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CURRENT ISSUE:  September 19, 2011
VOL. 49, NO. 16   •   Oakland, CA
Other front page stories
Bishop’s Appeal nears goal
Cathedral’s new website: exciting, interesting
Schools welcome four ACE teachers

Michael Wagner, a Classics double major, teaches his seventh-graders about the ancient world.
josé luis aguirre photo

On the bulletin board of first-year-teacher Timothy Woodward’s eighth-grade classroom at St. Elizabeth Elementary School in Oakland are the words: OUR GOALS. Beneath it are:

       1. Kindness
       2. College
       3. Heaven

Above those goals is a poster of a college campus in all of its autumnal colors, golden dome gleaming. “Nowhere but Notre Dame,” reads the caption.

Those goals, Woodward says, are common in classrooms staffed by teachers from the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE).

Timothy Woodward teaches eighth-graders at St. Elizabeth Elementary School.
josé luis aguirre photo
Woodward, like Alliance for Catholic Education, is from the University of Notre Dame. He is one of four ACE teachers assigned to the Diocese of Oakland, in this first year of the association between the Diocese of Oakland Schools Department and the university program.

ACE was founded in 1993 to sustain and strengthen Catholic schools. The university selects the candidates, offers them eight weeks of training on the campus, and sends them forth to serve in various urban Catholic schools. Woodward and Michael Wagner teach at St. Elizabeth, Francesca Swalwell teaches at St. Cornelius in Richmond, and Rachel Marchand teaches at St. Jarlath in Oakland. They are among 180 ACE teachers serving in 26 dioceses across the country.

Although the program says these four are the farthest away from campus, they are not alone. ACE representatives will visit them regularly during their two-year commitment here. The teachers will gather with others in the program for a retreat in December, and will return to the Notre Dame campus for an additional summer session.

Each ACE teacher is mentored by a teacher or administrator at the school. Vice Principal Joseph Petersen is mentoring the ACE teachers at St. Elizabeth. He meets weekly with each teacher individually and makes regular classroom visits.

“They bring energy and enthusiasm,” said Petersen.

The young teachers receive a stipend of about $12,000 a year, live in community, sharing not only rent and utilities but prayer and news of their day. At the end, they will have two years of teaching experience, a master’s degree and eligibility for a credential.

The ACE teachers live in the former convent at St. Paschal Baylon Parish. While the group may be one of the smallest ACE groups — most range from four to eight — it may be the only one with its own chapel.

The ACE program’s arrival in the Oakland Diocese came at an opportune time for St. Elizabeth Elementary, said Sister Rose Marie Hennessy, principal. The retirement of a longtime teacher and another’s move to another state left openings in the upper grades.

Enter Woodward and Wagner.

Woodward, 23, an American studies and psychology major, teaches social studies language arts and religion. A visit to his classroom finds him asking the students, who had attended a flag-raising ceremony in the schoolyard earlier in the morning, “Where else have you heard the National Anthem?” “Sports games,” comes one reply. “Graduation,” another student offers. “The Super Bowl.”

Across the hall from him, the ancient world is coming alive under the tutelage of Michael Wagner, a Classics double major who moves nimbly among the desks of his seventh-graders, encouraging students to recount what they read about ancient Rome for last night’s homework.

“Who can update me on what we read last night?” asks Wagner, who wears a tie printed with shamrocks.

“Chariot races,” a student replies.

“Cool,” says his teacher, moving on to the next raised hand.

Later in the day, Wagner says of the ancient world, “Students love warfare and competition.” The soon-to-be-23-year-old said he has been involved in teaching since he was a high school sophomore in St. Louis and worked with the Aim High program, teaching math to ninth-graders during the summers.

“I love the energy the kids have,” he said. “There’s never a dull moment in class. They’re always itching to say something.”

Woodward, from Kansas City, Kansas, said, teaching “was not on my radar” in college, but all of his college activities “pointed to teaching.” He said he found his first days at St. Elizabeth to be “tiring, exciting and challenging.”

“My students were very patient with me,” he said. “They walked me through the first week.”

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