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Catholic School Roots Shine Through in Notre Dame Student

Written by Ashley Currey on Monday, 08 December 2014.

Mornings for most students at the University of Notre Dame usually include hitting the “snooze” button once or twice, bracing oneself for the winter chill while waiting to greet friends on their way to class, and sleepily pouring a cup of coffee (or two). It’s no wonder, then, that Patrick Rodgers, a Notre Dame freshman, grew nostalgic when asked to talk about what mornings were like back in grade school.sidebyside

As a former student of Sacred Heart Catholic School in Pinellas Park, Florida—now one of two Notre Dame ACE Academies in the Tampa area—Patrick said he remembers the morning routine at Sacred Heart as one filled with equal parts laughter and reflection. Rather than marching off to class at the start of the day, students and teachers at Sacred Heart begin every morning by gathering together in the school social hall. 

“Our morning assemblies really made it feel like we were a family,” Patrick said.  

From the principal’s daily reflection to Patrick’s own “Class President Recap” segment of the school-wide meeting, mornings always began with community. He said he also remembers fondly the thirty seconds of silence practiced during each morning meeting, an opportunity for meditation that Patrick said helped to cultivate within him an appreciation for quiet moments and a desire for contemplation. Each meeting ended with a call to action from Sacred Heart’s principal: “Let’s get to work.”

Getting to work is exactly what students and teachers at Sacred Heart are all about, both fostering the Catholic faith and challenging students academically.  

“My teachers always strove for excellence,” Patrick said, pointing to various teachers and school leaders who modeled excellence in faith for him. 

From Sister Mary Ann’s ability to make bible stories come alive in his sixth grade religion class to ample opportunities for Lenten sacrifice and prayer, Sacred Heart proved fundamental to forming his faith, just as it has endeavored to do for the thousands of other students who have passed through its halls.

Sacred Heart—along with the other four Notre Dame ACE Academies—provide an environment in which students are able to excel academically, and Patrick is a perfect example. As valedictorian of his high school and a successful student at Notre Dame with aspirations to pursue work in the field of science, he has undoubtedly been well-prepared for the academic rigor of university life. While he excels academically, he exhibits an impressive humility and generosity that reflect an education of the heart alongside the mind with the goals of college and heaven, an education that started at Sacred Heart.

Perfect-Fit Principal Brings New Life to Historic Mobile School

Written by Dan Faas on Friday, 05 December 2014.

Two years ago, when a Catholic school serving some of the most at-risk children in Mobile, Ala. began its search for a new principal, there was only one obvious choice. No one knew the school better, no one had a better sense for its culture and history, and no one got along better with the students than assistant principal and counselor Jamie Crain.1502227 654360514607872 1910582598 o 1

But in her first year as principal at Most Pure Heart of Mary Catholic School, Crain struggled. She knew what needed to happen to keep the school running, but often found herself wondering if there were better or more efficient ways to manage the school and keep expectations high.

Crain had great relationships with the students, but needed help in creating a balanced budget. Her rapport with parents was superb, but she sought to make the school culture even stronger. And she was well-respected by the staff, but wanted guidance in how she could help them become more effective educators.

“Despite the struggles, I realized I was good at what I was doing, but it would be necessary to the get the training and credentials if I wanted to continue to have a positive effect on the school and community,” Crain said.

Crain turned to the Alliance for Catholic Education, which had been sending teachers to Heart of Mary for years. She applied to become a part of the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program, which prepares future leaders of Catholic schools.

“The Remick Leadership Program provided not only a great overview of those skills and habits that strong leaders should have, but also realistic ways to put them into practice,” Crain said.

The Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program is a 25-month opportunity that develops schools to nurture strong Catholic school culture, engage in effective executive management of school operations, and serve as an instructional leaders in a school community and culminates in a Masters of Educational Leadership. Crain recently completed her first summer of coursework in the program.

“I returned back to school doing the same things I had done the previous year, but with different eyes, and with a new vision.”

1922309 684388448271745 917591701 nMost Pure Heart of Mary quickly saw the fruits of Crain's time at Notre Dame. Enrollment started the 2012-13 academic year at 115 students. In just over a year, enrollment grew nearly 40 percent, with enrollment on the first day of this school year at 160. Crain said she hopes to keep the enrollment growing, and credits the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program for giving her valuable tools for improving the academic atmosphere and Catholic culture of the school. With five of the public schools in Mobile designated as “failing,” parents are seeking safer, faith-based option.

“Our parents want a small teacher to student ratio, and they want a safe environment for their kids that the other public schools can’t always provide,” Crain said. “Although most of our families are not Catholic, the vast majority are Christian, and they all want their students to pray at school and learn about Jesus. The Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program has been immensely helpful in helping me become both a leader in the school and in the faith.”

Most Pure Heart of Mary has been serving the African American Catholic community of Mobile for 116 years. The school currently houses 11 regular classrooms that serve students in grades PreK-3 to eight. The school serves a low-income population, and with a Catholic school salary, Crain wasn’t sure how she would pay for the program. Thanks to a generous donor, she received a full scholarship and was able to embrace the program without worrying about financial barriers.

“Enrolling in the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program is definitely not something I would have pursued without the scholarship,” Crain said. “It’s such a tremendous blessing.”

Learn more about the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program below.

To apply, visit ace.nd.edu/leadership/become-a-leader/how-to-apply

ACE Grad Helps Students Unlock Door to Lifelong Success

Written by Bill Schmitt on Monday, 10 November 2014.

dr carlin act satSomewhere in the Maryland wilderness fourteen years ago, while hiking with a friend to traverse the 2,167-mile Appalachian Trail, Dr. Scott Carlin experienced what he calls his ACE epiphany.

This wasn't a sudden call to a vocation in education. Carlin had developed a love of tutoring others while still a high school student in Michigan. He earned teacher certification as a member of Notre Dame's class of 1997 and later worked as a substitute in classrooms in Phoenix. However, Carlin said he lacked a passion for full-time teaching. Then, in 2000, this avid hiker's trailside moments of reflection, informed by praise he had heard for ACE Teaching Fellows, prompted a life-changing realization.

"It hit me that I needed to go through the ACE experience," Carlin said.

He soon applied and was accepted, starting the M.Ed. curriculum in 2001 and quickly realizing that the people around him—his fellow ACE teachers and the faculty, joined together by the pillars of community and spiritual growth—opened new vistas for his life as an educator.

"Working, living with discipline and perseverance, and experiencing that high caliber of intellect and character and individuality and creativity all in one place for two years—it can't help but change the way you see the world and make you better," Carlin said.

His journey became a more self-confident climb, with the master's degree proving to be only the beginning.

Several bold steps following his ACE graduation in 2003 took him to Michigan State University to earn a Ph.D. in Curriculum, Teaching, and Educational Policy, and then back to Notre Dame to join the academic services staff for student athletes. Along the way, inspired by his love for the Appalachian Trail, Carlin attracted donors to a Hike for Higher Education Scholarship Fund he helped establish. The fund assists college-bound students at his hometown public high school in Buchanan, Michigan, and they are still informed by his ACE experience.

"The pillars of ACE—with their qualities of spirit and solidarity—play into our selection criteria for the scholarship," Carlin said.

Carlin's wife Stacey teaches at Buchanan High School, and the couple recently gave birth to their third child (two others are 6 and 4 years, respectively). But besides all these ventures, Carlin has left the Notre Dame position and has been investing for several years in an entrepreneurial expression of his teaching vocation. He sees his firm, Michiana Test Prep and College Consulting, meeting high school students' needs and affirming the mission of ACE while helping to launch promising young people on their own successful life journeys.

Michiana Test Prep and College Consulting aims to give high-quality preparation for college entrance exams—the College Board's Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and the ACT readiness test—to students in Michigan and Indiana who otherwise might lack access to professional preparation due to distance or affordability, Carlin said. The instruction takes many forms, from private sessions to limited-size courses to intensive presentations for large portions of a school's junior class. He's worked with students from at least three dozen Michigan schools and a dozen Indiana schools. Students with special financial needs receive scholarships to trim the fees.

He also provides counseling for students preparing their college applications, plus professional development for teachers so they can integrate college test preparation into the curriculum of their regular courses. (Students' average ACT performances serve as a metric for assessing Michigan schools.) Carlin's latest initiative, now in the pilot stage, produces a live webinar so students can remotely attend his test prep course, watch him make notations, and ask him questions—all at an even greater savings in travel time and course costs.

"I'm not forgetting my ACE roots," Carlin said. He enjoys the feeling of having made a difference in students' lives.

"It was great going to their Facebook page and reading that their class's composite score had jumped for the latest test," Carlin said. "The best part is when somebody gets an admission letter from a college they really wanted to get into and their score helped them get in. [But] it's not about the score. It's about what door these scores can help to unlock."

Twins Share Lifetime of Community, Call to Religious Life

Written by Eric Prister on Friday, 07 November 2014.

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In this day and age, growing up with ten brothers and sisters is certainly uncommon. When two of those children—twins, in fact—become teachers, it becomes more rare still.

But when that vocation leads to a call to the priesthood for both, it’s the making of something incredible.

One might think that Brendan and Brogan Ryan, growing up as twins in a family of thirteen, would have had their fill of community by the time they graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 2008. Instead, they chose to serve as teachers as a part of the Alliance for Catholic Education, where they’d be living with other teachers in communities around the United States.

“ACE required a total commitment,” Brendan said. “We moved to a new place, with new people, to work very hard for very little money at something we could not really prepare for, but we persevered because we were serving a purpose that was bigger than we were. This translates to life in the seminary—there are a lot of unknowns and ups and downs, but I believe that I am here because of something that is external to me, and that call is what I fall back on.”


Brendan spent a year after ACE teaching at a Bishop Hartley High School in Columbus, and then chose to enter the seminary to become a priest in the Congregation of Holy Cross. Brogan became an accountant for two years after serving as a teacher before hearing his call, and following his brother to Holy Cross.

“My time in ACE furthered my discernment of religious life,” Brogan Ryan said. “I found that community life really supported me in my teaching and that's one of the things that drew me to Holy Cross—community life that supports ministry. Praying together as a community also pushed me to grow in my own spiritual life and added a depth to relationships with community members.”

Brendan said that living in community in ACE just reaffirmed his desire for a strong, committed community life moving forward.

“I was already thinking about religious life when I began ACE, so in many ways, it furthered my consideration of religious formation,” Ryan said. “Living with others in community for a common mission was not just something I tolerated for two years, but something I came to appreciate greatly and was looking for after ACE.”

For those ACE graduates now in religious formation and particularly for the Ryans, teaching not only helped them realize their call, but also continues to give them the strength they need in difficult times.

“I learned in ACE that the benefit of community goes beyond eating and praying together. My community members were the ones who were there to celebrate good days and be present after bad days. They were the ones who showed up to watch my baseball team play and the ones who carpooled even when it would be easier to drive separately—its a whole constellation of little things that makes community life special.”

The Power of the Student/Teacher Bond

Written by Eric Prister on Friday, 03 October 2014.

One of the first ACE teachers to serve in Texas inspires one of her students to follow in her footsteps


It’s amazing the effect one teacher can have on his or her students—inspiring confidence, providing wisdom, and giving hope for a better future. It’s usually not an isolated moment—the way a teacher carries him- or herself, the way he or she interacts with his or her students students, those are the ways teachers change their students lives. But for one teacher, one simple offer changed one life, and in doing so, made a difference for hundreds more.

ACE Comes to TexasColleenknight

Raised in Texas, Colleen Knight Santoni said she was excited when she found out she’d be returning to her home state to teach in ACE in the winter of 1996.

“It was great to be back in Texas after being at Notre Dame,” she said. “We were the first group to come to Fort Worth and they treated us like rock stars. They were really open-arms in welcoming our community. . . . People brought us into their homes and into their lives as if we were family; it was beautiful.”

ACE had served only communities in the southeastern United States up until that point, and so coming into a heavily-Latino population gave Colleen and her housemates a different experience than any of the ACErs that came before them.

“The interesting thing was that, when I started, I was 21 years old, and within a few months, I had parents who were coming to me and saying, ‘What can I do? As a parent, how can I help my child?’ That’s very much a cultural thing—the teachers are given much respect and much authority when it comes to the children, so as a 21-year-old, I was treated as if I had this great wealth of knowledge about children. It really made us step up to that; we really had to learn and grow in a way so that we could respond.”

For two years, Colleen and her housemates threw themselves into the Fort Worth community and were embraced wholeheartedly by the community there.

An ACEr in the Making

Patricia Salazar Harty was a seventh grader when Colleen and the other members of ACE 3 came to Fort Worth. She said that even before the ACE teachers arrived, excitement was building.

“Their arrival was definitely a part of a lot of excitement,” Patricia said. “We had just heard these rumors about these amazing teachers who were coming into our community. We were really excited. I remember my mom saying, ‘There’s going to be this new teacher here and she’s coming from somewhere . . . she’s not from Texas, she’s from Indiana.”

Patricia said that she was impressed with Colleen from the first moment they met, impressed with her as a teacher and as a spiritual leader.

“When I first met Colleen, I just remember thinking she was incredible. She has this amazing spirituality about her and she always did really well in bringing it to the classroom. She taught us to pray, she taught us that mass could be a different experience instead of just going in and being receptive. She renewed mass and spirituality for us in that she just brought so much energy to it.”

Colleen had made such an impression on both Patricia and her family that when Colleen offhandedly offered to take students with her on a return trip to Notre Dame, Patricia took her up on the offer.

“When I got into the car [after school], I was like ‘Mom, the teacher said that we could go to Notre Dame with her!’” Patricia said. “At that point my family had formed a personal relationship with [Colleen], and my mom thought really highly of her because I would always talk about her when I got home. We just had this great bond, so my mom was like, ‘Why wouldn’t I let her go?”

“I said that thinking, ‘of course, no one’s going to be able to go, it’s the next day,’” Colleen said. “But after school, Patricia and her parents came up to me, and her mom said, ‘Are you serious? Would you really take Patricia?’ She was probably the only student that I would have said ‘absolutely yes’ to right then, so I bought her a ticket, she packed her bags, and we went.”

Passing Along the Torch 

When it came time to choose a college, Patricia decided to attend Catholic University in Washington, DC. She fulfilled her wish of attending Notre Dame four years later when she, like Colleen before her, was accepted into the ACE program.

“[Colleen]’s the reason I wanted to be a teacher, definitely, and the reason I wanted to do ACE,” Patricia said. “I remember thinking when I was a seventh grader, that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to be like her, I wanted to help kids out like her. I wanted to have that energy, that spark; I wanted to inspire kids.ace 13 14 tshirt pic

“She actually wrote my recommendation for ACE. I had been planning on it since seventh grade—I had no idea other programs existed. I was so focused on, ‘I want to do ACE; I want to do the program that my teacher had done.’ I knew I was going to do ACE, I just knew I was going to get in. It was just in me—it was just part of my life and I felt almost destined to end up there.”

Patricia taught in Washington, DC as a part of ACE’s 13th cohort, and continued to keep in touch with Colleen. When Patricia got engaged to be married, she wanted Colleen to be involved in a special way.

“[My husband and I] asked [Colleen and Francisco] to be the patrinos,” Patricia said. “That’s something that’s usually reserved for family, but I wanted to include her in a very special way because she’s not just a friend, she’s not just a teacher. She’s definitely more. Our relationship definitely goes a lot farther than that. With the things she instilled in me as a young adult, I just hope to always be a little like her.”

Colleen said her relationship with Patricia is just one example of the reasons she loves teaching and loved teaching in Fort Worth.

“I think I loved teaching there because the students needed you, the families depended on the teachers in different ways from even where I teach now,” she said. “The students really needed the role model and the mentoring. I'm really just grateful to ACE because it really helped me find my vocation. I’m still teaching and every day I’m so grateful for what I do. It’s such a gift.

For Patricia, she said Colleen was able to bring out of her a passion for helping people, a passion that has become her vocation.

“I want to help people in poverty,” Patricia said. “I have a passion for kids, and I really love teaching. I thought teaching was a really good way to do all of those things—to help people in poverty because that’s the one thing that gets people out of poverty, teaching them, educating them. I was really able to discover my talents because she was really great at posing those questions to us, even as seventh graders.”