Through the AICSN Holy Cross Fellows program, teachers at American Indian Catholic schools earn teaching licenses and bachelor’s degrees in education through Holy Cross College. The fellowship was formed by a partnership between the Holy Cross College Elementary Education program and the American Indian Catholic School Network (AICSN), which is an initiative at the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) that supports eight American Indian Catholic Schools.
AICSN Holy Cross Fellows are already in instructional positions at their schools, but they have not earned their teaching certification, their bachelor’s degree, or both. To bolster their teaching expertise, the AICSN Holy Cross Fellows dedicate a portion of their summer to in-person classes on Holy Cross’s campus in addition to online coursework during the school year.
The program, which began in 2019, now boasts three graduates—two of whom earned bachelor’s degrees, and one of whom earned her teaching license.
Unique Paths to AICSN Holy Cross Fellowship
The 2023 AICSN Holy Cross Fellows cohort includes six teachers, each with a unique path to their school and to the fellowship.
Gloria Alvarez is in her fourth and final year of the program and will earn her bachelor’s degree next summer. Alvarez, originally from Chile, was encouraged by her co-workers to participate in the program. She began working at Our Lady of Lourdes Elementary School, which is part of the Mahpiya Luta-Red Cloud school system, as a volunteer. Since then, she has taken on an elementary teaching position. Alvarez said she became an AICSN Holy Cross Fellow because “I want to be the best for my students because they deserve the best.”
April Morago, who teaches middle school language arts at St. Peter Indian Mission Catholic School in Bapchule, Arizona, discovered her passion for teaching after tutoring her son in math. She said, “Joining the AICSN program resonated with me. I remembered that I loved school and loved learning.”
The other four teachers in the current cohort of AICSN Holy Cross Fellows are in their first year in the program. Isabelle Riley worked in a variety of positions, most recently as a hostess, before discovering a passion for pre-K education at St. Joseph Mission School in San Fidel, New Mexico.
Kyleigh Blacksmith-Pourier, who also teaches at Our Lady of Lourdes, was motivated to become a teacher because she “realized there was a need for Lakota teachers at our schools” and wanted to help Lourdes’ immersion programs grow.
Cherella Drapeaux and Robert Sommers were inspired to begin their teaching careers at Mahpiya Luta—Red Cloud school because they spent time in the classroom with family members. Drapeaux volunteered in her younger brother’s classroom when he was in the third grade, which persuaded her to pursue teaching as a profession. Sommers is following in the footsteps of his mother, who was previously a teacher at Mahpiya Luta—Red Cloud school.
Perseverance and Growth
The in-person summer courses are the most intensive aspect of the AICSN Holy Cross Fellowship. During this time, the fellows complete two courses in the span of three weeks at Holy Cross in South Bend, Indiana. Along with the academic challenge, these educators deal with missing their home communities and spending time away from their families.
All six teachers said that the sacrifice was well worth it, as the summer coursework made them more prepared and more confident in their teaching. Sommers said that he is heading home as a better teacher who is more equipped to serve his students. Alvarez noted that she has gained confidence in her teaching through the coursework she completed as a fellow.
Blacksmith-Pourier, who has young children at home, described the experience as the “hardest two weeks of her life.” However, she was immensely proud of her commitment to becoming a better teacher. Blacksmith said, “I showed my kids that their mom can do hard things.”
The AICSN Holy Cross Fellows were impressed by both of their professors, Annette Romans and Jannike Seward. Sommers said that he was grateful that “both of our professors took on the challenge of teaching a whole semester's worth of material in two weeks.”
The support of the AICSN Holy Cross Fellows faculty and staff is evident during the school year when instruction shifts online. “I really appreciate that people who are 1,800 miles away care so much for me,” Morago said.
The students at Mahpiya Luta—Red Cloud Indian School, Our Lady of Lourdes, St. Joseph Mission School, and St. Peter Indian Mission School are blessed to have educators who are motivated to hone their teaching skills and invest time and effort into their own education. We wish the best to the AICSN Holy Cross Fellows as they enter the 2023-24 school year.