The Program for Inclusive Education (PIE) trains educators from all across the country of varying ages, ethnicities, and content backgrounds. It is our sincere pleasure when an ACE graduate joins our mission.
Jessica Martin of PIE 3 was one of those ACE Teachers with a heart for inclusion and a passion to learn more. She shares her story and advocates that others take the next step on their educational journey and prepare for ALL learners.
I am grateful that Jessica works tirelessly to welcome, serve, and celebrate ALL students! Thank you, Jess, for your good works!
~Christie Bonfiglio, Ph.D.; Director of the Program for Inclusive Education
Getting into Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) Teaching Fellows program was one of the best days of my life. I felt such achievement and gratitude – I knew that I was on the path to becoming the best version of myself for my future students and fulfilling my dream of being an educator. I spent my first summer in ACE trying to absorb as much information as I could to prepare myself for my new elementary school in Dallas, Texas. But as every new teacher discovers, however, nothing can quite prepare you enough for that first year.
I vividly remember receiving my roster. I read through the folders containing information on my students, and I discovered that many students had learning differences ranging from ADHD to dyslexia and other challenges in between. I had learned all summer how to plan a great lesson and which standards to address, but I needed to learn more about students with specific learning differences. The wonderful thing about Catholic schools is that all students should be welcome, and I assumed my school fully embraced this philosophy. Nonetheless, I felt overwhelmed and unprepared.
I spent the next two years working diligently to absorb as much information from ACE as I could, wanting to improve each and every day. I fell in love with my school, the faculty, and families, but I began to grow frustrated. I struggled to see improvements from all of the students I taught, and this largely included my students with learning disabilities and differences. I used the little knowledge I had at the time to assist them the best I could, relying heavily on others to help them. At the time, my school lacked a formal student intervention team to assist struggling learners, and we didn’t effectively meet their needs. I felt strongly that something needed to be done.
I met Dr. Christie Bonfiglio while in ACE and felt an immediate connection to her. The way she spoke about her program and what she had to say about inclusion in Catholic schools sounded like the missing piece I needed to assist all of my students. Dr. Bonfiglio emphasized a least restrictive environment and openness to all students in a general education classroom, which was something I could relate to and wanted to feel confident enough to do. I felt called to continue on my path of learning and believed taking classes in inclusive education was exactly the missing piece of the puzzle I needed. I knew I needed to apply to the Program for Inclusive Education upon graduating from ACE to help my school and students that I loved so much.
Applying directly to PIE after ACE was the perfect addition to my educational training. ACE provided me with a foundation in educational content and the necessary skills to teach. PIE refined my skills and allowed me to differentiate for all learners from the outset. I approached teaching from a different lens by thinking about the barriers that exist for students and planning accordingly.
During the transition from ACE to PIE, I contemplated where I would land in the classroom. I was grateful to continue working at the same school I fell in love with while completing ACE, and a change in leadership provided even more opportunity. I was able to step up, find my voice, and begin advocating for all my students. The school was now looking to me as a way to create change, with a knowledgeable, gifted team of PIE educators backing me on this journey of transition. My job went from being my students’ teacher to also being their advocate and their voice when they needed one.
From day one, the PIE team walks you through making changes toward inclusion in your own school. Inclusion is not always the easiest thing to get everyone on board with, but PIE helps you begin the process of change immediately. This allowed me to take on new challenges, roles, and responsibilities. I gained confidence and could help talk to parents and other teachers. I began leading change in my classroom and encouraging others to follow suit. This new confidence began opening doors for the students at my school. PIE also gave me a group of new colleagues to talk with, share experiences with, and seek advice from. Being part of a group of educators who share a similar love for inclusion taught me so much and allowed me to make friendships that will last for years to come.
After an incredible three-year journey of ACE and then PIE, I realized that there are many different ways to teach. Every student is unique, and every circumstance is different. What one student might need, another might need 10 times over. Inclusion is not about looking at a class as a whole, but seeing each student individually. It is not about equality for all, but equity for all. All students don’t need the same instruction or intervention; rather, they need individualized intervention to ensure equal access and opportunity to academic success.
ACE showed me how to be a teacher and allowed me to fall in love with my job. PIE provided me with a plethora of tools and resources to aid in assisting all students so each learner could be as successful as possible. Both programs together made me who I am, and I could not be more grateful.
Consider joining the Program for Inclusive Education's fifth cohort. Our team is happy to work with you on the application and placement process!