As any teacher would tell you, assessment is one of the most important aspects of the profession. It tells one how one is doing as a teacher and how one’s students are doing as learners.
Assessments can take many forms, but should always inform one’s progress. These assessments compare student responses to lesson goals written by the teacher and drawn from state standards. ACE has set its own goal:
“The University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) sustains and strengthens under-resourced Catholic schools through leadership formation, research and professional service to ensure that all children, especially those from low-income families, have the opportunity to experience the gift of an excellent Catholic education.” So how is ACE doing in reaching its goal?
Service through Teaching is the core program of the Alliance for Catholic Education initiative. It is one of many ways that the University of Notre Dame seeks to revitalize Catholic elementary and secondary education throughout the United States. It is also the most visible way, with nearly one hundred and eighty current members across the southern United States from coast to coast. I am a member of the seventeenth cohort (or year). We recently welcomed our nineteenth cohort at the annual April Retreat this past weekend.
As a member of ACE, I have been teaching fifth grade for two years in South Central Los Angeles at St. Michael’s Catholic School. ACE has been at St. Michael’s for four years now. There are an additional ten ACE teachers in Los Angeles serving eight schools.
I deeply love my students and our community, and I feel that ACE is needed to keep the school alive. It has been a difficult two years, full of growth, inspiration, and love. I even met my fiancée through ACE.
Personally, I would say that ACE is on its way to reaching its goal. Many of those currently in the program work at under-resourced schools, have undergone training, and bring enthusiasm and passion to communities and under- resourced schools desperately in need of hope. These are neighborhoods rife with poverty, crime, drugs, and despair. Without a doubt, a Catholic education can help students from these communities succeed, especially in comparison with most local public schools. We, as ACE teachers, provide invaluable knowledge, energy, and perspectives to these schools, which need it most. In my own experience, I know that I have helped five students join the Catholic Church, eight become independent readers, and several vocalize their collegiate goals.
I believe, however, that the Service through Teaching program still has room for improvement. It can do more than it is currently doing for these low-income families. The program can do a better job allocating its resources, supporting its current members, and providing long- term support for schools. I will address each of these concerns in turn from my own humble, bottom-up perspective.
ACE currently serves over 100 schools across the country. Many of these schools desperately need young men and women willing to work for a low salary. This service is indispensable as budgets tighten. There is, however, a great disparity between schools. Some of the schools ACE serves are measurably more affluent than others, calling into question whether ACE’s goal is to maintain relationships with Dioceses or to serve the communities that most need assistance.
A typical ACE house has between five and seven members, but it is often difficult to find four to six needy schools in the local area. I think that the program should measure the needs of all its locations and make sure they conform to the criteria of “under-resourced” and “low-income.”
As any ACE teacher will tell you, the first couple years of teaching are brutal, even more so in an under-resourced school far from home. In addition to addressing the aforementioned changes, ACE needs to provide better support for and communication with its “foot- soldiers.” I have found the program has been reluctant to accept advice from those of us on the ground as to what is happening in our schools and our summer classes. Many times, the ACE staff has made decisions without accepting input from ACE teachers.
This input could have made the situation better for those living and working far from the central office in South Bend. Our classes focus on overall education theory to the detriment of the reality of our under-resourced classrooms. There have been many instances in which staff members and teachers are on different pages regarding expectations and decisions, leading to confusion and additional stress.
Clear communication horizontally in Carole Sandner Hall and vertically between staff and current members can only strengthen the ever-expanding Alliance. If a community has concerns about a commute, move, or placement, these concerns should be addressed and considered, not filed and ignored. We are all working towards the same end, and all input should be respected.
Finally, discussions with my own staff and fellow ACE members have raised concerns about the long-term stability of the schools at which we teach. ACE is a two year commitment that purposely places students outside of their home communities. This creates, in many schools, a two-year revolving door of inexperienced, albeit passionate, teachers. For example, there is a class at my school which had a first-year ACE teacher in third grade, fifth grade, sixth grade for Language Arts, and, most likely, eighth grade for Language Arts. Is this truly sustaining these schools and helping these students?
I believe that ACE should look at its placement policy and consider placing incoming members in communities closer to home, or at least ask students for location preferences. There are many ACE teachers who consider staying a third year. I think a placement closer to family or friends would increase the number of those who stay, leading to more experienced teachers in under- resourced schools.
As it stands currently, some do stay a third year, but most, even if they stay in education, leave for home. This constant movement keeps schools like St. Michael’s afloat but can stymie a school’s professional growth in ensuring that the Catholic education offered is truly excellent.
Let me repeat once again the great debt I owe to my fellow cohort members, my teachers and supervisors in the program, my fellow teachers at St. Michael’s, and, most significantly, my fiancée and students. I am not currently a great teacher and perhaps not even a good one. However, it is a profession that I plan to stick with and grow in. For that I am indebted to my own parochial teachers and to the ACE program.
Kevin Donohue graduated from Notre Dame in 2010 with a B.A. in History and is on track to graduate with a Master’s in Education in 2012. He has truly been blessed to teach and learn with two energetic classes in South Central Los Angeles. He can be reached at kmdra06@ gmail.com.