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A Family Affair

By Theo Helm

Kevin and Katie McNerney and Terri and Joe Thursby

This summer, a mother and child reunion was only a motion away at Notre Dame.

Two first-year ACE Teaching Fellows shared a week on campus with their mothers, who are both members of the fifth cohort of the Program for Inclusive Education (PIE). 

“I remember it,” said Joe Thursby, a member of ACE 29 who is teaching third grade at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic School in Sacramento. “We were in Erin Wibben’s class, the Teaching of Reading, and Kevin and I always sat in the same seats. He turned around and said, ‘My mom just texted me and asked if I knew somebody named Joe Thursby.’”

Kevin is Kevin McNerney, a member of ACE 29 who is teaching fifth grade at Mary Queen of Saints Catholic Academy in Milwaukee. His mother, Katie McNerney, was across campus in a PIE class, talking to Terri Thursby. 

Katie and Terri had shared at the beginning of the summer, on a large-group Zoom call, that they had sons who were ACE teachers, but they hadn’t had a chance to talk about it individually. Once on campus for summer classes, they made that connection.

Katie and Terri
Katie McNerney and Terri Thursby

“We were in a small group together and it was like, “‘What is your child’s name?’” Katie said. “And that’s when we started doing our texting. Right away Kevin texted back, ‘Yeah, I know Joe. I love Joe!’”

The McNerneys and Thursbys had a week together on campus, culminating with ACE’s traditional Missioning Mass at the end of ACE Summer. Joe and Kevin spent eight weeks on campus, taking classes and student teaching in preparation for their first year of teaching. Terri and Katie spent a week on campus in classes after a year of online coursework learning about how to serve children with disabilities in Catholic schools. 

During that week, in the midst of the business of classes and community-building, each family found time to go to Mass together and share a few meals and walks. 

Joe and Kevin said they were drawn to teaching in Catholic schools because their mothers served in Catholic schools.

“I think it definitely prompted me to be more interested in Catholic schools than working in a public school,” Kevin said of Katie, who is the librarian and resource teacher at St. Anthony de Padua Catholic School in Falls Church, Virginia. “I would have been happy to work in a public school, but just knowing how my mom worked in Catholic schools and how good that experience had been, it made me realize that it would be a great option if I wanted to work with kids.”

“I have known I wanted to be a teacher for a really long time, and I think it is in large part because of the work with my mom’s school,” Joe said of Terri, who is the assistant head of school at Embers Academy in Niles, Illinois. “All throughout high school and a little bit in college, I was the ‘aftercare guy,’ so she got some labor out of me, and I had been around kids in school a lot.”

Both Joe and Kevin said they learned about ACE Teaching Fellows through others before learning that their mothers were also in an ACE program. 

Kevin and Joe
Kevin McNerney and Joe Thursby

“I have been wanting to do ACE since freshman year of college, pretty much, because I knew about it from a teacher in our high school,” said Joe, who graduated from St. Olaf College. “After she kind of realized it, she said, ‘I think you should really do ACE,” and I circled back to it my senior year. Then obviously as soon as I got in, I accepted it. So now I’m here.”

“One of my good friends, Carson Weitzel (an ACE 29 teacher in Sacramento with Joe), brought ACE up and knew that I was interested in working with kids, and he kept pushing,” said Kevin, who graduated from Notre Dame. “He was an ACE intern, so he was kind of on the inside. He was the one who really convinced me to just apply and think about it and see what happens.”

Katie and Terri each had their own reasons for joining ACE through PIE. 

“I’ve been a resource teacher for several years, but I don’t have the special ed background, so when I heard about the PIE program, I thought it sounded like a good fit,” Katie said. “I am a Notre Dame grad. ACE Teaching Fellows was not a thing when I graduated, or I probably would have done it.”

“I am the assistant head of school. I’m not a teacher in a classroom, and there was a growing need with kids coming in, especially during the pandemic, with learning needs,” Terri said. “I had been thinking about [this] and really struggling with making sure we were really equipped to handle and address these needs.”

Katie and Terri both met Christie Bonfiglio, PIE's director, at a conference, and they were encouraged to apply. 

“I can’t even explain it looking back; there was just something that was like, ‘Oh,I know I’m going to do this,’” Terri said. “I felt really drawn to it and it just resonated with me.”

Joe and Kevin both said they were looking forward to building relationships with their students, but had concerns about classroom management. Fortunately, they both have in-house experts they can rely on. Their advice?

“Plan ahead,” Katie said.

“Start out pretty firm and keep it simple,” Terri said. “Spend a lot of time teaching behaviors and routines."

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