ACE (Accept Compete Excel)

Because we all need deep interpersonal bonds to thrive

ACE (Accept Compete Excel) is the Princeton YMCA’s program to reduce chronic absenteeism in the Princeton Public Schools and build connections and supports for students in grades 8 to 12 who are most at risk of missing school and falling behind.

Funded with a grant from the Princeton Area Community Foundation’s All Kids Thrive initiative, the program is inspired by THREAD, a Baltimore-based nonprofit that “weaves” together youth, volunteer mentors, and other community assets to strengthen bonds, deepen a sense of belonging and improve the lives of the program’s students. The ACE program utilizes the same concept with a focus on increasing our students’ attendance, academic performance and social/emotional learning; as well as greater engagement in school and the larger community to assure a brighter future and positive trajectory in life.

More simply, the ACE program, like THREAD, is powered by individual relationships that radically and permanently alter the social support structure of everyone involved. The work is premised on the belief that we all need deep interpersonal bonds to thrive.

This initiative, led by the Y, is a collaboration among the Princeton Public Schools, Corner House Behavioral Health and the Bonner Foundation to support qualifying boys and girls enrolled at PHS or PMS who are most at risk of missing critical school days for a variety of reasons. Working closely with school counselors and social workers, students and their families are referred to us to become a part of the program.

Each student is paired with a mentor who is dedicated to his or her success – assuring that the young person is attending school and classes regularly, is feeling supported and encouraged, and is welcomed and connected to the ACE and larger community. Family members of students are also invited and encouraged to be a part of the ACE community.


The Chronic Absenteeism Rate (missing 10% of the school year) for the Princeton Public Schools is 11%, and significantly higher for students who are faced with economic challenges, including poverty, chronic illness and food insecurity. 13% of students in Princeton are eligible to receive free or reduced-price school meals. Research demonstrates that students who are chronically absent lose opportunities to succeed throughout their lives. To learn more, please visit Attendance Works.


In the first phase of the program (starting January 2019), we focused on boys enrolled at Princeton Middle School (eighth graders) and Princeton High School. Beginning in the spring 2020, girls were added to the program.

Each semester, a new cohort of 5-6 students are added to the program, and matched with volunteer mentors. Similarly, volunteer recruitment is on a rolling basis and training is ongoing, with new volunteers joining the ACE community throughout the year.

Meetings and activities are conducted at Princeton High School, at the Y, at partnering organizations, and at locations throughout the community.


To volunteer, please register on VolunteerMatters to set up a volunteer profile and understand the commitment and the requirements to be a mentor.


Have additional questions? Click below to get in touch with the friendly, knowledgeable Y staff members who can help!

About the ACE Paths to Success Series

Paths to Success is a series in which 6th-12th graders can hear from successful people with diverse backgrounds sponsored by the Princeton YMCA’s ACE Program.  Past highlights can be found on our Vimeo page at the link below.