas for implementing some fun student activities. Dean enthusiastically approached his mom about two years ago saying he wanted to start a monthly school newspaper. He wrote a letter to School Director Heidi Adler and with her blessing the first edition of the “Dragon Chronicles” was soon hot off the presses! It was a fun collaboration of student submissions with Laura as the moderator. Although Dean decided to retire the Dragon Chronicles last year, it will live on at the helm of other creative students. We can also thank Dean for the idea of showcasing the vast talent among our students at the wildly entertaining ACE Factor Talent Show. This annual talent show has now expanded to our other campuses and is one of the favorite events of the year!

Laura has also had her share of great contributions to our ACE community such as school dances and fundraising events. You'll always see her helping out at every school function with a smile. We appreciate Laura's top-notch talent at organizing, coordinating, and communicating with all of our ACE Sonoma families. She wants parents to feel like they’re on a team here at ACE because as she said, “If your kid is going to ACE, chances are you’ve been through a lot… so we should all support each other.”

As Laura is always thinking of ways to help the school and bring the parent community together, she is now planning a fun bowling event for January. The fundraiser will be held at the AMF Boulevard Bowling Alley in Petaluma on Saturday, January 31, 2015, from 12:45 – 3:00pm. Tickets are on sale now at $25 per person for two hours of bowling including shoes. All three ACE campuses will receive about $16 per person which isn’t too shabby! It will be a fun activity for students and families while raising money at the same time. Please make sure to reserve your spot by September 30th. Download the sign-up sheet from the Anova website and email to Laura at  

Thank you Laura and Dean for your many wonderful contributions to our ACE school program. Your caring, positive enthusiasm, and creativity have greatly enriched our school, parents, and students alike!  

Posted by on Thursday September 25, 2014 at 09:32AM
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Anova student Partrick Crowne

Do you know what a Pyraminx is? 

ACE Contra Costa Student Patrick Crowne does.

That's because he placed 15th in an international competition, solving one in only 6 seconds! A Pyraminx is a puzzle similar to a Rubik's Cube, but shaped like a pyramid. Patrick is an impressive 14 year old student at ACE Contra Costa with an IQ similar to Albert Einstein’s. Solving multi-layered Rubik's cubes is just the start of Patrick's myriad of talents. His parents gave him a Rubik's cube for Christmas when he was 10 years old that compelled him to learn how to conquer that cube in about 20 seconds! He then started taking on bigger challenges such as competitions and solving cubes one-handed and even blind-folded! He also designs and creates his own handmade cubes. His collection is quite amazing with everything from a 2 layered to a 10 layered cube, mirror blocks, and an evil 3x4x5 twin. He can tell you how many quintillion or googolplex combinations there are in the various puzzles, but his true favorite to solve is a special 6 x 6 layered cube.  

As if that isn't amazing enough, Patrick also taught himself the programming language Java when he was just 11, and within six months he was writing programs and developing his own games. One of the programs he designed is a timing application for solving cubes which many people are now using to help improve their game. Minecraft gamers have also benefited from the many game modifications Patrick has submitted earning him the opportunity to be a programming advisor for online forums. 

Another major passion for Patrick is 3D roller coaster simulation. He talks about the physics and gravitational forces of a roller coaster like he is a seasoned engineer. He recently built a large 3D K’Nex model of a roller coaster with fully functioning cars and up to 200 feet of track.  This particular design recently placed him as one of five winners in the world in a K’Nex roller coaster simulation contest. He also made a tutorial for a popular roller coaster simulation game that appeared on the front page of No Limits Coaster Website. It seems that there are no limits to what Patrick can achieve!

Patrick and his family moved to California from the UK about four years ago. His mother, Angela, said she knew Patrick was extremely intelligent at only 6 months of age when she witnessed him taking the batteries out of the remote control and trying to figure out how to put them back in!  Prior to enrolling at ACE, Patrick had a hard time at school. He was placed in special education classes where he was not being academically challenged and his abilities failed to be nurtured. This experience caused him great social and academic anxiety. Angela says that Patrick loves going to ACE. His self-esteem has blossomed, he has made friends, and he is challenged academically. ACE also has a positive reward system where he can earn Anova points that can be converted to money to buy more cubes!  

Patrick just turned 14 years old a few weeks ago and competed in another Rubik's Cube competition. Happy belated birthday, Patrick and congratulations on beating your personal record at 19.06 seconds! Check out the article and a couple of pictures of Patrick in the the Bay Area Speedcubin' Contest in the San Jose Mercury NewsBelow is also a video of his award-winning Smiler K'Nex Roller Coaster Recreation. What will blow you away even more is that it only took him one month to build it from scratch! Thank you Patrick for sharing your incredible talents with us!



Anova Alumni Parker Neece

ACE Alumni Parker Neece – 

Making the world a healthier place.

It’s safe to say that being healthy and fit is important to most people, but getting there can be the hardest part! ACE Sonoma Alumni, Parker Neece, is a Wellness Coach with all the right tools to help people reach their health goals easily. Parker is also one of the most positive and inspiring young men you will ever meet. He will make a great motivational speaker someday! His empowering words come from his own journey in personal growth inspiring him to start his budding career as an Independent Wellness Coach at Live it Up Wellness in Santa Rosa. Although you may also spot him working at Costco, it is improving others' lives that lights him up the most. Parker’s enthusiasm, knowledge, and personal experience will inspire anyone to look at their lifestyle more closely. 
I attended a free nutrition workshop at Live it Up Wellness to get the inside scoop and was treated to a delicious nutritional shake and complete body analysis.  They also provide free fitness classes and running groups. Parker says their motto is to "help people lose weight, gain weight, and gain energy." Parker loves changing lives for the better, including his own, even though it was quite a bumpy road along the way. 
Parker was in the graduating class at ACE Sonoma in 2007.  He was diagnosed with autism when he was 14 and felt lost in public school. He said he felt alone, afraid, anxious, had no friends, and considered himself depressed and suicidal just prior to starting at ACE. When his father read about Anova in a Press Democrat article, he signed Parker up immediately.  Parker came to Anova as a sophomore and said he quickly made friends and found a nurturing environment that showed him the way to a better life.  It was a new beginning. Parker still visits Anova often to say hi to everyone and attends our graduation ceremonies every year to express his gratitude and extend his congratulations to the new graduates.  
Parker says he had to work hard to overcome the negative baggage carried over from his previous school experiences and the labels associated with autism. He used to introduce himself as, “I’m Parker and I have autism.”  Parker doesn’t identify himself anymore with people’s opinion of what autism means. He says everyone has their struggles, and it depends on what you do with them. He’s decided to dedicate himself to making the world a healthier place and we wish him great success!  Thank you Parker for showing us that anyone can be happy and healthy with hard work and dedication to their passions.
If you are interested in looking or feeling healthier, please call Parker at 707-695-2725. Attached is the Live it Up Wellness calendar of free fitness classes, nutritional workshops, and running groups. They are located at 711 Stony Point Road in Santa Rosa.

Wonder how to stay informed?

The New Anova e-Newsletter!
Watch your inbox for the new monthly e-Newsletter that will be sent out to all parents and staff for the latest information on all Anova happenings! There will be specific newsletters for each campus. If you would like to receive newsletters for more than the campus you are associated with, or have something you would like to include, please email Jackie at 
The website is also a great place to find up-to-date information. Look for each school's custom page under the ACE Schools tab as well as our Facebook page. You can find the Anova Matters Blog on our website under the News tab. 

Anova Parent Heather Koenig

ACE Contra Costa Parent Heather Koenig -

BINGO!  ACE wins!

Heather Koenig is responsible for creating a lot of big smiles and great memories. I checked Heather for angel wings but couldn’t find any despite the fact she has made some real wishes come true for many students. Heather’s son Brandon started 7th grade at the former ACE school in American Canyon four years ago, and now attends the ACE Contra Costa campus. Prior to ACE, Brandon hated school because he was bullied by other students. Now he loves going to school so much that he never wants to miss a day! Heather is very proud of Brandon and how much he has flourished into a bright and happy teenager. 

Heather’s big, generous heart has enabled ACE students to go on many fun field trips. Every week that she works at the Vaca Valley Bingo in Vacaville, ACE Contra Costa comes out a winner! For the last four years, Heather has selflessly donated all her earnings to the school. For every hour she works, they donate $10 to ACE adding up to a lot of field trips!

Because of Heather, students have been treated to many activities including trips to the movies, bowling, Discovery Kingdom, painting pottery, and visiting an animal farm in American Canyon.  Last year in Concord, students went to a Pumpkin Patch, bowling, and the Lawrence Hall of Science. They also had an on-campus presentation about oceans and what we can do to protect them. The students were exposed to fossils, whale bones, sea lion and otter pelts, and various “specimens” from the ocean brought in jars. This year, the elementary students returned to the pumpkin patch and had an on-campus puppet show. They are also working on a trip to Diablo Valley College for the high school students to have a tour and talk with counselors about admission requirements and services that will be available to them. 

Heather also enjoys helping out at the school in any way she can from the Thanksgiving Feast to the Teacher Appreciation Lunch. She feels lucky that there is strong support among ACE Contra Costa parents to help each other and all of the students. Heather’s proud that her main job is being a full time mother of four children. Heather said that although both of her sons, Brandon and her five year old Jake have autism, their personalities are polar opposites. Many people react by expressing how sorry they are for her predicament, but Heather feels she has two truly gifted and wonderful sons and doesn’t want anyone feeling sorry for her. She says she learns something every day from her children and always keeps a positive attitude.

Heather and her husband Mark will soon be celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary by taking the entire family to Disney World in Florida. When Brandon told his mom that he thought it would be cool to see a real rocket take off, she decided to make his wish come true. Although Brandon is bummed at the thought of missing school, he is excited to see a live rocket launch. Thank you Heather for also making so many wishes come true at ACE Contra Costa. Your generosity has given our students so many fun experiences they would not have had otherwise. Move over Fairy Godmother, we have a Fairy ACEmother! Thank you, Heather for all you have done!  


 Hope you enjoy and thanks for reading! 


Anova teacher Mesa Whitt

ACE Sonoma Teacher Mesa Whitt – 

Stay Flexible and Game On! 

Imagine going to school and getting to play a video game all day! If you’re in Mesa Whitt’s class, she’s made learning fun by incorporating a cool video game into her classroom curriculum. Mesa has been teaching at the ACE Sonoma campus for over nine years and currently teaches 5th, 6th, and 7th grades in Room 3. She is always thinking of creative ways to keep her students motivated and engaged. This year, the entire back wall of her classroom is designed as an interactive video game that the students play individually as well as collectively. Mesa, together with her instructional team, Jon Sherman, Cailin Maloney, and Auburn Kennedy, developed the fun game as an incentive for good behavior and to get students excited about learning. It’s based on positive reinforcement with rewards for the “Big 5” expected behaviors:  Safe Body, Friendly Words, Following Directions, Finished Work, and Flexible Brain. The goal is to accumulate points to advance through levels that ultimately unveils a big bonus prize for the classroom at the end of the game.

At the beginning of the school year, each student designed their own special avatar for the game. The game allows students to accumulate points for expected behavior and unlock prizes like homework passes, extra computer time, or even a special lunch at various levels. The big reward is when the entire class earns 5,000 points to reveal letters which they must unscramble to see the secret grand prize!
Just like in real video games, students can lose lives or not earn points. This happens when they exhibit unexpected behaviors. When the unexpected behavior ends, they have the opportunity to refresh and reset their lives.  The class actively participated in deciding the game rules, and how points would be earned or not earned. Every two weeks, they also introduce a new unthinkable character to defeat using Michelle Garcia Winner‘s Superflex Curriculum. 
Room 3 is well on their way and will soon reach the 5,000 points needed to unlock their grand prize!  Next semester, they get to design their own personal Unthinkable Character to defeat based on their own individual struggles. Thank you Mesa, Jon, Cailin, and Auburn for bringing a unique way to have fun in the classroom! The true prize of the game is the creativity and collaboration that you spark in every student. 
To learn more about the game,  please check out the Room 3 Gaming Guide!

Anova class Mesa Whitt


Posted by on Tuesday March 4, 2014
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