ACE Night speakers share educational, personal outcomes of graduate program
Alysa Guffey | Thursday, October 15, 2020
Instead of walking across campus to the Stinson Remick Building, students dialed in from their devices Wednesday night to learn about the teaching fellows program within The Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) in the annual fall ACE night.
The ACE fellows program allows recent college graduates to embark on two years of service by teaching in under-resourced Catholic schools while working toward a cost-free Masters of Education degree.
Michael Comuniello, associate director for recruiting and a 2016 ACE graduate, said each year there are 90 to 95 teachers who accept the position in the program, totaling around 180 ACE teachers serving in any given year between the two cohorts. According to Comuniello, roughly 50% of each cohort graduated from the tri-campus community and the other 50% come from across the country.
This year, a second option for the application process is available for students who would like to know of their acceptance decision to ACE earlier, Comuniello said. Applicants can either apply early by Nov. 3 and hear back by Christmas or apply regular decision by Jan. 19 and hear back in mid-March.
Comuniello said he is proud that all 35 communities the program serves ask specifically for ACE teachers to be assigned in the community.
“We’ve never gone to a diocese and asked to place teachers there, it has always been a response to the needs of that community,” Comuniello said. “So we’ve always been invited by the bishop or the superintendent, and then thereafter the principals of those schools.”
Comuniello said after the teachers and schools are confirmed, the program plays “matchmaker” to align teachers’ strengths and content areas with the needs of each school. ACE teachers are split into three levels, with one-third teaching each level of elementary, middle and high school.
While some ACE teachers graduate from the program and go on to fulfill a lifelong vocation of teaching, Comuniello said former ACE teachers can pursue a myriad of career paths, from medical school to law school and public service.
While the online format for ACE Night did not allow for crowd interaction and conversation, interested undergraduates could hear from ACE teachers across the country who are currently in their service programs or recent graduates.
The information night began with an opening prayer led by the current ACE teachers living in community with each other in Corpus Christi, Texas.
Calling in on Zoom from New York City, Dan Faas, a member of ACE cohort 17, shared his experiences with the program from the two years he taught at the Most Sacred Heart of Mary High School in Mobile, Ala.
“The best advice I would give you is to allow yourself to just delight in the lives of your students,” Faas said. “You have the opportunity to engage and become a part of children’s lives for two years or more.”
Now a principal of a school, Faas explained his three “immutable facts” on ACE that he believes to be true.
“Number one, your students will change you, if you let them,” he said. “Number two, your community will change you, if you let them. And number three, the Lord will change you, if you let him or her.”
John Cunningham, a member of ACE cohort 26, spoke to audience members from Saint Joseph High School in South Bend where he currently has a full-time teaching position. Prior to teaching in South Bend, Cunningham taught middle school social studies in Mission, Texas, where he found himself immersed in the community.
Cunningham recalled not knowing exactly where he would be located upon receiving his random position.
“But when I looked it up [and] I realized where I was going, I was thrilled because I knew I was going to be living in a place where I would not have else lived,” he said.
Cunningham connected with the community in Texas in two ways: tacos and basketball.
“When I first got to the valley, I didn’t know the culture,” Cunningham said. “During my years in Mission, Texas, I took pictures of every taco I ate and I posted it on Snapchat, so I ended up with 415 tacos. I ate every one of them, and they were absolutely delicious.”
Through coaching the middle school basketball team, Cunningham said he was able to connect with his students outside the classroom.
“I could let my guard down as a teacher a little bit, they could let their guard down as the students and we could connect over a common bond, which is basketball, and it allowed us to really get to know each other,” Cunningham said.
In addition to an educational experience, ACE teachers participate in a total of 12 retreats over the two-year commitment. The largest retreat each year convenes in December in Austin, Texas, where all teachers are invited.
“[We invite] all 180 teachers across the country to celebrate with one another and to rekindle friendships, but also to pray and celebrate Mass and really recenter and ground ourselves in the why and what we’re doing,” Comuniello said.
Given the relatively easy and free application process, Faas said he sees no reason for an interested student not to apply to ACE.
“The process of applying for ACE is itself a form of discernment,” Faas said. “You get to discern ACE, and ACE gets to discern you.”