4 ACE Teaching Fellows from Notre Dame embraced by schools
They have come to Peoria from different parts of the United States, with different gifts and different educational backgrounds, but four young teaching fellows from the University of Notre Dame have a common goal. Over the next two years they hope to follow Christ’s teaching example and be of service where the church needs them most.
That has brought Maddie Basil of Apple Valley, Minnesota, and Luke Janicki of Bellevue, Washington, to St. Mark School in Peoria. Basil is teaching fifth grade, while Janicki is teaching Spanish in grades four through eight and sixth grade language arts and literature.
Peoria Notre Dame High School has welcomed Patty Yoritomo of Montgomery Village, Maryland, and Jimmy Kelly of Needham, Massachusetts. Her subject is science and his is math, specifically algebra and geometry.
By committing themselves to the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) at the University of Notre Dame, they will earn master’s degrees in education at the end of their service. As teaching fellows they aren’t paying tuition and receive a stipend for their work.
What helps to make this possible is that the Diocese of Peoria is providing housing for them at the former St. Peter rectory. This is necessary because the ACE program focuses not only on teacher formation, but on spiritual formation and the ability to build community.
What takes a tremendous amount of faith is that ACE Teaching Fellows are assigned to a city, school and subject matter in which they are proficient. They don’t choose for themselves.
“They want you to be outside your comfort zone,” Yoritomo told The Catholic Post. “We spent a lot of time over the summer reflecting on voluntary displacement. We’re intentionally going to a place and we have a mission to serve the schools in this area.”
The concept of discipleship is key, according to Kelly.
“It’s less about where are you going to be these two years and more about how can we best serve the church and the church’s schools,” he explained.
BRING ENERGY, FAITH
What Basil finds attractive about the ACE program is that they receive a lot of support.
“The staff at Notre Dame sends people to check on us and they’re in constant communication,” she said. “They do a great job of checking in to make sure we’re at our best so we can best serve our students.”
Part of that support comes from the mentor teachers assigned to each of the ACE Teaching Fellows. Basil meets regularly with fourth grade teacher Bonnie Grierson and Carol Faklaris, who teaches seventh and eighth grade language arts, offers advice and encouragement to Janicki.
Science teacher John Kutyna and math teacher Josh Smith mentor Yoritomo and Kelly, respectively.
They also attend summer classes at the University of Notre Dame and will make 12 retreats as part of the program.
The support of their mentors and principals — Dr. Noreen Dillon at St. Mark and Randy Simmons at Peoria Notre Dame — as well as the faculty and staff has brightened the rough days and made the good days even better for the novice teachers.
“I love St. Mark. We came into a welcoming environment. The teachers dropped stuff off and their doors are always open,” Basil said. “Our school has a real family feel.”
“There are moments of pure joy, but also moments of being challenged,” said Yoritomo, who finds teaching can be “all consuming.”
“It’s surprising how many little details there are during the day,” she said.
“It can be difficult, but what keeps us grounded is remembering that we’re teaching students, not subjects,” Kelly said. “Our goal is to help them get to college and eventually to heaven.”
Dillon likes the energy the young teachers are bringing to St. Mark and said the students are responding to that very well. “People in the community are reaching out and inviting them to dinner.”
Simmons said having the ACE Teaching Fellows at Peoria Notre Dame is “a great learning opportunity for everyone — us, our kids, our community.”
“Their faith — they bring that component, too — is inspiring to our kids. That shows. The reverence — it’s neat to see that,” he said. “They’re great kids and they’re doing a nice job.”
Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, called the ACE program “an irreplaceable gift to the church in America.”
“The four ACE Teaching Fellows who serve in our schools are top notch and reflect the exceptional quality, best practices, and cutting edge research for which the Alliance for Catholic Education program is known,” said Dr. Sharon Weiss, superintendent of diocesan schools. “I look forward to a long and lasting relationship with the University of Notre Dame as together we serve the church in her educational role.”
The ACE Teaching Fellows program was founded in 1993 with the mission to sustain, strengthen, and transform Catholic schools. There are teaching fellows in 30 dioceses and archdioceses around the United States.