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ACE teacher attends President’s address as honored guest

Liz O'Donnell | Thursday, January 27, 2011

While most of the nation was watching President Barack Obama deliver Tuesday’s State of the Union address from the comfort of their own homes, one of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) teachers had a once-in-a lifetime opportunity.

Speaker of the House John Boehner invited first-year ACE teacher Jack Kelly to attend the address as his guest. With this invitation, Kelly had a front row seat overlooking members of Congress, which he said was an incredible opportunity.

“I studied Political Science and Theology at Marquette University, so meeting the Speaker of the House and [Cardinal Donald Wuerl] at such a historic speech was a dream come true,” Kelly said. “It was a blessing to sit with one of my students in witness to the advantage of Catholic education.”

Boehner invited one student, one parent and one teacher from each of the four Consortium of Catholic Academies’ inner-city schools to attend President Obama’s speech.

Kelly, a middle school teacher at the St. Thomas More Catholic School in Washington, D.C., is earning his master’s degree from Notre Dame through the ACE program. He said he especially enjoyed Obama’s discussion of education.

“I was encouraged by President Obama’s attention to the American educational system, especially his conviction that education begins within the home,” he said. “I appreciated his support of America’s teachers, but I was most impressed when he challenged children watching the address to serve their country by seeking an educational profession.”

While Obama’s remarks about the educational system were on a general level, Kelly said he believes it is one’s duty as a Catholic to carry this message to the nation’s parochial schools.

“It is imperative that we address the crisis in Catholic education for the good of our Church and the success of our children,” he said. “Our Christian faith requires solidarity in this effort.”

Kelly said although the government can help finance a child’s education, it is up to the student’s educators and parents to ensure his or her success.

“Politicians can help us fill empty desks in Catholic schools, but well-crafted educational policies will not work without execution by talented, dedicated teachers and supportive, invested parents,” he said.

In addition to attending Obama’s address, Kelly said sitting with Cardinal Wuerl was also an honor.

“[Wuerl] is deeply committed to spreading the Gospel in our nation’s schools,” he said.

This week marks National School Choice week, which is dedicated to finding effective educational options for every child. Several politicians in Washington, including Boehner are strong proponents of this week.

Kelly said Boehner has been a longtime supporter of the Washington Opportunity Scholarship program, which enables low-income families to send their children to private or parochial school.

“The program was the first federally-funded K-12 scholarship program in the nation’s history, but was repealed by the Obama Administration,” he said. “Speaker Boehner will personally announce a bill [Wednesday] aimed at reauthorizing school-choice legislation.”

ACE affiliated schools are some of the schools that benefit from school choice legislation, Kelly said.

“Fr. Scully [director of Notre Dame’s Institute for Educational Initiatives] has said that ACE schools, several of whom benefit from school-choice programs, are ‘sacred places serving civic purposes,” he said. “We owe it to the American people to provide their kids with an academically fruitful and spiritually charismatic education as we shape strong and faithful citizens.”