After 11 years in a Greek Orthodox monastery, Philotheos Allison trimmed his long beard, caught the county bus to Cabrillo College and wandered into the Academy of College Excellence (ACE) offices where he promptly signed up for the program.
“I thought, ‘I could use this,’” he said. “’I need to readjust and reincorporate myself into college.’” But, for Philotheos, 34, who attended five different high schools in his native Canada before dropping out at age 17, the lighting-the-fire curriculum in the Foundation Course was a huge surprise.
“It really felt like that,” he said a year later. “[ACE founder Diego Navarro] really lit the fire for the desire for education in all of us in totally different ways than how we learned in high school. It was a lot of outside-the-box education.”
Philotheos had struggled with gang activity as a youth before leaving it behind him to take classes at University of Toronto. A short time later, however, he shifted gears again when he was called to monastic life at St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery in Florence, Arizona. He expected to become a priest but decided instead to leave the monastery. He moved to a friend’s home in Ben Lomond, a small community in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and acclimatized to his newly secular life. He was lost on campus when he stumbled into the ACE office and grew curious. What he didn’t expect was to experience a whole new way of learning.
“Diego put it in our minds in the first two weeks that not only could we be something but we could get to the point where we could make changes to society. We could change the world.”
In the next few quarters, Philotheos gained computer and essay writing skills, but he also learned about his own personal learning style. He learned stress reduction exercises and about neurological research on learning, as well as about four levels of communication, how to work better within a team and be authentic.
“It was awesome to see other students share their stories,” he said. “Just being able to shake people’s hands and look people in the eyes was important. They would force you to just not be shy and look down but really see people.”
ACE instructors created intimate learning communities by sharing their own personal stories and they challenged students to work as a cohesive cohort.
“Every class, from early morning to late in the afternoon, helps you learn more about yourself,” Philotheos said. “You become like a family. You become accountable to each other.”
A career development class with interest and skill testing helped him see what careers might give him joy. For Philotheos, these were careers such as nursing, occupational therapy, farming or the priesthood. He signed up for pre-requisites to the nursing program. He works as a tutor for a teen with autism and as an aide for a senior who has suffered a stroke. He is signed up for emergency medical training courses and, with encouragement, has been considering a master’s degree and in occupational therapy.
“DBA forced you to come outside of your shell and embrace people who were different than you,” he said. “You wouldn’t make it through your class if you weren’t able to come out of your old ways of thinking and get through your fears and prejudices.”