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The Ultimatum That Changed My School—For the Better

Friday, March 13, 2015

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You've got five years.

Five years to revamp your instructional practice and standards.

Five years to dramatically raise your enrollment.

Five years to right this sinking ship—or we will be forced to shut your doors.

Countless Catholic schools faced this ultimatum while struggling to stay afloat amidst an economic downturn that ravaged our nation. It placed a still greater strain upon families prioritizing the sizable cost of a private, faith-based education for their children.

For one small, family-oriented, and diverse Catholic K-8 school in particular, such conditions were issued four years prior to my own arrival. Despite these conditions, though, not all schools—indeed not all students—have been so lucky.

It would be an oversimplification to propose that the Alliance for Catholic Education singlehandedly saved the school I now consider a second family. But the loving labors of ACE Teachers have made an incalculable impact towards the continuity of this community. And as AmeriCorps members, we have indeed gotten great things done.

Long before I ever stepped foot in my classroom, greeted my smiling students, and considered myself an educator, AmeriCorps safeguarded the possibility for my predecessors and fellow staff to afford my students the educational choice that they fundamentally deserve. Our school stands as a safe-haven for many, welcoming students from all walks of life.

By means I still cannot fully conceptualize, they endured and continue to work selflessly towards the re-imagination of our school's circumstance. But it just so happened that a five-year ultimatum came as our school's first ACE teacher arrived in 2010.

She elected to continue serving her position to date, and was joined two years later by my own predecessor—for the first time in far too long a time, our school had a certified instructor of science. Suddenly, my coworkers could more intentionally focus their freely given energy to their subjects of passion and expertise. Suddenly, our school had even more energetic young role models serving our students. Suddenly, we were back in the black and things were finally looking up.

While I have only enjoyed the privilege of participating in this most recent year of transformation, the vigor with which our community has rebounded could not have been foreseen. Classrooms, once struggling to get by with textbooks outdated some twenty years now, boast unprecedented integration of state-of-the-art technology. Our enrollment has achieved its greatest numbers in memory, with waiting lists for next year growing every day. And for the first time in decades, families from our neighborhood are choosing to send their students to the small, family-oriented, and still diverse Catholic School that was always right there, waiting across the street.

I, and the ACE Teachers who served before me, are but individual participants in this on-going story of grit and revitalization. But through the relationships forged, students inspired, traditions re-imagined, and hours clocked, AmeriCorps has catalyzed a change that will support our students far beyond our classroom walls.

Every single day, I remind myself to stop to look into the smiling faces of my students, and thank Heaven: for the opportunity to call them my family; for the funding that makes it possible to serve them through the trying uncertainties of adolescence; for the opportunity to spark their imaginations and aspirations in ways a textbook never could; and to proudly support these bright young women and men who will undoubtedly continue our mission—challenging the limitations of circumstance, actualizing equal opportunity, and re-imagining this nation.

We had five years to right this ship.

Give us five more, and just see what we get done.