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ND graduates embrace ACE opportunities

Aaron Steiner | Tuesday, January 23, 2007

When Sarah Greene was accepted to Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) program during her senior year at Notre Dame, she expected to spend two years on assignment in Mobile, Ala. teaching high school freshmen about famous works of literature and developing their writing skills. After five months in the program, she says she’s experienced that, and much more.

Greene moved to Mobile on Aug. 1 to begin teaching freshman English at McGill-Toolen Catholic High School, the only Catholic high school in Mobile.

“I think that people have a different idea of what teaching is until they get into it,” she said.

For Greene, an English major, ideas about ‘what teaching is’ go beyond going over the material in lesson plans, she said.

“Teaching encompasses so much more than I ever imagined. I chose ACE because I felt a call to teach,” Greene said. “I love discussing literature with my students and reading their writing.”

“However, I realize now that I am called to teach them more than English.”

Greene said ‘teaching more than English’ requires being a positive role model and a witness to the Christian faith. It also includes helping students who, according to Greene, “are yearning for support and guidance.”

“It’s the times in which a student says something like, ‘My grandpa just passed away; can you pray for him?’ or a student stops me in the hall to ask my advice on a problem,” Greene said. “Those moments are very rewarding.”

Greene is one of the 174 current ACE teachers – college graduates who spend two years in the University’s service program teaching in under-resourced Catholic schools across the country. Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s alumni account for 94 of the program’s current participants.

ACE participants spend two summers during the program taking what ACE Assistant Director Chris Kowalski called a graduate program in education. At the completion of the two-year assignment, participants earn their Master of Education degree from Notre Dame.

Ten days after her college graduation, Greene began preparation on campus for her first year of teaching.

Greene said the support from ACE staff and faculty allowed her to transform from someone with little classroom experience into a full-time teacher.

“The rigor of the summer prepares us for the rigor of teaching,” she said.

“The challenges come from people who understand the difficulty of teaching. They know that ACE is a challenging experience and that your first year teaching is a challenge,” Greene said. “They welcome it as a challenge … and I, too, was ready to grow in a challenging way.”

For Greene, the choice to pursue post-undergraduate service was one she made early on in her education.

“I knew I wanted to go into either ministry or education,” Greene said.

Experiences at Notre Dame, including time as a resident assistant in Lyons Hall, helped develop her passion for both faith and education.

Greene applied to the ACE program hoping to teach and fulfill a desire to live and work in a faith-based community. The ‘three pillars’ of ACE – teaching, community and spirituality – greatly appealed to Greene and her ideals.

“The way that ACE balances those three [pillars] – that’s something that I really wanted to have in my service experience.”

In addition to teaching, Green leads a women’s prayer group at the school, which meets once a week to pray and discuss different issues.

Whether the group discusses the way the media portrays women or a student asks Greene how she has dealt with specific moral problems of her own, Greene said these young women dig into deep issues and are in need of guidance.

While ACE strives to aid under-resourced Catholic schools, Greene stated that under-resourced does not necessarily mean under-funded. The primary need of these schools is not always financial, but is often a shortage of positive role models for students growing in the Catholic faith.

Kowalski also said that ACE teachers serve a variety of needs in the schools where they work.

“I would say most schools do benefit financially from having ACE teachers,” Greene said. “However, there are some schools, if not all, that also benefit more from positive role models in the Christian faith to serve their students.”

“Many ACE teachers go above and beyond their call to serve and are willing to help out in whatever way they feel they can make a difference.”

For Greene, making a difference in her students’ lives has resulted in changes in her own life. The challenges of teaching have led to her own growth, she said.

A self-described “perfectionist” as a former student, Greene said her work in Mobile has been less than perfect. The difficulties she faces day-to-day cause her to look introspectively and evaluate each day.

“At the end of every day, I look back at what went well and what didn’t really go well,” she said.

“I look for ways to improve and help my students to better succeed.”

Her own self-evaluation has cemented what she has learned about herself in the past five months.

“My time as an ACE teacher has already taught me valuable life lessons about balance, respect, commitment and responsibility,” she said.

Greene said she will likely remain active in the field of Catholic education.

“I imagine that I’ll always be involved in Catholic education,” she said. Whether that is in teaching, administration or elsewhere, ACE has affirmed her passion for the Catholic community.

“There’s no better organization for this – they’re really on fire about Catholic education,” she said.