Rachel Marchand teaches fifth grade at St. Jarlath
School in Oakland.
JOSÉ LUIS AGUIRRE photo
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
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.”
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
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
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.