Have you ever wanted to do something dramatically different from anything else you’ve ever done?
Annette Romans did.
So she opened a New York delicatessen. In Indiana.
In the ‘90s, bagels were to New York what apple pie is to America. And New Yorker Annette (ACE 11, South Bend) and her husband wanted to share that traditional slice of doughy goodness with their Midwestern neighbors.
So they did.
Ten years and four children later, their bagel dream realized, Annette sought to alleviate another need close to home. “My kids were in a local parochial school that did not have an art teacher and was under-resourced,” she said. Using her undergraduate degree, Annette’s “art-on-a-cart” inspired the elementary school children and herself as well.
“A classmate of mine, Robert Sedlak, was back teaching in the Fine Arts department at Notre Dame, and so we started a collaborative program where we would have undergrad art students come in and help me deliver art lessons in a K-8 environment,” said Annette. “That's how I discovered my passion for teaching.”
Energized, she devised a plan.
Annette furiously researched programs that would allow her to teach full-time. She discovered ACE, applied, and was welcomed with open arms.
“ACE completely changed the direction of my life,” Annette said.
South Bend was unique among ACE communities. “ACE was doing great work all over the country, and there appeared a need in their own backyard,” said Annette, “Rather than place the traditional ACE student locally, they leveraged community members from within the South Bend area—taking from the community and returning newly formed teachers back to their own community.”
Many in her cohort found a home at St. Adalbert Catholic School. Annette joined them and taught second grade for 12 years while becoming the school’s English as a New Language (ENL) coordinator. She also served as a cooperating teacher and a practicum supervisor in the ACE summer school program. That work opened the door to an adjunct position three years ago at Holy Cross College with its ENL certification program.
“I was very torn about leaving the work I was doing with elementary-level students, and so I have maintained a relationship with St. Adalbert’s and still do after-school tutoring there,” Annette said. “It would leave too big a hole in my heart to not have an opportunity to continue to work with kids.”
At Holy Cross, Annette learned of a new program called Holy Cross Fellows that was being launched through a partnership between ACE, the American Indian Catholic Schools Network (AICSN), and the college. Because some AICSN teachers lack teaching qualifications or credentials, the program offers bachelor’s degrees in elementary education and a way to earn a teaching license. Holy Cross Fellows in the program come to Holy Cross to take education classes during the summer, then work on their courses remotely during the school year. By formally training teachers, the collaboration aims to increase student achievement through the stability of veteran teachers invested in their own communities. Annette teaches the Fellows when they’re on campus for summer classes.
“I thought that's really alternative and amazing outreach,” Annette said. “It sounded extremely challenging, but being familiar with the ACE model, it sounded like it had a lot of potential. I was so grateful to be on board at the launching.”
ACE facilitates AICSN, which includes seven Catholic schools that serve Native nations and students. The network encourages and supports each member school in its ministry through talent formation, services to the schools, and truth and healing. The seven schools are located in Arizona, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, and South Dakota, and serve the Apache, Blackfeet, Laguna Pueblo, Acoma Pueblo, Winnebago, Omaha, Lakota, and Ojibwe nations.
“These communities are significantly under-resourced and geographically remote, thus often facing a dire teacher shortage,” said Will Newkirk, the director of AICSN and a graduate of ACE Teaching Fellows. “Each year many of these schools hover on the brink of closure, facing complex and challenging financial constraints. Amidst the struggles, though, these Catholic schools are providing a transformative education that most students simply can’t find anywhere else.
“From the very beginning, Holy Cross has been an exceptional and willing partner. With the support of the Holy Cross senior administration, the project has been taken from a suggestion and a series of meetings to a reality,” Will said.
In true ACE fashion, Annette was not alone. Another ACE graduate, David Murray (ACE 20, Memphis) and a seminarian in the Congregation of Holy Cross, heard the call and shared her passion for the mission. David had been a high school physics and chemistry teacher, and he agreed to join the team at the beginning of the fall semester as the science methods instructor.
“I missed being in the classroom and the education program at HCC and this tie to AICSN piqued my interest,” David said. “It is a beautiful example of living out that spirit of the pillars of ACE.”
“The collaborative nature of this program is at the heart of the mission of ACE: caring for under-resourced Catholic schools and teachers that often get overlooked in providing a community of learning that is really vibrant and rich,” said Will.
Annette and David met to talk about how he could help with the Holy Cross Fellows.
“It became clear very quickly that David not only had the credentials and experience we were looking for, but also the disposition necessary to support our participants,” Annette said. “David’s own teaching experience and understanding of the hardships faced by American Indian communities made him a natural fit for this work.”
“ACE definitely started me down that path and formation in Holy Cross has brought it to life,” David said. “I have seen it be put into action again over at Holy Cross College—and specifically within the AICSN class—not just in the content but in the human side: the mission aspect. We spend time together in prayer and in conversation about their students, personal goals, hopes for their classrooms, shared struggles and shared joys.”
The welcoming and supportive environment is life-giving to all involved.
“The participants found common ground very quickly because of the work they were doing. As educators, we're helping them acquire the skills and knowledge to be more effective in their vocation and therefore they deliver an improved educational experience for the students that they serve and provide a positive outcome for their community as a whole,” said Annette.
At the end of the past summer’s session, AICSN held a closing dinner for the Holy Cross Fellows. Each of the Fellows shared what the program had meant to them.
“There wasn't a dry eye in the place by the time we got done,” Annette said. “Two of them in particular indicated they attempted to access college coursework in the past. For financial and other reasons, they had very unsuccessful experiences trying to participate in collegiate-level work. But both of them said that this was one of the most rewarding experiences of their lives.”
Annette said she was moved by seeing the Fellows’ passion being leveraged to help their students.
“It is truly rewarding when the work you do on a daily basis, even if it's challenging and exhausting work, empowers others and serves more vulnerable communities,” she said. “It doesn't get more authentic, meaningful, or rewarding than that.”