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ACPS and ACM Present First Graduating Group of CHEER Students

In the 2022-2023 school year, Allegany County Public Schools (ACPS) collaborated with Allegany College of Maryland (ACM) to provide a new program on the campus of ACM. The new program, Creating Higher Education Experiences and Readiness (CHEER) Program, featured a small cohort of high school seniors receiving special services within the public school system.

The concept of the CHEER program began following a successful “Taste of ACM” summer camp in July 2022. The “Taste of ACM” summer camp gave 14 rising juniors and seniors, receiving special services, the opportunity to participate in a four-day experience to explore post-secondary programs and college life. The students participated in hands- on activities, designed and implemented by ACM staff in the areas of culinary arts, hospitality management, criminal justice, multimedia technology, automotive technology, forest technology, nursing assistance, welding, woodworking, and machinery activities.

Seeing the positive impact the summer camp had on the students and receiving feedback from students, parents, and staff members, both ACPS and ACM started discussing an idea for a similar program during the school year. In August 2022, the ACPS Special Education Department entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with ACM to co-design and co-implement the CHEER Program. 

The CHEER Program enrolled seven students who met the following program criteria:

  • Was an incoming senior in high school receiving special services through an  

Individual Education Program or a 504 Plan;

  • Needed no more than 4 credits to complete all graduation requirements;
  • Desired to continue their education and attend a postsecondary higher education

institution after graduation;

  • Had an administrator or teacher recommendation; and
  • Had parental support to attend and participate in program activities.

During the academic school year, CHEER students attended school on the campus of ACM and engaged in activities co-designed by ACPS and ACM to complete high school requirements and explore career and technical education postsecondary program areas. 

“The faculty and staff at ACM are both honored and excited to partner with ACPS to help students pursue their studies on the ACM campus through the CHEER program,” says Dr. Mihaela Wood, Dean of Arts and Sciences, Allegany College of Maryland. “We are very happy to provide this pathway to higher education for our local high school students.”

In order to ensure the success of the CHEER Program, both ACM and ACPS provided specific services throughout the school year.  ACM provided the students a smart classroom in the Humanities Building as well as full access to all college resources including learning labs, facility use, and campus activities.  CHEER students had ACM photo IDs and had the opportunity to enjoy all aspects of collegiate life.  In conjunction with the Disabilities Resource Center, all CHEER students had fully developed accommodation plans to support their learning and academic needs while engaged in credit bearing college courses.  They attended college class in their areas of interest and all will graduate high school having earned up to nine college credits. To date, CHEER students have completed the FAFSA, met with college advisors, and if desired, have completed registration for the fall semester to complete or continue to work on degree requirements.

CHEER students completed high school activities and requirements while on the ACM campus. They engaged in learning and earning the credits required for graduation including English, math, and others via the virtual learning platform provided by the ACPS RESTART program.  A fulltime special educator and instructional assistant were on campus to support academics and facilitate college activities. Students also had the opportunity to participate in senior activities at their home school and have attended dances and sport events and will participate in all graduation activities and ceremonies.

Those seniors graduating from the 2022-2023 CHEER program are: John McFarland, Allegany High School; Zakcariah Clacken, Fort Hill High School; Alison Cutter, Mountain Ridge High School; Kaylee Bowman, Mountain Ridge High School; Mary Keller, Mountain Ridge High School; Grayson Westendorff, Mountain Ridge High School; and Peyton Penrod, Mountain Ridge High School.

The ACPS Special Education Department and ACM look forward to future cohorts of CHEER students and are committed to improving our program to best meet our students’ needs as they transition to adult life and postsecondary experiences. 

For more information about the CHEER Program or “A Taste of ACM” camp, please contact Dr. Main at


Pictured front row: Alison Cutter, left to right, second row: Grayson Westendorff, Zac Clacken, Peyton Penrod. Back row: John McFarland, Mr. Alan Twigg, teacher

Not pictured: Kaylee Bowman, Mary Keller, and Morgan Boord