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ACE Night gives students glimpse into Catholic education program

| Thursday, October 26, 2017

For the last 25 years, Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) has sent almost 2,000 graduate students to teach in Catholic schools across the country. The program hosted ACE Night on Wednesday, an annual gathering of the current campus ACE interns and staff as well as former ACE teachers, to publicize the program and allow interested students to get a sense of the community feeling that lies at the heart of ACE.

The session included talks by former ACE graduates, including Steve Camilleri, current director or the Center for the Homeless, Allie Greene, former rector of Ryan Hall and current assistant director of liturgy of Campus Ministry and Jess Jones, a current ACE participant teaching in Chicago. After the talks, seniors who are currently interning for ACE answered questions from discerning students.

“You get to step inside the community for a night and see the warmth,” senior Caroline Rooney, a current ACE intern, said. “You’re overwhelmed by the smell of food and you’re immediately greeted by someone. There’s no one who feels uncomfortable, it’s so welcoming … ACE night was what made me feel connected to the community.”

During the two-year ACE commitment, students teach at Catholic schools, take summer classes at Notre Dame and ultimately complete a Masters of Education. Mike Comuniello, current ACE recruiting coordinator, graduated from Notre Dame in 2014 and completed the ACE program in 2016. During his time with ACE, he taught chemistry at Tampa Catholic High School in Tampa, Florida. As an undergraduate, he attended ACE Night to learn more about the program and said it heavily influenced his decision to apply.

“Ultimately it’s a time for students to experience the ACE community at its most full,” Comuniello said. “I think of my own experience of it as an undergrad … I remember looking around and thinking, ‘Notre Dame is full of amazing people and the most amazing of amazing people are in this room.’”

Katie Moran, associate program director of ACE and 2015 Notre Dame graduate, said she would describe her experience during an ACE summer program as “full.”

“Full not just in the sense of the full schedule — although it is very busy — but also in the sense of the number and the depth of the experiences you have,” she said.

Of the 90 or so people who participate in ACE each year, about half are graduates of Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s or Holy Cross College. Over 210 universities are represented from all over the country, including students from a variety of majors and nationalities, Comuniello said.

Comuniello said he hoped ACE night provided a low-pressure space for students to come to a better understanding of whether or not they are called to participate in ACE.

“[The goal is] to help folks realize that whatever they do in ACE, the work that they do is important and it’s going to be meaningful from the get-go, and to help them realize that we are a joyful and fun group of people,” he said. “We are so zealous for this mission and if you find yourself called to serve as a teacher at a Catholic school, we as an ACE staff want to be most helpful in your discernment.”

The event itself was, by all accounts, a success, junior and ACE employee Gaven DeVillier and associate program director Erin Rosario said.

“I thought the event was incredible,” DeVillier said. “There was a lot of lively presentations and a lot of heartfelt moments from a community that is devoted to dedicating its life and its mission to helping those in need, helping those who don’t get the gifts that many of us get to receive. I thought it was especially beautiful because it was an evening wherein we could all participate in the hope that we can bring something, we can serve these kids in a particular and special way and we can help to transform their lives.”

“This event is an opportunity for us to give people a little bit of a taste of what the ACE community feels like here on campus in the summer,” Rosario said. “My role is to be involved with the teachers and support them pastorally, which means to be a spiritual support to them, and a personal support to them, as they go through the experience and challenges of their first and second years of teaching in the program. I think the night was quite poignant in a way because it had a lot of good energy, but it was a little different than its been before because I felt like it had some moments that quieting and allowing people to sit and be a little bit more thoughtful about why they might be interested in teaching in a Catholic school after the graduate … I hope there was an opportunity for folks to explore this option and feel comfortable knowing that whoever they are, they will be accepted in this community.”

The application opened in early September and will close Jan. 23. Selected students will interview in February and receive final decisions in early March, Comuniello said.

Though most ACE teachers continue to teach, some remain in the education field on school boards, work with education law and policy and are changing the heart of catholic education, Comuniello said.

“It all starts with that two-year experience of giving of yourself completely to students and your community and also learning so much about yourself,” he said.

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