ACE teachers bolstered by professional support

A bus carrying administrators from the University of Notre Dame stopped at Our Lady of Prompt Succor School in Westwego Feb. 11 to spotlight the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE), a 20-year-old initiative that enables more than 180 rising Notre Dame post-grads annually to pursue a master’s degree in education while receiving on-the-job training as teachers at Catholic elementary and high schools.
The Archdiocese of New Orleans, one of 50 stops on Notre Dame’s “Fighting for Our Children’s Future National Bus Tour,” currently has seven ACE teachers deployed at five schools: Academy of Our Lady; Archbishop Shaw High; Our Lady of Prompt Succor, Westwego; Resurrection of Our Lord; and St. Joan of Arc, New Orleans.

The ACE teachers, who work for two years at their host school, receive half of their stipend from the school and half from Notre Dame.

“They are committed Catholics; they’re young; they’re dynamic. They have learned the cutting edge of the teaching of education,” said Salesian Sister Suzanne Miller, principal of Our Lady of Prompt Succor, noting that her school has participated in ACE for four years. Two ACE teachers currently serve on her faculty: third-grade teacher Stephanie House, now in her second year; and first-year teacher Jason Taulman, who teaches religion and math to middle schoolers and coaches boys’ flag football and basketball.

“They are constantly being encouraged to combine academic research with classroom instruction,” Sister Suzanne said. “They are actively researching curricula and methodologies of education, how to reach different learners, and they’re continually nourishing themselves as professionals with reading, with courses.”

Fostering that level of professionalism are the twice-a-year visits Notre Dame academic mentors make to each ACE teacher while he or she is in the trenches. The mentors observe classroom dynamics and help the teacher troubleshoot before and after class.

Support network
“They make sure we’re doing what we need to in the classroom. I can’t imagine teaching without this support,” said House, admitting that she struggled in her first year with classroom management but is doing much better lately, thanks to her Our Lady of Prompt Succor colleagues and mentors from Notre Dame.

“This year I’m seeing how important developing personal relationships with students and promoting classroom community are,” House said. “I think that’s the best thing you can do as a teacher: knowing your students.”

To build these relationships, House holds a short class meeting every morning after students have unpacked their books.

“Whoever wants to says how they’re feeling,” House said. “It’s something simple, but it’s helpful for them.”

Staying the course
Also boosting her professional confidence are teaching methods designed to enhance literacy and courses on educational psychology and classroom technology.

“It’s been great to see how much is possible when you stick with teaching,” House said. “(In the United States), 30 percent of first-year teachers drop out in their first year. But in ACE, 98 percent stay teaching after their first year and 70 percent stay in education after five years.”

During a student assembly in the gym, Holy Cross Father Lou DelFra, ACE’s spiritual director, presented awards to two “heroes” of education:

➤ Archbishop Gregory Aymond was honored with Notre Dame’s Father Edward Sorin Award for Service to Catholic Schools.

“(Archbishop Aymond) first welcomed ACE to Austin, and now he’s doing the same thing here,” said Father DelFra, citing the archbishop’s chairmanship of the USCCB’s Committee for the Protection of Children and Young people and his work on the Committee for Education.

“In his four-plus years as archbishop in New Orleans, he’s really kept education as a priority,” Father DelFra said. “He’s supported the schools of the archdiocese as they work to make good use of the vouchers and the scholarship programs available, and he showed unwavering support to those on the front lines in the ministry of education.”

Accepting the award on the archbishop’s behalf, Dr. Jan Lancaster, superintendent of Catholic Schools, said that while academics are important, a Catholic education always means much more than this.

“You know what the most important thing is to Archbishop Aymond?” Lancaster asked the assembled students. “It’s that all of you love school and that all of you learn about your faith.”

➤ Notre Dame’s Champion of Education Award was given to Eric Lewis, state director of the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO).

“(Lewis) works tirelessly to get all students the simple right that they deserve – the right to choose where they go to school,” Father DelFra said.

The assembly concluded with performances by Our Lady of Prompt Succor’s streamer team, choir and cheerleaders, the latter leading a chant in honor of Salesian founder St. John Bosco.

Beth Donze can be reached at bdonze@clarionherald.org.

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