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In the Spotlight . . .

Catholic School Teacher Honored by Local Radio Station

on Tuesday, 05 April 2016.

Written by Sean Tenaglia

Melina Lopez (ACE 21), currently serving as an AmeriCorps member teaching second grade in San Antonio, has received a type of reward typically reserved for students.

She’s on an “honor roll,” thanks to the praise of a parent and a local radio station’s pro-educator tradition.

Rising to Leadership: Reflections from a Principal at a Dual-Campus, Multi-Parish School

Written by Rebecca Devine on Wednesday, 02 March 2016.

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“I stumbled across a little thing called ACE, and it completely changed my life."

Michael Debri, a graduate of ACE Teaching Fellows and the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program (RLP), originally intended to teach in a public high school after graduating from college. Before ACE, Debri explained, he had “no idea how important community is, for schools and for the Church.” After two years in a third grade classroom as an ACE Teacher in Memphis, Tennessee, Debri took a job as the assistant principal of All Saints Academy in his hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

School Leader Shines as Beacon of Hope in NYC

Written by Rebecca Devine on Thursday, 03 December 2015.

“Striving to be a good Catholic school leader is an all-consuming endeavor—it’s on my mind when I wake up in the morning and go to sleep at night,” said Stephanie Becker, who recently graduated from ACE’s Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program as part of its 12th cohort.img 1043 2

Becker is the academic dean at Mt. Carmel-Holy Rosary Catholic school in New York. One of six Catholic elementary schools in the innovative Partnership for Inner-City Education, MCHR’s mission is to provide a “beacon of hope” for children from the under-resourced neighborhoods of East Harlem.

To keep her own beacon of hope shining, Becker relies on her faith. She was originally formed and inspired by her own experiences in a Catholic high school.

“I always felt a sense of encouragement and support from my teachers that was clearly inspired and fostered through their personal relationship with Christ,” Becker said. “Their belief that my unique personhood was something to be cherished inspired me to be my best self each and every day.

“It was perfectly fitting to find my home as a ‘new teacher’ post-graduation in a Catholic school. For me, it was never ‘if’ I would work in a Catholic school, it was always a matter of ‘where.’”

After six years teaching in Manhattan, Becker was invited to her current position at MCHR. While Becker was no doubt a positive influence on her community, she desired to be more effective.

“I had the willingness, drive and potential to be the driver of change in my school and diocese, I just needed the right program to help me get there.”

“Deep down,” she said, “I felt there was more I could be doing for my school and the students I serve; I had the willingness, drive and potential to be the driver of change in my school and diocese, I just needed the right program to help me get there.”

Becker was already a leader when she entered the Remick Leadership Program. What she sought was the opportunity to learn and grow from more experienced, transformational leaders—leaders whose zeal could turn around struggling schools and inspire hundreds of people to “own their talents and do the best work of their lives.”

Suzanne Kaszynski, the principal of MCHR, was the beacon of hope that drew Becker toward comprehensive, faith-based leadership, like a moth to a flame. Kaszynski, Becker explained, “with her infectious positivity and unbreakable spirit, galvanized supporters from near and far to save this East Harlem gem that was providing a first-class Catholic education for an underserved population, in a neglected corner of the city.”

What Becker wanted was not only to attain that character of leadership exemplified by Kaszynki’s successful results, but also her humility and joy.

“She so perfectly articulates what a comprehensive education, rooted both in faith and the arts, can do for children,” Becker said. "Such a powerful impact is the fruit of love, not ambition or pride."

In order to improve the academic environment at MCHR, Becker said, it was necessary to “intensify our sense of faith and celebrate our Catholic identity.” Consequently, she was unsatisfied with many of the leadership programs available in New York City. Becker needed to find a group of peers and mentors who “kept spiritual formation and growth a priority.”

The Remick Leadership Program provided a structure within which Becker could broaden her vision and imagine a greater future for her school, but it also taught her new practical skills. It armed her with a strong network of dozens of leader-peers who “became something more than colleagues or friends, they became a second family.” It held up examples of schools “where Gospel values are lived, community is celebrated, and excellence – not perfection – is paramount.” Most importantly, it reaffirmed Becker’s hope in Catholic education.

Latino Families Finding a Home in Cincinnati Catholic Schools

Written by Eric Prister on Thursday, 22 October 2015.

img 88961 copy copyWhen Mayra Wilson, graduate of ACE's ENL program, accepted a part-time position with the Archdiocese of Cincinnati to help improve Latino outreach and enrollment for the Archdiocese’s more than 100 Catholic schools, she knew she had her work cut out for her. The Archdiocese’s outreach up to that point had been minimal, and she would be starting nearly from scratch. But she kept one thing on her mind as she began her efforts.

“Our families want a Catholic school, our families want to be close to their faith, and they want the best for their kids.”

Wilson started with families and with individual schools in an attempt to bring together parents who wanted a Catholic education for the children but didn’t know how to access it with schools who wanted to reach out to the local community but didn’t know how to get started.

“There was clearly a need for [outreach],” she said. “Many schools in the urban settings were wanting to reach out to this community, but they didn’t know how to. In particular, the biggest challenge they saw was the language barrier.”

Born and raised in Peru, Wilson felt a connection to the Latino communities of Cincinnati and felt as though she was positioned well to be a liaison between Latino families and schools. Though she had become known in the Latino communities through her work throughout college, she felt like she needed to reposition herself in this new role.

“I would go to different masses in Spanish, I would go to different events in the community—I was trying to be really present,” she said. “Now, [I’m] the Catholic school lady, everyone knows me as that. I wasn’t afraid of going out and meeting with families after Mass, I wasn’t afraid of eating the tamales and sharing food, and just building that trust for families.”

In Wilson’s four years working with the Archdiocese, Latino enrollment is up more than 50 percent, and this year, they’ve hired another Latino Outreach Coordinator who will focus on the northern portion of the Archdiocese. Wilson spoke this summer at Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education as part of Vámanos, a workshop for recruiters of Latinos to Catholic schools hosted by the Catholic School Advantage Campaign.

Wilson said that parents and schools alike are excited and ready to start making the effort, they just need guidance on how to start.

“We wanted to make sure our parents understood all the nuances of the school, but also wanted to make sure the school staff and the principals understood where our families were,” Wilson said. “We wanted to make sure they understood how our families communicated, how our programs needed to be friendly, how some stuff needed to be bilingual. We needed to appreciate the culture, appreciate the language, and rather than see it as a barrier, see it as an opportunity and explore how to make the best of these opportunities.”

The Smooth Transition from M.Ed. to M.D.

Written by Rebecca Devine on Thursday, 15 October 2015.

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On any given day, Kathryn Kinner Hufmeyer, MD, is wearing a memento of her years teaching around her neck. On Hufmeyer’s last day at Bishop Dunne Catholic High School over fifteen years ago, one of her honors science students gave her a parting gift—the stethoscope has been with Hufmeyer ever since.

“I will never forget my inspiration for teaching and patient care,” she said.

She uses the gift daily, a wonderful reminder of how her time in a Catholic school helps her thrive in a busy medical career.

Currently, Hufmeyer is a primary care physician with the Northwestern Medical Group, an instructor in the Feinberg School of Medicine, and the co-director of a curricular program for medical students focused on evidence-based methods and principles.

Not only does Hufmeyer teach and supervise doctors-in-training directly—a clear connection to her time in the classroom—she also develops and evaluates the program’s curricula. She said one of the projects on her table right now is intended to teach third-year students how to use new electronic documentation systems responsibly and effectively. Every teacher knows the perennial importance of well organized information, and medical instructors are no exception.

Hufmeyer said that, just as when she was an ACE Teacher, she wears many hats throughout the day. As a soccer coach, a medical resident, a professional teacher, a supervisor, a program director, and a physician, she has impacted thousands of lives.

“I love being a clinician, an educator, and a researcher. No day at work is ever exactly the same, and none of it would have been possible without my experience in ACE.”

Like Hufmeyer, Nicole Shirilla, MD, a member of ACE 7, has filled many roles since graduating from the program. After teaching theology in Louisiana, she filmed a documentary in Sri Lanka, conducted research at Padre Pio’s hospital in Italy, studied surgical robotics in Dublin, visited with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in India, and traveled through Uganda and Rwanda. Shirilla recently traveled to Haiti to provide humanitarian aid with the St. Luke Foundation.

Reflecting on her wealth of experiences, Shirilla said that she has been constantly surprised by God’s plan for her life.

“I don’t see any of my journey as a side-track,” Shirilla said. “I constantly see each part as having a unifying mission.”

The desire to serve others is what first drew Shirilla to teaching and what ultimately led to her vocation as a physician.

“It’s always before me that I’m taking care of someone who is Christ in disguise, from my Baton Rouge students to my current patients.”

ACE’s mission to improve the quality and accessibility of Catholic education is informed by an underlying belief in the dignity of every human person. Like Shirilla and Hufmeyer, Sean Gaffney, a member of ACE 16, was also driven to the world of healthcare by this unifying mission.

“I discovered how much I love working one-on-one with people [in ACE], hearing their stories, and walking with them through both suffering and joy,” he said.

As a teacher, he was present with his students, parents, administrators, fellow teachers, and peers on the best of days and the worst of days, and everything in between. Now, in medical school at the University of Chicago, Gaffney said that compassionate presence is the heart of the mission for both educators and healthcare professionals.

Passionate and service-oriented people are often tempted to measure their impact by their observable results, but these three know that relationships are essential.

During the summer between Gaffney’s two years of teaching, he traveled to Texas for a student’s quinceañera. Sitting in the church, waiting for the service to begin, he had doubts.

“I felt like I was about to fall into a never-ending cycle of questioning my role and impact as a teacher,” he said. “Just then, the student walked into the church and shouted out, ‘Mr. Gaffney.’  

“As she ran up in her quinceañera dress to give me the biggest hug, it became abundantly clear that it mattered to her that I was her teacher. I never questioned the importance of my role as a teacher after that day.”

Gaffney, Shirilla, and Hufmeyer exhibit many traits typical of ACE Teachers: leadership, faith, reflection, a commitment to service, and a sense of mission. Their years as Catholic school teachers have informed their vocation to serve those entrusted to their care.