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Schools develop six-point plan to secure future

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At midyear, ACE teachers are settled in, looking ahead

Nine teens who excel

St. Patrick’s opens infant care center in West Contra Costa

Urban school students get lesson in digital filmmaking

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Philly school mergers, closures signal new model of education

Court avoiding cases on firing

Archbishop Chaput encourages Catholic colleges to lead revival

placeholder January 23, 2012   •   VOL. 50, NO. 2   •   Oakland, CA

Rachel Marchand teaches fifth grade at St. Jarlath School in Oakland.
At midyear, ACE teachers
are settled in, looking ahead

Just a few months after graduating from college, four young teachers, armed with eight weeks of training at the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education, arrived at three urban schools in the Diocese of Oakland. With mentoring from veteran teachers and principals, and ongoing coursework and contact with the university, the three live in community in a former convent and go daily to their schools in Richmond and Oakland.

ACE, founded in 1993 to sustain and strengthen Catholic schools, sent Timothy Woodward and Michael Wagner to St. Elizabeth Elementary in Oakland, Francesca Swalwell to St. Cornelius in Richmond, and Rachel Marchand to St. Jarlath in Oakland. They are among 180 ACE teachers serving in 26 dioceses across the country. The Catholic Voice checked in with Woodward and Wagner in September, within a month of their start. This visit is with Marchand, who teaches a lively group of fifth-graders.

By Michele Jurich
Staff writer

As Rachel Marchand moves among the dozen fifth-graders seated on the carpet, following along as she reads to them from “Inside Out,” Francisco Jimenez’s story of his childhood, she invites and encourages them to share the connections they can make within the story, as well as predictions they can make about what will happen next.

It’s right after lunch, which has included some time for play on the asphalt yard, on an unseasonably warm January day. The Fruitvale neighborhood and busy Interstate 580 loom not far from their window, but inside, the students are focused on the travails of a young student named Francisco.

Francisco’s story, of a boy who arrives at school not speaking much English and tries to navigate this new life in America, seems familiar to these children. They have known someone who has come to school like that, maybe even helped someone.

They stop for the occasional vocabulary word — migrant, for example. And the question-and-answers are peppered with praise. “I’m so pumped you guys got that,” Marchand says after a series of astute observations about the story.

When the protagonist’s teacher makes him sit at his desk with his head down, one student says to his teacher, “You make us stand up.”

A hand goes up: “I have a connection,” one student begins. “When I came to California and started to go to school, I was left out because I didn’t know English.”
Connection made.

Connecting with her students is something the 22-year-old does very well. If there’s affection for “Miss M,” it’s equally returned. “Good morning, my angels!” reads the message, front and center on a board, filled also with assignments, and the word of the day. (It’s “Alabama.”)

As half the class is dismissed to participate in choir, those who remain reach for plastic tote bags that contain their books for silent reading. Some request, and gain, permission to use one of the school’s laptops to take an Accelerated Reader test. Students read books and take tests at computers to gauge their comprehension. Several fifth-graders were proud to say their reading levels have improved over the year.

Of the four ACE teachers in the Diocese of Oakland, Rachel Marchand is the only one who did not graduate from the University of Notre Dame. She’s a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania — there’s a banner on the wall. It’s right up front, between one for the Boston Red Sox and another for the University of Notre Dame.

While many graduates at Penn might find themselves heading off to build careers in business, law or medicine, Marchand said, she envisioned a different path for herself.

“I’ve always loved kids,” she said. “I’m that girl.”

She was fortunate to be a student of Penn political science Professor John J. DiIulio, who along with Joseph Tierney at Penn, encouraged Marchand to develop her gifts as a teacher.

An internship at Breakthrough, an organization that sets out to not only increase academic opportunity for highly motivated, underserved students but to inspire and develop the next generation of teachers and educational leaders, helped her find her calling. She also spent a spring break in New Orleans in a program DiIulio directs. Both suggested she consider the ACE program.

“They made me discover myself,” Marchand said, adding that she had recently e-mailed both DiIulio and Tierney to thank them.

Of her first students, Marchand expresses pride and gratitude. “I’ll remember them forever,” she said.

“I’ve never felt more welcome than I do in Oakland,” she said. “It’s a very special place. You feel the love here,” she said of St. Jarlath School.

The community has been extremely welcoming, she said. “A mother came up to me and said, ‘Thank you for being here.’”

In her first months of teaching, 3,000 miles from her home in Pennsylvania, Marchand received news of the death of her grandmother. But people who cared about her and her loss were not far away. Her students asked if they could pray with her. They held hands and said a “Hail Mary.” They made cards for her and for her family.

“They were taking care of me,” she said. “I will always remember that.”

ACE teachers from around the country gathered in Austin in early December for a retreat. It was a good opportunity, Marchand said, to see the other teachers and compare notes. And although ACE is known for its high-achievers, their humility has made an impression on Marchand.

Marchand said she feels fortunate to be at a school with an ACE principal — someone who understands the additional coursework, for example, that the teachers are required to complete in their off-campus hours, and asks about their spiritual life.

“She has brought enthusiasm, energy and optimism, and openness to the possibility of what our school can be,” said the principal, Rodney Pierre-Antoine. “She’s mission-driven. ACE does a great job of instilling the pillars — community, spirituality and professional growth. It’s one thing to see the pillars on paper, but she’s living it every day here.”

Marchand said she could not be happier. “I see myself teaching for a long time,” she said.

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