In Hawaiian culture, ‘ohana’ means family. To Nacia Hatch, ohana also described the first summer for the Program for Inclusive Education (PIE).
“We become part of the Notre Dame family,” Nacia said. “You’re ohana almost immediately when you step on campus, and you have that feeling of ohana the whole time. That’s one of the ways you immediately build community, and ACE does an amazing job with that.”
Nacia, who teaches middle school social studies and seventh-grade religion at St. Joseph Parish School in Waipahu, Hawaii, and 11 other inclusive educators were part of the first cohort of PIE. As she wrapped up her final week on campus at Notre Dame, Nacia was amazed at the community she had built in the past 13 months as a member of PIE 1.
PIE is a 13-month certificate program that leads to additional licensure in exceptionalities: mild intervention. Directed by Dr. Christie Bonfiglio, PIE seeks to introduce inclusive practices to Catholic schools. ACE educators—both Teaching Fellows and Remick Leaders are exposed to introductory inclusive practices through their degree programs. PIE extends that material to prepare educators to support the diverse learning needs of all students in Catholic schools.
“PIE taught me how to bring best inclusionary practices to Catholic schools,” said Nacia. “Our mantra is welcome, serve, celebrate.”
Nacia has spent the better part of the last two decades working in Catholic schools in Virginia, Ohio, and Hawaii. She recently returned to Hawaii with her husband, a Marine who is stationed at Camp Smith in Oahu. While born in Maryland, Nacia and her family have deep roots in the Hawaiian islands as champions of Catholic schools.
“My grandfather helped build St. Theresa School [in Kauai]. My aunts, uncles, cousins, and little sister all attended school there,” Nacia said. “And my mom and dad were very involved in supporting that school in many different ways.”
The Catholic schools in Hawaii are part of the Diocese of Honolulu. The historical migration of Filipinos to Hawaii, along with fervent missionary activity in the islands, led to a strong base and foundation for Catholic schools that continues today. However, Nacia believes that more can be done and she has found that PIE has given her some of the tools to help.
“Some Catholic schools in Hawaii are more advanced than others in terms of inclusionary practices, and we have a population of underserved students, including many Polynesian immigrants,” Nacia said. “More can be done to help serve those students and provide their families with choices and options to bring them to Catholic schools.”
Nacia had always admired Notre Dame, and she recalled watching Notre Dame football games while at college in North Carolina. While looking around the Notre Dame and ACE website, she stumbled upon PIE. “It was legitimately a Google search, and I said, ‘Oh, PIE, what is that?’ But it’s been so helpful. A challenging summer, as PIE is no joke, but it’s worth it.”
The PIE licensure program is broken into four semesters, three delivered online (summer I, fall, and spring) and one on campus (summer II). During online programming, educators are assigned "Peace of the PIE Partners.” These partners are peer educators that participants check in with, work with on assignments , and share in the joys and the struggles of teaching. Nacia loved this aspect of PIE. “Having someone to email and reach out to helped build community in ways that Notre Dame is fantastically good at. For someone who hadn’t been back to school in many years, it was helpful to have someone to build community, however physically remote we were.”
The cohort comes together for two weeks during the summer to complete their program. The key to PIE’s success, said Nacia, was the ability to build community in a short period of time, even in a two-week stretch on campus.
“The most helpful thing about PIE were the connections I made with my peers, my cohort, and the PIE team,” Nacia said. “We also had great guest speakers that helped us feel part of the Notre Dame family.”
Two of those guest speakers were Fr. Lou Delfra, CSC, ACE's director of spiritual life, and Dr. Bill Mattison, the senior advisor for theological formation. Nacia said listening to Fr. Lou and Bill explain the theology of inclusion was exactly what she needed to hear.
“I feel that with many Catholic school teachers, they know inclusion is the right thing to do. And then hearing the words Fr. Lou and Bill use to express was amazing. It’s no longer just this gut feeling of this is what Jesus did, it was understanding the why,” Nacia said. “Fr. Lou and Bill gave that voice to me, and the confidence and reminder that what we’re doing as inclusive educators is what Jesus asked us to do–to walk with these children and not turn them away.”
Given her husband’s career, Nacia is not able to put down long term roots in any school community because she and her husband move every three to four years. However, that doesn’t faze Nacia. Instead, she sees it as a positive way to help Catholic schools adopt inclusionary practices for all students. “I get to spread inclusion everywhere!” she said.
With the summer finished, the first cohort of PIE formally concluded their program. But Nacia is certain that the relationships cultivated through PIE will continue in the years to come.
“I am so honored to be a part of the ACE ohana.”