ACC 2.0: Notre Dame Student-Athletes and ACE Teachers Form New Teams
As athletes at all levels across the country navigate changes to this year’s sports seasons, here at Notre Dame “ACC” is taking on a whole new meaning. Notre Dame Student Welfare and Development (SWD) and ACE Teaching Fellows have teamed up for what they have dubbed ACE Classroom Connections, or ACC 2.0, to pair ACE teachers with Notre Dame student-athletes who are serving as virtual pen pals for elementary and middle school students across the country.
“Student-athletes used to volunteer in local schools through (an organization called) Dream Team,” says Katie Moran, who ran varsity cross country and track and field at Notre Dame and taught in ACE 22. Katie has worked with ACE’s Catherine Wagner and SWD’s Collin Stoecker to set up ACC 2.0. “This year, we had a conversation about how our teachers might be missing out on opportunities to have outside people come into their classrooms and how ND athletes might be missing out on opportunities to volunteer in local schools. This is a great way to meet both needs.”
Currently, 46 student-athlete and ACE teacher pairs are working together, and the number is growing each day. “We had an initial strong level of interest and now teammates are telling each other about it,” Katie says. “Now, an athlete is reaching out every other day to ask, ‘How can I be part of this?’”
One such pair includes ND senior and swimmer Skylar Fore and second-year ACE teacher Catherine Olohan (ACE 26, New Orleans). Skylar is serving as a virtual mentor and pen pal to Catherine’s seventh-grade English students. While working with middle school students is a new experience, it’s one that she’s excited about. “I really wanted to do this because I love helping kids and Dream Team was the highlight of my week,” Skylar says. “The connections you can form with kids are amazing, and you can learn as much from them as they can from you.”
For Catherine and her students, the feeling is mutual. To kick off the partnership, Skylar sent Catherine and her students an introduction video in which she shared some of the things she enjoyed in middle school and the reasons why she loves college.
“One of the major reasons why I love college is because of the swim team,” Skylar says. “Even though there are 70 of us, we feel like a tiny little family. They’re my friends and my teammates and it’s an amazing support network.
“When my students heard that there are 70 people on her swim team,” Catherine says, “their eyes got so big.”
Skylar’s status as a student-athlete resonated with some of Catherine’s students, and Catherine is excited that they can look to Skylar as an example. “A few of my boys want to play football at LSU and it’s good that as they’re entering high school (which begins in eighth grade in New Orleans), they can see what it looks like to be a good, serious student and be committed to sports,” Catherine says.
Giving her students the chance to explore possibilities for their futures is one of the main reasons why Catherine was eager to be part of ACE Classroom Connections. “When I was in high school, we had guest speakers come to our school to talk about their careers,” Catherine recalls. “When I heard from different speakers, I remember thinking, ‘Oh, I could do that.’ It opened up the horizons for what was possible.”
Skylar, too, hopes that she’ll be able to share her experiences with the students and form mentorship connections as they work on sending each other professional emails. As a management consulting major, she has plenty of experience with sending professional emails and it’s even something that she enjoys doing. “I’m always on my email, so I’m ready for all of the emails that are about to come my way,” Skylar says with a laugh.
“I want to guide the students and help them find what they’re interested in, but I also want to show them that they don’t need to know what they want to do when they enter college.”
From all sides, there’s a strong sense of gratitude and hope surrounding the ACE Classroom Connections initiative. Both Skylar and the ACE team are grateful for Collin and SWD’s support in getting the project off the ground. “It was great to work with Collin and to come up with this idea based on what he had done with student-athletes in the past,” says Catherine Wagner, who rowed for Notre Dame and taught in ACE 24. “It’s even better that we could have it come to fruition so early in the year.”
Skylar echoes this sentiment. “Overall, I’m very grateful for the opportunities that Notre Dame and ACE presents to us to intertwine service with our lives,” she says. “I feel grateful to be so encouraged by the ACE team, my coaches, and ND administrators because of the priority they place on service.”
Learn more about ACE Teaching Fellows at ace.nd.edu/teach.