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ACE program benefits low-income communities

| Thursday, February 2, 2017

In 1993, Fr. Sean McGraw, C.S.C. and Fr. Tim Scully, C.S.C. received $5,000 from the President of the University to found the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) with the goal of preserving and spreading access to quality Catholic education throughout the country.

“The core mission of the program is to provide a ray of hope through educational excellence to underserved children,” Scully said in an interview.

Scully, who now serves as chair of the ACE Advisory Board, said the program initially began by training 40 recent college graduates — nearly all from Notre Dame — in education and sending them to teach in Catholic schools across the country, typically in low-income communities, as ACE Teaching Fellows.

Since it’s inception, the highly-selective ACE Teaching Fellows program now receives over 400 applications a year and selects approximately 90 graduates — roughly half of which graduated from Notre Dame — to participate in the program.

“We live in intentional communities of four to seven people,” Scully said. “We’re in 35 cities across the United States. These teaching fellows go out into their communities and teach in underserved Catholic schools for a period of two years, and they return to campus during the summers to receive a master’s degree and accreditation and licensing as a teacher. I would describe it as an awesome leadership experience where you’re giving your heart and soul away to needy kids.”

There are roughly 180 ACE Teaching Fellows currently operating in schools around the country.

“We started this effort in a sense because it was so difficult for some under-resourced dioceses and schools to find great teaching talent, and so we’re looking for very talented people — not necessarily the highest GPAs and the highest GREs — but we’re really looking for people who, in addition to native talent, just kind of bring a passion and a zeal for our mission,” Scully said.

He said the program has expanded considerably since its founding, now managing several independent schools, as well as other programs.

“Since we didn’t have a department of education we had no ability to impart proper professional training to those folks,” he said. “At the outset we outsourced our educational training to our partner institution on the West Coast, the University of Portland. They provided the master’s degree for the first four years of our program.”

ACE now runs 15 Notre Dame ACE Academies, fully staffed and funded by the Alliance.

“[Since then] we’ve built the Institute for Educational Initiatives, which houses the master’s degrees and the faculty, and so we’ve really built a pretty significant human capacity here at Notre Dame to provide professional training, today not just for teachers but for principals and for English language learners and for students who have special needs,” Scully said. “ … It’s become a very large effort. Today we’re the largest provider of resources and talent to Catholic schools across the country. We’re in one in every four Catholic schools in the U.S., mostly low-income schools and under-resourced schools.”

Scully said that, under the leadership of the ACE staff, once-struggling schools are able to quickly recover.

“For example, St. John the Evangelist [an elementary school in Tuscon, Arizona], which we took over 6 years ago, had 130 students and was about to close, serving hispanic students in the sixth-poorest zip code in the country,” he said. “Today that school has 450 kids in it. The student achievement scores have gone from the mid-to-low teens to the mid-sixtieth percentile.”

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