Mary Beth McLean instructs her freshman English students in plotting a short story. The students, divided into groups, were writing their own stories.
MICHELE JURICH/THE CATHOLIC VOICE
"We don't want any boring stories," the English teacher is telling her two dozen ninth-graders, whose attention is focused firmly on the front of the classroom. On a whiteboard covered with colorful markers, she literally has drawn them a map to help them avoid putting their readers to sleep.
This is the classroom of Mary Beth McLean at St. Elizabeth High School. The professional young woman addresses each student by name as she deftly moves among the desks to answer questions posed by her budding writers. She repeats those questions, so everyone in the room can learn.
Her confidence and control of the class might belie her experience. About four months ago, she graduated from Providence College in Rhode Island. After a rigorous application process to the Alliance for Catholic Education, she spent the summer at the University of Notre Dame learning how to teach.
In August, she and four other first-year teachers from the program moved into the convent of St. Paschal Baylon Parish in Oakland, where they live in community, prepare meals, grade homework, do homework of their own and grow in their own faith and commitment to education, particularly in inner-city schools.
During their two-year commitment of the ACE program, the teachers earn a master's degree in education from Notre Dame.
"It's a great program," McLean said. "I'm proud to be a part of it."
This is the second group of ACE teachers to serve in the Diocese of Oakland. Two members of the first group of four teachers — Michael Wagner and Timothy Woodward — are entering their third year of teaching at St. Elizabeth Elementary School in Oakland.
McLean is the first ACE teacher to teach high school in the diocese. Her ACE colleagues are Ally Jeter and Russell McFall, who are teaching at St. Jarlath School; Rachel Boggs, who is teaching at St. Martin de Porres School; and John Jackson, who is teaching at St. Elizabeth Elementary. All are teaching in Oakland.
Having an ACE teacher on campus requires additional commitment from the school. There's a "good, solid time commitment" the school makes, said Principal Martin Procaccio of St. Elizabeth High School. He has paired McLean with a mentor, who is a veteran English teacher. He also meets with McLean weekly. McLean, who is also a member of the campus ministry team, teaches four periods of English; a veteran teacher would have five.
"It's been really good to have her energy and enthusiasm," Procaccio said.
He said that the staff at St. Elizabeth is a blend of longtime educators and newcomers. "It's nice to have her dedication and commitment," he said.
The Class of 2017 has 51 students, which means on this Sept. 11 afternoon, about half of them are studying the craft of writing with McLean.
Having an ACE teacher is nothing new for Veronica Zavala, who with two others in her group was writing a story whose complex plot revolved around basketball.
"I've had teachers from Notre Dame," she said. "It was a great experience."
For the freshman, who graduated from St. Elizabeth Elementary across the street, McLean is her third.
"They understand," she said, noting that the teachers are about 10 years older than their students.
Not only that, added Alfredo Lopez, "they have an advanced style of teaching."
On the classroom wall, among the positively worded classroom rules and bright posters on writing, is a small gold plaque, with the words, "Play like a champion today."
There's a sense that the ACE teachers are doing just that.
Ally Jeter, John Jackson, Mary Beth McLean, Russell McFall and Rachel Boggs are first-year teachers in Diocese of Oakland schools through the Alliance for Catholic Education at the University of Notre Dame.
UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME COURTESY PHOTO
Mary Beth McLean
Teaches Language Arts, St. Elizabeth High School, Oakland
BA in English, Providence College
From Elmhurst, Illinois
"ACE is one of the most intensive and rigorous post-graduate teaching programs in the country and I am proud to be a part of it. I knew that I would receive the knowledge and resources I needed to achieve my goal of becoming a successful Catholic educator. The spirituality and service aspects of ACE also help create a purpose and a passion for the work that we do."
Teaches second grade, St. Martin de Porres School, Oakland
BA in political science, University of Notre Dame
From Orlando, Florida
"I hope to deepen my belief that God is love. Not only do I want to see that in my students, but teach that to my students."
Teaches fifth grade, St. Elizabeth Elementary School, Oakland
BA in political science with minors in economics and entrepreneurship, John Carroll University
Originally from North Canton, Ohio
"I am looking forward to all of the great restaurants, trails, and weather that I've been hearing about. From what I've heard I've got a lot to look forward to."
Teaches third grade, St. Jarlath School, Oakland
BA in philosophy and psychology, University of Notre Dame
Originally from South Bend, Indiana
"I felt called to serve with ACE because the mission of treating the whole person and the approach to education in a holistic manner is very important to me. Faith in the home at an early age, I think, is formative and so incredibly important for developing into a whole person."
Teaches Middle School Social Studies, St. Jarlath School, Oakland
BA in economics and political science, University of Notre Dame
From Calabasas Hills, California
"I am most looking forward to being part of a vibrant and diverse community in Oakland. The Bay Area is an extremely exciting place to live in and I want to take advantage of all the opportunities that are available in the region."
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