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The Difference a Year Makes: Pushing Forward with Confidence

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The first ACE summer prepares ACErs to be first-year teachers extraordinarily well. Unfortunately, though, there are aspects of being in a classroom for which no teaching program, no matter how qualified, can prepare you. What do you do when Sandra begins throwing up smack in the middle of standardized testing? How do you mourn with the class when Miss Suzy, a beloved faculty member, returns to God? What do you do when a plump, old, white-robed Father Niccolo unexpectedly bursts into your classroom to teach Italian Christmas carols? How do you best express your gratitude and love when all of your students remember your birthday?

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There will always be moments like these, whether you have taught for two or 30 years. Indeed, they continue to happen every day for me as a second-year teacher. Such moments no longer feel as daunting or disruptive, though. I can roll with the punches and still actively engage my students in a darn good lesson. The difference between this year and last? My store of confidence, which gradually built up throughout my first year of teaching.

Yet with great (and I use this term loosely) confidence comes great responsibility. While many of the initially daunting tasks of the first year are no longer challenging, new challenges have stepped in to take their place. More so than my ACE academic supervisors, my principal, or my mentor teacher, I am holding myself to higher standards. And I believe this to be true for each of my fellow ACErs. Differentiation, unit planning, after-school activities, one-on-one time with students, parent correspondence . . . regardless of the area, we want to exceed the accomplishments we made last year. We want to make a bigger difference.

It was a bit odd, starting my second year at Sacred Heart. Unlike last year, I was no longer the fresh new face on the faculty, the mysterious young male teacher joining the ranks of the seasoned female elementary teachers. The students are generally less intrigued by my existence (although perhaps this is something for which to be thankful). I am no longer finding new (well, new to me) supplies on the shelves of my classroom. Ultimately, the excitement inherent in entering a completely new experience, a new community of people, has worn off.

This does not mean all excitement is gone, however; it's certainly safe to say that teaching is a vocation that will never lack excitement. And the oddness that came with no longer feeling new stemmed from a gradually built sense of ownership and belonging. What was novel last year is now familiar; what I viewed with curiosity and wonder I now view with endearment. I am settled.

Every morning I oversee the car line as students are dropped off at school, a job I began at the beginning of last year. This year, though, the kindergartners no longer walk past me as quickly as possible. The seventh and eighth graders look me in the eye (I think it's safe to say they may even think I'm "cool"). My former students bring up concepts learned last year, despite rubbing sleep out of their eyes (side note: I can say I have former students!). And I am confident not only in my ability to teach but also in my desire to work even harder to make each of these students' lives better.

Letter to My New Students

Tuesday, September 30, 2014 by Every once in a while, stop and think about what truly inspires you, and make sure you find Christ there.

To my new students:

Christ is the reason edited2 editedAt Tampa Catholic High School, they say "sports is king," but it just so happens that they're wrong, and I'll prove it to you. Walk into our gym, and take a look around. Amidst state championship pennants and varsity rosters, you'll find a banner that tells you everything you need to know. It reads:

"Be it known to all who enter here, that Christ is the reason for this school. He is the model for our faculty and the inspiration of our students."

There it is, in black and white. At Tampa Catholic, sports aren't king at all—Christ is.

But what does that mean? The answer is in those 29 words. They make several important promises to you. They promise that this school is rooted in something much deeper than academic excellence. They promise that our faculty share a single vision for their role as teacher. Finally, they promise that Christ has the power to inspire you. At your age, the power to inspire is like magic. You are the future—imagine if that future is inspired by Christ.

That word "inspire" is a great one. If you break it down to its Latin roots, it means "to breathe life into." So many things will breathe life into your high school experience: simple practical jokes executed in the quick five minute passing periods between classes, all the hours you spend serving your wider Tampa community, what is sure to be a whole host of extracurricular activities, and of course, the knowledge that lies buried in the pages of your textbooks, waiting to be wrestled with.

Every once in a while, though, stop and think about what truly inspires you, and make sure you find Christ there.

TFriday Night Lightshat's not always easy. Let me try to help. Check out this photo:

This is what the first football game of the season looks like: the treasured tradition of "Friday Night Lights," where parents and younger siblings, faculty, our principal and deans, football players, cheerleaders, and devoted fans all gather together under the Crusader banner.

They gather under something else, too. Something bigger. Take a look at that gorgeous Florida sky. What you're seeing is what's called "the pink moment"—that fleeting moment when the sky lights up with an ethereal burst of spectacular pink.

Maybe I'm crazy, but I like to think that's Christ, breathing life into TC Football. At the very least, though, that sky is a good reminder that there are things much more important than field goals and touchdowns at stake here. There is a backdrop which frames all that we do in and outside of the classroom: "Christ is the reason for this school."

Come to TC willing to live like Christ, to be inspired by his example, and you will find a home here.

Trust Now, and Teach

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

One year ago, I ought to have asked for little more. With the advent of my senior year, I had just welcomed my younger brother to Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, as a freshman and fellow Zag. Surrounded by a network of inspiring mentors and incomparably supportive friendships, the opportunities of the coming months might well have felt boundless.

Yet amidst the anxious excitement of orientation and joyous, post-summer reunions, I found myself continuously exhausted by the seemingly circular process of vocational discernment and re-evaluation. Paralyzed by the uncertain state of my post-graduate ambitions, my prayer life had effectively withered to the frustrated recitation of my deepest desire—to know, indeed to foresee, God's will for my future.

RestlessI chided myself to focus on the present and sought to mask my trepidations. For given the gravity of my present predicament, the tried and true mantra to "let go and let God" suddenly seemed fanciful, if not downright foolish. After all, a mere handful of decisions were about to largely determine a trajectory that might well last a lifetime.

In hindsight, it borders on the unbelievable, but if I am being perfectly honest with myself, the catharsis that emboldened me to follow through and apply wholeheartedly to the Alliance for Catholic Education came exactly two years after I first heard of this program's existence. Dizzying as it is to fully appreciate, I had never genuinely considered a vocation in education before partaking in a spiritual formation retreat through Gonzaga's University Ministry at the onset of my sophomore year. The bus ride back to campus would be the first time that I admitted to anyone, including myself, the desire to inspire others through intentional, holistic education. Countless phone calls home and late-night conversations with friends would soon lead me to this very website. Until one year ago, ACE's invitation was one I couldn't be certain I was worthy of accepting. Its confluence of spiritual development, intentional, communal living, and professional teaching that strives to serve under-resourced students, families, and schools felt too ideal to be realistically attainable. Acknowledging that I would accept ACE in a heartbeat, I could not bring myself to fully believe that ACE would accept me back. And so, I bided my time, collected second opinions, and explored alternatives, all the while anticipating some hidden snag.

The first domino had long since fallen, but it took two years for my educational epiphany to reach the point of maturation. Yet another retreat, centered around vocational discernment and contemplative action, would afford me the opportunity to name my predicament as a restlessness of heart. To authentically understand that in a world of sneak-peaks and pre-determined paths, faith itself would lose all meaning. To appreciate that the reason there was no simple answer, was because God had left the decision my own to make. To recognize that the only hidden snag there had ever been was my own disbelief. The second domino fell.

One year ago, I was restless, paralyzed by the expansive possibilities of my own uncertain future. Today, I am still restless, but empowered with the 61 uncharted futures of my vibrant, talented students. I believe that God and I chose the ministry of teaching together, and I believe that I will be restless until I rest in Him. I now also see that this restlessness is fuel. An inexhaustible reservoir of the passion needed to change hearts, to captivate imaginations, and to challenge my students to invest in their boundless potential.

"Everything is Beautiful and Nothing Hurts"

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

My first year of teaching felt like a whirlwind of students' faces, lesson planning, assignments, deadlines, meetings, smiles, grimaces, tears, and, most of all, hope.

I arrived in Brownsville, Texas feeling very much at home within the ever present Mexican culture, though I still wondered how I would create a home with my students. I would, after all, spend most of my time with the overwhelming 110 students I was chosen to teach. If I was going to endure the challenges of my first year, I would not only have to survive my students, I would have to thrive amongst them.

Garcia, Hernandez, Ramirez, Cantu—all names that I could pronounce quite easily without a slip of the tongue. Just a week later and I already had their names memorized and their faces forever engrained in my heart. I now needed to create one space for all of us, a place for the people that inhabited those names on the roster sheets, the personalities that occupied the seats in my classroom, the yearning and palpitating hearts that filled the silence as their owners awaited direction.

My greatest fear was that a year would pass without making any connection between me and my students.

I spent the majority of the first quarter lecturing my students, not on the content, but on life lessons—"If you don't read, you will never get better." "You can't get away with these kinds of things in college." "You need to think about your future and how your actions will affect it"—all to no avail. I was convinced that my students were a representation of my work as a teacher. If they failed in any facet of their life, I would have let them down. I trudged along the second quarter, giving reading check quizzes, creating interactive and unorthodox learning activities, and spending late nights commenting on every submitted assignment.

There seemed to be very little progress academically; students were still choosing not to read, waiting until the last minute to do homework assignments, and indifferent to all things English class.

It took months of soldiering on with my head down before I finally looked up and I saw beauty in what I had perceived to be absolute chaos. My students were still my students, but I was different. They had changed me with their uncontrollable laughter during vocabulary games, frustration while reading Gatsby's unraveling in The Great Gatsby, hope when learning of Holden Caulfield's rebellious spirit, and accomplishment when their ideas actually came through in their writing. My students were finally my home, not because of their academic progress, but because we all grew together as one community. We lived through each day, acknowledging each other's humanness and allowing it to flourish at its own pace.

Coming into my second year, I look back and am reminded of the transformative words found in Slaughterhouse-Five: "everything was beautiful and nothing hurts." I begin this year with my head held high, trusting myself as a teacher, leader, friend, and human being. My goal is not to create a home with my new students; it is to open the doors to my existing home, allowing them to fill it with all of their uniqueness and knowing that they will be welcome in my heart always.

Shaken and Transformed: The Meaning of the M.Ed.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014 by Communications Intern and ACE 19 member Ashley Logsdon reflects on the meaning of her M.Ed. degree

ShakenAndTransformed

According to my diploma, I became a Master of Education on Saturday, May 17, 2014. I hardly noticed. I spent May 17 as I have spent most Saturdays for the past two years: rising early for a run, grading papers, creating lesson plans, writing tests, responding to parent emails, and perhaps remembering to do household chores. In my life as a teacher, there was nothing particularly special about May 17.

At a beautiful ceremony on July 12, 2014, I actually received my diploma, and, once again, the experience was shockingly anticlimactic. Although it is nice to know that I have “so well merited as to be proclaimed publicly and solemnly a Master of Education,” this piece of parchment somehow does not quite capture the fullness of the ACE experience. But if the ACE Teaching Fellows program is not just about the advertised M.Ed., then what was all of that work for?

I found my answer not on the diploma, but in the people and events leading up to ACE’s commencement ceremony. On Friday, Joe Augustinsky spoke to our ACE 19 cohort and explained the ACE experience in terms of physics: just as the molecules in a mirror “shake up” the light they receive and reflect back new beams, ACE transforms its teachers such that they shed a new sort of light for the world. The life of an ACE teacher is truly “shaken up” in every possible way. ACErs live hundreds of miles from home, build a community out of strangers, embrace an unfamiliar culture, embark on a new profession, and learn to cope with the countless responsibilities of a Catholic schoolteacher.

Why would we sign up for such a crazy adventure? For me, this willingness to be “shaken” has to do with Jesus’ proclamation that “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). The distance and unfamiliarity, the hours spent writing lesson plans and grading papers, and the formidable challenges of first-year teaching are all ways that we lay down our lives and allow ourselves to be “shaken.” But why? We do this, Jesus says, for our friends – our students, communities, and the Catholic schools that we serve.

By offering my own life up to be “shaken,” I found love in countless ways: in the wonder of my students, the hugs of my colleagues, and the laughter of my community members. When ACE 19 gathered for our Commencement Retreat, we rejoiced in the friendships we had formed over the past two years of sharing in the “shakenness.” As I have witnessed the great love of my students, colleagues, community, and cohort, I hope that I, too, have learned how to love.

This is what we celebrated on July 12: giving up our lives to be “shaken” so that we can reflect a greater love in return. The M.Ed. is just a bonus.

The Miracle of Yes

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Written by: Drew Clary

Miracles are enabled by saying "yes." Although the heavy lifting of bringing these phenomenon into the world is clearly on God's side of the ledger, it is a bit arresting to think that for every miracle, there is some element of human agency, even if it is the seemingly simple act of an open-armed "yes".

MiracleofYesThis statement and stance--and the ease with which they arise in Catholic schools—are what stunned me time and again during Notre Dame's Fighting for our Children's Future National Bus Tour. My experience brought me to the conclusion that saying "yes" is the quintessential characteristic of what makes Catholic schools so effective. When we initially contacted the schools, we were hoping to visit, to see if we could stop by with "the ACE bus" (which doubtless made way more sense to us than it did to anyone else), we received welcoming and positive responses from the schools with which we have partnered in the past. More surprising, however, were the agreeable reactions we received from other schools with which we had not worked previously.

Once we had contacted the schools—and their respective (arch)dioceses—it was time to start planning our events at the schools. We continued to be blessed with the "yes." We asked things like, "Can we have Mass in your school chapel afterwards?" or "Can you reserve a parking space on the road in front of your school for the 36-foot bus?" or "Will there be special or distinctive student groups—choirs, bands, robotics teams, karate classes--who can display their skills?" or "Can one of our priests offer the homily at your school Mass?" or "Can we invite students from neighboring schools as well?" Time and again, the answer was "yes."

This might sound surprising to the casual observer, but it is not really any different from a normal day in a Catholic school. "Can we find a way to offer a cultural dance club to our students?" "Can we change the class schedule so our kids aren't outside for PE when the school across the street dismisses?" "Can I get tuition assistance to send my child to your school?" "Will you pray for my family at Mass this week because my sister was in a car accident last night?" You can predict the typical response to these questions.

Although counter-intuitive for a school system challenged by fiscal hardships, Catholic schools are thriving with the attitude of "yes". Although this spirit may seem all the more unlikely given the largely negative (and equally incorrect) narratives that distort the "conventional wisdom," the simple miracle of Catholic schools' perseverance is somehow trivial compared to the thousands of miracles they make possible every single day in the lives of the students and families they serve. From closing the achievement gap for marginalized children to the numerous baptisms performed and faith-lives reignited, to the gifted and energetic teachers who are willing and eager to do more for their students with less in their classroom budgets and take-home pay, the miracles are commonplace.

My prayer in the wake of this national pilgrimage to visit and thank the people of these schools will be for a commitment to the attitude of "yes" that may in some small way spark the human agency needed to bring the God-made miracle of high-quality education to the millions of precious children who richly deserve a "yes" in their lives.

The Holy Spirit Alive in Catholic Schools

Thursday, June 12, 2014 by Fr. Lou DelFra, C.S.C.

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During the Easter season, which formally came to a close this past Sunday at Pentecost, we traditionally read from the Acts of the Apostles—the often zany, always exhilarating stories of the growth of the early Church. It tells the story of a group of people who went from a handful of scared men and women, locked in an upper room in Jerusalem after the terrifying apparent disaster of the Crucifixion, to the abrupt, indeed miraculous, transformation of these disciples into cannot-be-contained missionaries for the Gospel, leading to the eventual conversion of nothing less than the Roman Empire, at the time the more or less “ends of the earth.”

In particular, I think about the long, and utterly unpredictable, line that connects that first handful of disciples’ belief in the resurrected Christ, to my grandparents’ belief to my parents’ and to mine. In some way, I believe in Jesus Christ, not just because the first disciples came to believe, but because after they came to believe, that belief drove them out of that locked room in Jerusalem and impelled them to share their faith to anyone who would listen—promising and unpromising audiences alike. And the Church, in every one of her evolutions and movements ever since, has digested and so re-enlivened this missionary impulse. Pope Francis’ first exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel,” is saturated with this apostolic drive not to turn inward in our belief, but to allow our faith to transform us continually into a disposition of evangelization.

I guess, in a blog about a 30,000-mile trans-national bus tour, you can see where this is going! The good news of the work of the Holy Spirit in America’s Catholic schools is – like every other message of the Holy Spirit—meant to be shared. So that, in the sharing, the entire community is uplifted and expanded.

What I love most about my experience on the ACE bus tour, as I reflect on it through the lens of the Acts of the Apostles, is that Acts is not a story of the apostles simply bringing the new life and encouragement of the Holy Spirit to others who need it. Rather, Acts is filled with story after story of the apostles coming to recognize, and so coming to be stretched and encouraged and ultimately emboldened by the presence of the Spirit at work everywhere they went. It is a story that explains why the Church must always be missionary—it is in the coming together of people who believe, of people in whom the Spirit is doggedly at work, that the Church is continually re-energized and grown.

As a believer, as an advocate of the mission of Catholic schools, as a priest, my vocation has been so enlivened and enriched, stretched, encouraged and re-invigorated by the so-palpable presence of the Holy Spirit in the leaders, teachers, students, and Catholic school supporters we had the privilege of meeting at each of our stops. So many who believe in, and have given their lives to, and are filled with evident joy by, the mission of our Catholic schools. I return more convinced than ever—this is a message that must constantly impel us outward, so that more and more people can see the good news that Catholic schools have to share.

The Warmth of Home: A Reflection by Our Co-founders

Monday, June 09, 2014

As we welcome the bus home, we look ahead to a bright future for Catholic schools with a series of reflections on the tour—the lessons learned, the joys perceived, and the impact Catholic schools are having on students, teachers, and many others all over the country. Our first reflection is from ACE co-founders: Fr. Tim Scully, csc and Fr. Sean McGraw, csc. 

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Anyone of us who has been invited to celebrate a special occasion such as Thanksgiving or the 4th of July in the house of an acquaintance has experienced the cordiality and measured warmth of being a guest. However welcomed, one’s status as a guest is relatively clearly demarcated and felt. Though invited to take part in the family’s celebrations, there always exists a bit of a distance. Those who comprise the family are bounded together with a familiar idiom, habitual patterns, inside humor and all the trappings that come with familiarity. In such situations, it is common to be invited into the dining room for meals or even the often unused living room for conversation—places where the family itself rarely gathers.WarmthOfHomeBlog

Contrast the experiences of being a guest to that of coming home. When one returns home, cordiality and measured warmth are replaced by unbounded laughter and well-worn friendship. One quickly luxuriates in ties that know and lovingly accept the idiosyncrasies and even embrace the peculiarities of family members. Coming home, it would never occur to anyone to share a meal in the dining room or conversation in the living room. Rather, one bounds past these to instantly gather in the kitchen and the family room. It is a time when you take your shoes off and put your feet up.

Twenty years ago in early January, 1994, we began our journey to our initial eight partner dioceses as guests. Arriving at school after school in a rented Ford Taurus, we hammered out the broad contours of what would become ACE Teaching Fellows. We were literally “making it up as we went along,” trying our best to persuade one skeptical audience after the next. The superintendents, principals, teachers and pastors with whom we met welcomed us with characteristic Southern hospitality. Little by little we learned that Southern Hospitality was extended to Yankees like ourselves a thimble full at a time! Despite our utter ignorance—let’s face it, neither of us had any formal or informal training in education—ultimately our hosts took a chance on us. How could we ever forget, for example, the moment when an ageing and deeply experienced woman religious in Savannah broke the deafening silence of a rather tense initial meeting with the words, “the proof is in the pudding. . . .let’s give these kids a chance!”

Contrast this initial journey of ours two decades ago with the genuine warmth with which we were greeted in each of the fifty-five stops and over the 30,000 miles we traveled crisscrossing America these past months. We were welcomed as members of the family, not as guests, in each of these partner cities and dioceses. We were met now, not by strangers, but as good friends and fellow missionary disciples. At each stop, we breezed past the dining and living rooms and were invited to gather with the family around the warmth of the kitchen hearth. What we experienced was the collective gratitude, deepened commitment, and strengthened hope in our shared passion for the gift of Catholic education. The countenances of the thousands of school children who greeted us at each stop told the story best. How can we not celebrate the “Joy of the Gospel” when encountering the unbridled enthusiasm of the children we are blessed to serve.

Another Child Every Day

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

AnotherChildEverydayBlog

"Does ACE really stand for 'another child every day?'"

At first, the question took me off guard—I was heading out of Our Lady of Fatima School in Modesto, California, and I was barely paying attention to those around me.

"No," I almost started to say. "ACE stands for the Alliance for Catholic Education. We aim to strengthen, sustain, and transform Catholic schools around by the country by offering a suite of services that..." 

But the little girl who asked me didn't want that answer. She was quite content with hers, and I couldn't help but nod.

Another child every day—what exactly does that mean?

Those of us at ACE, and especially those of us who have been on the Fighting for Our Children's Future National Bus Tour through forty-eight cities, feel like we have the mission of ACE down pretty well. We've been asked about it so often, it almost comes as second nature.

This little girl, with one simple question, completely shifted my way of thinking about what the mission of ACE is. Does ACE mean another child every day?

The focus of ACE is about transforming Catholic schools. It's about helping dioceses, educating leaders, providing choice for parents, and sustaining the thousands of sacred places serving civic purposes. At the end of the day, though, the focus of ACE is on exactly what that girl said it was—the focus is on the children.

We've traveled around the country for nearly eight months to help promote Catholic schools because we believe that every child, no matter his or her situation, deserves the right to a quality education, the type that can be found in Catholic schools. Children are of the utmost importance, but the girl in Modesto found a perfectly simple way of expressing that fully—another child every day.

One child can make a difference, and so one chance at a quality education—one scholarship, one tuition check, one seat in a classroom, one dynamic teacher—can be life-changing, and can be world-changing. As a woman who joined us for mass in Santa Ana, California said, "remember that these children are not the seed; they are the harvest."

A fifty-city national bus tour has the benefit of allowing a broad-scope view of the state of Catholic education in our country, and this view is a bright one. It can be easy to forget, though, that Catholic education isn't just a broad-scope issue. Catholic education is important down to the diocese, to the city, to the school, and to the student. These children are our future, a future that we believe is worth fighting for.

As we finish our tour and for the months and years to come, we'll remember that little girl from Our Lady of Fatima, and we'll remember what ACE really does stand for—another child every day.

The ACE Bus is Coming!

Monday, May 05, 2014

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Written by: Drew Clary

"The ACE bus is coming!"

"A bus is coming!"

"A bus is coming?"

This is the reaction I imagine many of those—students and faculty alike—have when they first hear about our visits to their school as part of the Fighting for Our Children's Future National Bus Tour.

I'm sure this news is met with some excitement, but there must be some confusion as well. What exactly do we mean by a bus? Who's on this bus? Are there celebrities on the bus? Kids?

All this changes as soon as the bus actually comes around the corner and the students see it for the first time.

Recently at our stop at St. Vincent de Paul School in Phoenix, Arizona, the students reacted as we hadn't yet seen through forty-two cities. As soon as the bus came into view, kids (who were out on their fenced-in playground) sprinted toward it, pushing up against the fence to get a good view, and then ran down the driveway into the school, waving the bus to its final parking space.

Why are these children so excited about a big bus? Not to be overly humble, but it's probably not the passengers they're excited about. And while the children no doubt love their school, in many cases there's a chance it's not that either.

These students showed, and almost all we've visited have shown, a pure, unbridled enthusiasm they can't help but shower on us. It's a refreshing enthusiasm, one so rarely experienced as we get older because it has no contingencies—these children and the thousands of others like them all around the country are excited to be alive, they are excited to be exactly where they are, but most importantly, they are just plain excited. How blessed are we, and they, that the schools they attend allow this joy to flow forth.

Every time we walk off the bus to a cheering crowd of students, we get a chance to remember how truly blessed we are. We at ACE truly do have something to be excited about, just like the faculty and staff of all the Catholic schools around the country have something to be excited about—the life-giving, pure and unadulterated joy shown each and every day by the students in Catholic schools.

Notre Dame ACE Academies Bring Strengths and Goals Together

Monday, April 28, 2014

Written by: Eric Prister

Three Catholic schools in Tucson have embraced an innovative model for their students’ success—a local partnership with the University of Notre Dame and the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) that includes increased community and corporate support and seeks to meld the various aspects of school life into one culture.

The culture emphasizes two goals, college and heaven,
MC4 7490which are on the mind of every student, every teacher, and every administrator. These three schools, the Notre Dame ACE Academies, are in the spotlight as Notre Dame’s National Bus Tour visits Tucson April 27-30. Leaders of ACE who have come to celebrate the schools’ approach are mindful that their mission to sustain, strengthen, and transform Catholic schools does indeed entail melding a number of factors together.

Schools need strong teachers to motivate and cultivate the young minds they instruct. They need strong leaders to take the reins and elevate schools to their fullest potential. No matter how strong the school, it means nothing if students don't have access to the school. Thus, ACE places high priority on improving opportunities for all students, regardless of background, to benefit from the gift of Catholic schools.

Through initiatives such as the Program for Educational Access and the Catholic School Advantage campaign, ACE strives to open the doors of Catholic schools to as many children as possible.

Moreover, ACE is in its 20th year of building its multifaceted approach to serve Catholic schools by recognizing the importance of school culture.  Every aspect of a school—the way its teachers teach, the way its students learn, and the expectations of both—is wrapped up in the culture that ultimately makes a school great.

As the ACE bus tour arrives in Tucson, we reflect on the how the Notre Dame ACE Academies and their distinctive culture unite and build upon various aspects of ACE’s 20 years of service—its commitment to providing a quality education as well as making that education more accessible to all children. Each year, ACE sends nearly 200 teachers to Catholic schools around the country—talented, faith-filled young people, ready to make a difference in their students’ lives. ACE also fosters the growth of future school leaders with the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program.

The Notre Dame ACE Academies in Tucson—St. John the Evangelist School and Santa Cruz School—are the original sites for this unique university-school partnership model. (Two schools in the Tampa Bay, Fla., area have adopted the model, as well.) Thanks to the combination of strengths and commitments found in the culture of these Tucson schools, including exceptional leadership and support from the community, nearly 750 children are experiencing a transformational education and are closing the academic achievement gap. 

Sweet Home, Chicago

Thursday, April 03, 2014 by The University of Notre Dame and the ACE program share special ties with the city of Chicago, fostering a relationship in support of Catholic schools.

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Written by: Eric Prister

Students around Notre Dame's campus joke about how often "Chicago" is the response to the question "where are you from?" It seems like more than half of the students are from the Windy City, or more likely, from one of the nearby suburbs. In fact, many on campus joke that South Bend might as well consider itself a suburb of Chicago, since a ninety-minute drive is comparable to the time it takes some of those who live in actual suburbs to reach downtown.

All jokes aside, Notre Dame does share a special connection to Chicago and has made a special effort to foster that connection. With a alumni base larger than any other in the United States (more than 20,000 former Notre Dame students live in and around the Windy City), Chicago has affectionately been called "Notre Dame West."

In addition to the alumni population, Notre Dame has also started basing some of its programs in Chicago, further strengthening the ties between Our Lady's University and its closest major metropolis. The Notre Dame Law School sends some of its current students from an externship in Chicago, and the Executive MBA program from the Mendoza School of Business is based in Chicago. Through these initiatives and more, Notre Dame has shown a commitment to making a difference in the city that so many of its graduates call home.

The Alliance for Catholic Education also has important ties to the Windy City and its Catholic school community. In 2001, when ACE's co-founder Father Sean McGraw was teaching at Notre Dame High School in the Chicago area, he and the five former ACE teachers on the faculty began meeting once a month for mass, dinner, and fellowship in support of Catholic schools. This set the stage for ACE Fellowship (which later became ACE Advocates) and became the model for our regional groups of Catholic education supporters.

Since that point, Chicago's Advocates group has become the largest in the nation, with over 300 members and over 150 former ACE graduates living (and many teaching) in the Chicago area. Chicago is also home to a strong Catholic School Advantage campaign, and the Archdiocese of Chicago is the newest home to an ACE Teaching Fellows community. Jen Kowieski, a member of ACE 4 and teacher at St. Josaphat in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, was the founding director of LU-CHOICE, Loyola University's teacher formation program. Even Loyola Academy, the former school of ACE's co-founder Father Tim Scully, is now run by Katie Ball, a member of ACE's first teaching cohort.

Catholic schools themselves are thriving in Chicago as well. It is the only major city in the United States to show an increase in Catholic school enrollment with 480 more students in 2013 than in 2012. Chicago also holds a 98% high school graduation rate in Catholic schools, and the school communities around the city are dedicated to providing a quality education for all of Chicago's youth.

More than these tangible connections, Chicago and the University of Notre Dame share a culture, community, and passion for Catholic schools. Chicago's Catholic schools graduate more students and send them to college. They also save Chicago more than a billion dollars per year by providing education to children at no cost to the city. But more than that, ACE believes that Catholic schools are good for America; we believe that Cathoilc schools form faith-filled, civically-minded, intelligent adults ready to change the world, and what better place to form them than the city with which we share so much. The Chicago community and the Notre Dame community are intimately related, and the university and ACE are committed to fostering a community of difference makers in our own sweet home, Chicago.

In Southern Texas, Catholic Schools Provide a Foundation for Immigrant Families

Monday, March 24, 2014

Written by: Andrea Cisneros

On a map, a border is a hard line. That makes sense - it’s supposed to be a mark upon the Earth. Stick your feet in one place, and you’re in one nation. Stand to the right, and you stand in another country.

But in real life, the map’s hard line becomes a gradient. At least that’s so in the Rio Grande Valley, a region of Texas stretching from its southernmost tip up the north bank of the Rio Grande for about one hundred miles, and in Brownsville, the Valley’s largest city.

Here, Spanish is about as common as English - it’s hard to say for sure because the Valley’s other prominent dialect, Spanglish, makes a fuzzy linguistic venn diagram. I often heard my students use sentences like: “Oye, pregunta a tu mamá if you can come over to my house.” Signs saying, “Aceptamos pesos”  - We take pesos - are not uncommon, especially downtown. There’s lot of Mexican food but not much Tex-Mex (yes, though both delicious, those are different things).

brownsvilleFor many Brownsville families, the border is a delay, a line to wait in when they make their weekly pilgrimages to visit their tíos and abuelitas on the other side. A good number of the students at St. Joseph Academy, the Catholic high school in Brownsville, cross for school every day. If the blending of cultures wasn’t interesting enough, complex economic issues shape life in the Valley, where the gap between the poor and the well-off is particularly wide.

Into this mix come Catholic schools. In the Valley, Catholic schools are places where students learn to navigate the gradient. They learn about the wider world without ever having their own heritage denigrated. English class is just as important here as it is anywhere else - not more, and not at the expense of the students’ home language (whether it’s Spanish or Spanglish). For kids from one side of the socioeconomic spectrum, Catholic schools are a way to get at opportunities they might miss otherwise, and for all students, they’re a place to learn about and develop their common values and beliefs.

Catholic schools are critical in the Valley because they both are and aren’t part of the gradient. They thoroughly reflect their community as a place of “both/and” and in-between; a place of both constant change and deep roots. At the same time, Catholic schools here represent that which is constant: family, service, faith, and hope. They are founded on, foster, and thrive on the interconnection between all persons and all peoples, regardless of their home language (or languages) or on which side of a line they stand.

Catholic schools – in the Valley and everywhere else – form their students into the fullest and Truest expression of who they are. From the mix of influences, options, challenges, and demands comes a young person defined by faith, principles, and their connection to their neighbor. They can navigate the gradient because they themselves are solid.   

Catholic Schools Come Together in Oklahoma

Friday, March 14, 2014

Oklahoma3

Written by: Eric Prister

"Here at Mount Saint Mary's, we aren't just students at a school. We're people in a community."

Throughout the bus tour, from east to west, from north to south, we've seen strong communities that rally around their schools and their children, but nowhere was that more evident than in Oklahoma when the bus made its stops in Tulsa and Oklahoma City.

As the student body president at Mouth Saint Mary's High School said in her speech during the stop at Sacred Heart School, the Tulsa and Oklahoma City communities have rallied around their Catholic schools, despite the sometimes difficult challenges that face faith-based schools.

Tulsa and Oklahoma City prove that community in Catholic schools is more than just the community of the family. It is more than just the community in one classroom, or the community of one particular school. The success of Catholic schools depends on the community at large, in the city, the diocese, and in the Church as a whole—a success that was put on display in Oklahoma.

At our event at Sts. Peter and Paul School in Tulsa, students from more than ten Catholic schools from the diocese were in attendance, including students from St. John the Evangelist school more than an hour away. Students from all across the diocese participated in the event, singing, speaking, and praying together with their fellow Tulsa peers. They came together as one, offering the ACE team a look at the great things being done across the city, not just at one school.

In Oklahoma City at Sacred Heart, students of all ages addressed the congregation during mass, emphasizing over and over again that the strength of Catholic schools, and the strength of the Oklahoma City community in general, is that all are made to feel welcome and included.

As has been said before, today's educational climate can be a difficult one for Catholic schools. By itself, a school can experience difficulties when it tries to fend for itself, alone and independent. Apart of a community, however, schools can thrive together, pushing each other toward success, both academically and spiritually.

In Oklahoma City and Tulsa, the Catholic school communities as a whole are embracing this mission, striving together every day to provide a quality education for all of their children. The schools there, like many others across the country, are a beautiful witness to the power and joy that come from a strong Catholic school community.

Pulled Back to Pensacola

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Pulled Back to Pensacola

Written by: Emily Gilloon

“Would you rather live forever with a bucket on one foot or five bottles on your fingers? Would you rather be a giant hamster or a tiny rhino? Would you rather be able to stop time or fly?”

These and many other peculiar scenarios hummed throughout Ryan Schwab’s fifth grade classroom as 16 pairs of our Little Flower and St. John’s students timidly (and awkwardly) participated in a get-to-know-you icebreaker. Like so many of the best ideas in teaching, Ryan and I had decided on a whim to bring our two classes together before the exciting ACE bus celebration took place at St. John’s in Pensacola. As both of us quietly observed our classes, I couldn’t help but feel undeniably joyful, blessed and grateful.

Just about two years before I learned Ryan would rather fly than be able to stop time, I accepted a post-ACE job at a company in my hometown of Dubuque, Iowa. That June I packed up my life in Pensacola, took a 17-hour road trip back home to Iowa, and officially left behind a community of teachers, housemates and students whom I had come to love during two of the most professionally and spiritually fulfilling years of my life. I left Pensacola with a heavy heart, but I was excited about the prospect of starting a new job and spending more time with my family.

Six months later, my longing for my ACE friends, job and life hadn’t faded as I had hoped it would. I started to question my decision to leave Pensacola at all. I daydreamed about moving back to the Sunshine State and being near my ACE housemates and former coworkers. More importantly, I craved working in a place where I could pray freely, say the words “Merry Christmas” at work and attend Mass weekly as part of my job. The time I spent outside the classroom helped me to realize I craved the sense of purpose and joy that comes with teaching in a Catholic school. In February of last year, after months of prayers, doubts and indecisiveness, I emailed my former ACE principal and asked if it was too late to apply for the fifth grade position I knew would be open in the fall.

She wrote back that day and told me she received my email only a few mere hours before she was going request a new ACE teacher for the job I wanted. At that moment, I knew God had been right beside me the whole time, guiding my thoughts, the exact words I wrote to her and my final decision just to press “send” and see what happened.

A year after sending that email, I stood next to my 16 giggly students in the sunny St. John’s parking lot, waving my “Catholic Schools are Good for America” flag, and smiling to myself as Fr. Lou DelFra and the ACE bus rolled in. Would I rather be working a job with a bigger paycheck, fewer responsibilities and more free time on the weekends? Absolutely not. Instead I thank God every day for surrounding me with curious students, devoted teachers and friends and for allowing me to grow as a Catholic educator.

 

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