Even the busy first day of summer classes can’t slow down ACE’s newest communities in Philadelphia and Stockton, who still meet for dinner to share their experiences starting new ACE sites last year. While most new ACE teachers are placed into existing communities of first- and second-year teachers, these eight members of ACE 24 established new ACE sites in Philadelphia and Stockton, California, where they forged new relationships with their schools, neighborhoods, and one another.
From the start of the school year, both communities said, friends of ACE swooped in to help them feel at home. In Philly, Fr. Lou DelFra’s mom brought them groceries and Italian food, including a lasagna that they tossed in the oven to avoid the possibility of culinary catastrophe when they had to prepare dinner when John Schoenig came for an ACE site supervision visit.
Stockton remembers how Marian Graham, the superintendent of Catholic schools in their diocese, and Stephanie Gallo, the vice president of marketing for E. & J. Gallo Winery, acted as “fairy godmothers,” setting up their home in advance of their arrival with such care that even the placement of the towels was purposeful.
As the new ACErs settled in, they discovered their new cities’ cultures and quirks. In Philadelphia, Jackie Winsch’s fourth graders were so enamored with soft pretzels—available each day for thirty-five cents in the school cafeteria—that they brought their own mustard to school. Meanwhile, driving to school required mastery of Philadelphia’s maze of one-way streets and parallel parking spots.
“Parking is a free-for-all,” Andy Miles said, describing how he learned to parallel park on the raised median between lanes. And Thomas Karam, who learned to navigate Philadelphia’s subway system each day to get to school, was struck by the homelessness he saw on Philadelphia’s streets.
With living in Philadelphia came opportunities to visit historic sites: Valley Forge, the Liberty Bell, and Gino’s Pizza. The Eagles’ Super Bowl championship prompted school pep rallies and a parade down Broad Street, just two blocks from the Philadelphia ACE house.
“It was a cool, ‘throw yourself all into Philly’ experience,” Miles said.
In Stockton (or Manteca, as the “MantecACE” community clarifies), a two-month drought at the start of the school year alarmed local families sustained by jobs at ranches and almond and berry farms.
“I’ve never been to a place before where we had to actively pray for rain,” Emma Fleming said, recalling how rain became a frequent Mass intention.
The Stockton ACErs found themselves “two hours from everything”—San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, and Napa Valley—but often searching for new places nearby to pursue activities like half-marathons and tap-dancing classes.
Their favorite community moments, they said, were the ones they spent at home together, like the time they made an impromptu Christmas music video featuring shots of Drew grading papers and of one another eating cake in their pantry. Maybe the best Friday night, they said, was one they spent playing cards at home during the second month of school. They ended the evening singing “Salve Regina” together, as they’ve chosen to do each week after community prayer.
In spite of the challenges of moving to new cities, both Philadelphia and Stockton say they’re glad to have had the opportunity to gain confidence exploring new places, creating their own community traditions, and building relationships with new ACE schools. To the four ACE 25s preparing to start a new community in Pensacola this year, Philadelphia ACEr KJ Witty offers advice:
“Do things as a community, whether that be [to] all go out to eat at a place near where you live, or [to] go to the same church together for the first time. Shared experiences at the beginning will help to make you more familiar with the new area.”
Interested in learning more about ACE Teaching Fellows? Visit ace.nd.edu/teach and request more information!