By NANCY CZABALA
CHARLESTON — Four University of Notre Dame graduate students, previously unknown to each other, have come together to form a community, supporting and encouraging one another while sharing their faith. The four are teachers in the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) program founded by Holy Cross Father Timothy Schully. ACE was designed to help understaffed Catholic schools in the southeast by sending students down for a two-year commitment.
After training at the University of Portland in Oregon last summer, the crew began their mission with the start of the 1997-98 school year. Unsure what to expect, the teachers, students themselves, found a closeness with each other and a link to their pupils.
The progam is important for teachers like Jon-Paul Hurt because, as younger adults, the ACE teachers, who openly share their faith with the students, are hopefully setting an example for the kids. “The schools spiritually need more witnesses to the faith,” said Hurt, 25. Students have frequently asked him why he wears a cross around his neck each day, to which he replies, it’s a reminder of our faith and Jesus’ teachings.
Hurt teaches fifth- and sixth-grade science, seventh-grade math and sixth-grade religion at Nativity. He received his undergraduate degree in music which helped him in establishing a Rhythm Band at Nativity.
While the future is uncertain for all the teachers, each one plans to continue in service to the Church or working with children. Hurt has considered religious life or getting a master’s in liturgical music. “The interpersonal relationships that we’ve built in the program, as well as the ACE experience itself will help us in anything else we should decide to pursue,” he said.
The ACE teachers feel that because they are closer in age to the students than their teachers, they can relate to them a little better. “We help them to discover interesting aspects of the faith,” said Mary Jo Adams, 23, who is a fifth-grade teacher at Divine Redeemer.
Adams, who got an undergraduate degree in graphic design, wants to continue sharing her faith after she graduates. “I enjoy teaching how I feel about my faith. In my undergraduate years I enjoyed sharing my faith with my peers, and I want to continue in some group sharing my faith,” she said.
Maureen Kroha, 22, said, “I wanted to try teaching, but being in the program I discovered there are so many other ways to serve and help, but I expect to come back to teaching.” Khora teaches religion and reading to the fifth and eighth grades at Charleston Catholic. Kroha, from Danville, Calif., has come to find the the community aspect of the program has taken a lot of pressure off the teachers in their first year.
Adams, who is from New Philadelphia, Ohio, agreed, “I never realized teaching was going to be so difficult and take so much out of me. I’m exhausted when I come home, but we have one another to help us cope. I didn’t expect the community to be so important.”
Mark Kocovski, 22, from Chicago, got his degree in Latin and government. He teaches at Nativity where he started a Latin Club and a peer tutoring program where seventh- and eighth-grade students stay after school to help younger students with homework. Kocovski teaches seventh- and eighth-grade history, religion and algebra.
“The bridge between student and teacher is still prominent,” says Kocovski. He has found himself using words and phrases his teachers used, something he didn’t expect to happen.
Kocovski, who got involved with the program to share in the community and service with his fellow teachers, has found it a wonderful experience to see the unique gifts of each child. He has tentative plans to attend law school and specialize in an area dealing with children, such as child advocacy.
Kroha, who received her degree in American studies, found the challenges of teaching to be very important to the program, and that, coupled with community, makes the experience worthwhile, she said.
“The program make you grow up a lot,” said Hurt. To which Adams added, “The experiences are invaluable, ones we couldn’t gather any other way.”
The four dedicated students, now grown close, will continue their training this summer. In the fall they will once again extend their hearts and minds to our youth.