The program allows students to graduate from Cuesta with an AA at the same time as high school

ATASCADERO—Atascadero Unified School District’s (AUSD) first student has graduated through Atascadero’s independent studies school, Atascadero Choices in Education (ACE) Academy’s Jumpstart to College program. Tate Pflum not only graduated as a high school senior this year but also with an AA in liberal arts and an AA-T in political science from Cuesta College on May 17. 

“When I first started working in high school independent studies 10 years ago, the students were, at that point, allowed to take Cuesta classes, and they would count as high school classes,” said Jumpstart Developer and Facilitator Julie Apple. “Sometimes, students would graduate with three or four classes under their belt, but I had not heard of the idea of somebody actually graduating from high school with their AA until about seven years ago.” 

Apple went to an independent studies conference, and while there, she attended a workshop on a program that led her to create Jumpstart to College for AUSD. She created it as a gift for the community and the district she’s been teaching in for 30 years.


The Jumpstart program is solely offered through ACE Academy and is great for students who need a bit of an extra challenge or need extra schooling for their chosen career path, like Pflum, who will be headed to Cal Poly in the fall for political science. 

“It [the program] helps the [students] acquire credits quicker than they would if they took regular high school classes, and quicker than if they took what’s called dual enrollment classes at the high school,” added Apple. “The kids are so excited that they’re like, ‘Wow, I really did this? This really worked? I already skipped two years of college.’ It’s very rewarding.”

Students attending ACE for their high school careers have many choices, from taking all of their classes through ACE to hybrid with some classes and extracurriculars at Atascadero High School and, of course, the option to add Jumpstart to the mix. Students who participate in Jumpstart take classes directly through Cuesta, sometimes online but also in person on the college campus.

“Cuesta’s really supportive with helping high school students take their classes. When I was creating this program, I knew I needed one specific Cuesta counselor to go to to ask questions with and to meet with my students once a year or once a semester to help develop their individualized plan based on their needs,” added Apple.

Kat Gritton is that counselor. She collaborated with Apple from the start to help make Jumpstart the best it could be. Jumpstart was developed in close to two years, starting in ninth grade and lasting all four years of high school. Aside from Gritton, there is also a specific ACE teacher who helps students with dual school careers with weekly meetings, including teaching them how Cuesta works.

“It was amazing to know that the opportunity to take these Cuesta classes allowed me to achieve something early on and to know the accessibility of achieving an AA in this program,” said Pflum, who started the program in ninth grade. “You’re not having to pile in classes and take time out of your life to do these, but just take a couple classes at a time.” 

The Cuesta classes count towards the student’s high school diplomas as well, so there is no need to double up high school and college classes in the same subjects.

Pflum also added that he loves knowing that when he heads to Cal Poly, he will already have a great idea about what classes will be like and how his schedule will work. He’s ready for the full-blown college experience and has less stress and more bandwidth for the social elements of college, all thanks to Cuesta and the Jumpstart to College program.

Currently, Jumpstart to College has 14 students enrolled. The program can even be accessed by students outside of AUSD. Apple said that anyone outside of AUSD just needs to apply for an inner district transfer and then apply for ACE Academy.

For more information, go to


Featured Image: Jumpstart Developer and Facilitator Julie Apple (left) helps student Tate Pflum (right) move his tassel during graduation from Cuesta College through AUSD’s Jumpstart to College program. Photo provided by ACE Academy.