Teaching program is in its second generation

WASHINGTON – The University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education program has been placing college graduates as volunteer teachers in Catholic schools since 1994. That means the current participants were in elementary school when the program started and could have been taught by ACE teachers.
Colleen Knight Santoni was a sophomore at Notre Dame, studying Spanish and getting ready for medical school when she decided in 1994 to be a volunteer teacher through the ACE program.
She initially thought about the program after helping a friend who was working in the Teach for America program. The friend brought his students to visit Notre Dame in Indiana and asked if some of the third-grade girls could stay in Knight Santoni’s dorm room to see what college life was like.
“My roommate and I were thrilled,” Knight Santoni said. “We had such a great time, and I remember telling my friends, ‘Someday I’m going to teach like that and bring my students to Notre Dame.’“
Knight Santoni made good on her promise.
When she graduated from Notre Dame in 1996, she joined ACE and taught at All Saints Catholic School in Fort Worth, Texas. During a visit to Notre Dame, she ended up bringing one of her students, Patricia Salazar, along with her.
“I had jokingly told them in class two days before I left that I was going to be away for a few days, and then I said, ‘If any of you want to come, I’d love to show you Notre Dame.’ After school, she and her mom came back in, and they asked me, ‘Were you serious about that?’“
The trip obviously made an impression on Salazar who joined ACE last year after graduating from The Catholic University of America in Washington. This spring, she finished her first year in the program, teaching religion, social studies, science and language arts to the third- and fourth-grade classes at Sacred Heart, a dual-language Catholic school in Washington.
Another student from Knight Santoni’s seventh-grade class at All Saints has also joined ACE’s ranks. Janet Ibarra, who graduated from Notre Dame, now teaches third grade at Our Lady of Unity in Kansas City, Kan.
Salazar said Knight Santoni was the inspiration for her and Ibarra to spend two years teaching in low-income schools. Salazar said that since seventh grade she has pictured herself as a teacher having that same influence on a similar group of children.
“She just came into the classroom with such energy and enthusiasm … which was really something that impacted me,” she said. At that point, “I knew I wanted to teach, and I knew I wanted to be a teacher in a Catholic school.”
ACE was formed by the University of Notre Dame, the U.S. bishops’ Department of Education and the National Catholic Educational Association. The program trains young Catholic adults as teachers and places them in Catholic schools. Those who take part in the program receive a small living stipend from the schools where they teach and also earn master’s degrees in education after two years of teaching and intensive summer training.
The program is still expanding and placing new communities of teachers across the country. Currently 175 teachers serve in 14 states and the District of Columbia.
John Staud, director of pastoral formation and administration for ACE, said there is no shortage of applicants. He said 400 college graduates applied for 90 positions last year. More than a dozen other universities have used ACE as a model for similar programs; they include Seton Hall University in New Jersey, Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, the University of Portland in Oregon and Boston College.
Knight Santoni, now 32 and the mother of three young boys, teaches middle-school religion classes part time at St. Pius X Catholic School in Dallas.
Salazar will graduate from ACE in spring 2008.
“I think after my first year I can honestly say that I have fallen in love with teaching,” she said. “I’ve been to Catholic school from kindergarten through my master’s career. It’s influenced me so much that I know I have to give back in some way.”
She hopes to go home to Fort Worth one day as the principal of All Saints.

Catholic Review

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.