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Former ACE interns tackle new challenges

Nora Kenney | Monday, November 9, 2009

Last year, as seniors, five Notre Dame students worked as interns for the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) program, appearing at recruitment events and communicating with peers about the program.

This year, they are each still part of the ACE program — but their job descriptions, and everyday lives, have taken on some big changes.

The mission of the ACE program is to offer college graduates the opportunity to serve as full-time teachers in under-resourced Catholic schools across the United States. So this year, rather than waking up to go to class and stop by the ACE office to work, the former interns wake up to face a classroom full of students.

 “Living ACE’s mission of bringing energy and life to an under-resourced Catholic school has been full of difficulty, heartache, and joy,” Kevin Veselik, who is teaching fifth grade in Harlingen, Tex., said. “It has been one of the most challenging and one of the best experiences of my life.”

Julie Garcia, who is teaching second grade in Prairie Village, Kan., said being a teacher is extremely demanding but rewarding.

“All teaching is service,” she said. “You can see that everyday. What I do makes a really big impact on the lives of my students.”

Geoffrey Mooney, who is teaching geometry, morality and scripture to high school sophomores and juniors in Pensacola, Fla., said some of his experiences have also been challenging — and some have been downright humorous.

His funniest experience was being mistaken for a freshmen or sophomore at the high school by the parents of a student. Yet Mooney laughs it off, and also said his students have benefited from having a young teacher. 

“They like the fact that they have someone they can relate with, who know what it’s like to be their age,” he said. “They appreciate having someone who can share that with them.”
In fact, Mooney has been surprised by how much respect he has been given as a new teacher. 

“What’s been really unique at my school is that they show us a lot of respect,” he said. “They really respect what I’m doing.”

Because of all of these experiences, Mooney said his life as a teacher in the ACE program is “a combination of crazy and fun.”

Another aspect of being a teacher in the ACE program is communal living. ACE teachers live in houses with the other ACE teachers at their site. Jessica Stouffer, who teaches math at the high school level in Montgomery, Ala., said she enjoys community life because the other teachers in the house are able to share advice for teaching.

Finally, ACE teachers like Laura Wilczek, who teaches sixth through eighth grade literature, overwhelmingly said their faith is a major component of their new lives.

“After a long day of teaching, coaching, grading and planning lessons, I find one of the best ways to center myself is through prayer,” Wilczek said. “Each week, my community members gather for prayer in the evening. It is a wonderful time to reflect upon all the blessings in our life, as well as pray for each other during difficult times.”