Written by: Liz Harter
I’ve been aware of the Alliance for Catholic Education in a very basic way for the past nine years. A few of my classmates from Saint Mary’s signed up for the two year master’s program and had shared some of their experiences, but I never had a chance to dig deeper into what ACE really was. I think it’s a good thing that I didn’t—after this weekend I believe that you cannot understand what ACE really is until you experience it for yourself.
When I was first invited to travel from Fort Worth to Memphis on the ACE bus, I will admit I was skeptical. Why was I doing this? It’s a 10-hour trip on a bus, and I barely know anyone I was traveling with. The only RV trip I’d ever done was to Northern Michigan with my family when I was younger and I knew I was prone to motion sickness on large vehicles, which just increased my trepidation. Add to that my whirlwind of a weekend covering the Shamrock Series for Notre Dame in Texas and I was exhausted by the time I was told that the bus would pick me up at 8:15am on Sunday.
The first thing I was struck by, and the first thing that anyone exposed to the Alliance for Catholic Education for the first time will be struck by, is love—love for students, love for Catholic schools, love for their work. It is almost overwhelming.
Ricky, Pat, Alec, Eric, and Drew were patient as I observed and inquired into their roles with the bus tour and ACE as a whole, but it wasn’t until we made it to Memphis that I truly understood what a visible force for good ACE is.
I was able to spend a lot of time with the MemphACE group—four teachers who are in their first year of teaching and one who is in her second—who work in three different Catholic schools in the area, and I was struck by their sense of community. They aren’t sent out into a new area of the country and left to fend for themselves; they have a constant support system in their roommates, and are in contact with ACE throughout the year. They’re able to grow as teachers, as adults, and in their faith through their two years in the program.
The student’s love for their teachers was also made so apparent during a pep rally held at Memphis Catholic Middle and High School. The students hooted and hollered when their teachers appeared in a video put together by the school. You can tell that even if the kids sometimes (often) act like kids, they know their teachers love them and are doing their best to help them grow and learn.
Meeting with Memphis’ Catholic school administrators was fascinating, as well. I knew next to nothing about Catholic school administration and issues like school choice bills before Monday. I was quickly brought up to speed by one of the administrators; she told me that all of the public schools in Memphis are failing. Students in the area have very few options, and they would have even less if it weren’t for Bishop Terry Steib, who helped lead the effort to reopen eight previously closed Catholic schools to serve a predominantly low-income student population through significant need-based scholarships.
The Fighting for Our Children's Future National Bus Tour is traveling around the country to celebrate the incredible work students, teachers, and community members are doing in Catholic schools. But really, the two days I spent on the road were as much a celebration of ACE, its administrators, and the close to 2,000 graduates of ACE programs making a difference in their communities, whether they’ve remained in educator roles or not. I know that’s not their goal on this bus tour, but from an outsider’s perspective, it is entirely appropriate. It is through the collaborations I saw with ACE and the community where incredible greatness and hope for the future is being born.