During Catholic Schools Week, gratitude for ACE program in Denver

During Catholic Schools Week, we are grateful the many wonderful teachers teaching in the Catholics schools here in Denver, and especially those who were placed here by the ACE program.

The Alliance for Catholic Education, or ACE, is both a master’s degree and alternative teaching licensure program offered through the University of Notre Dame. The program is aimed primarily at students who graduated with a non-education degree but are interested in being teachers. Students interested in pursuing a Master of Education degree are able to sign up for the program, which is an intense two-year process where ACE teachers are sent to one of the country’s many Catholic schools to teach while working simultaneously to obtain their master’s degree.

While most ACE graduates stay in teaching, some have gone on to be lawyers, doctors, or even superintendents of schools, such as Denver’s very own Kevin Kijewski. He was the very first ACE teacher to arrive in Denver in 2005, and is now overseeing the schools he once taught in. Now, some 50 ACE graduates reside in Denver, including at least one school principal and dozens of teachers.

“It’s a cool program, and there’s nothing better than teaching kids,” Kijewski said.

The Archdiocese of Denver currently has five ACE teachers serving within the archdiocesan school system: Thomas Mann at Bishop Machebeuf High School, Mikaela Prego at St. Rose of Lima, Marissa Cirillo at Guardian Angels, Anthony Barrett at St. Pius X, and Kyle MacDonald at St. Therese.

ACE does really well valuing the whole person and meeting the different needs that we have. It’s really unlike any other teaching program. There’s not a lot of programs that have that connection between our Catholic identity and serving in a school.”

“It’s a really great program that provides for our experience as first year and second year teachers30 and gives us a really great skill set to go out into the world of Catholic school teaching,” said Anthony Barrett, who teaches middle school literature and language arts at St. Pius X. “The program has really helped me to grow as a teacher, and as a person.”

In the summers during the two years, ACE teachers engage in summer courses that are “highly practical and demanding.” These courses are designed to prepare the teachers to lead a classroom of their own before their first year of teaching and address any challenges they may have encountered after that first school year.

“It’s a really intense process,” said Kyle MacDonald, who teaches middle school English, literature and religion at St. Therese. “ACE is good at making you not comfortable, and I say that in a positive way. It’s easy, especially in the profession of teaching, to become comfortable, and ACE does a really good job at making you feel uncomfortable and making you feel like there’s always something more to strive for.”

ACE focuses on forming three main pillars of the teacher: their professional life, their communal life, and their spiritual life. ACE teachers live in community with one another, are encouraged to get involved in extracurricular activities at their schools, and are visited regularly by academic and spiritual mentors who push them to grow, MacDonald said.

“ACE does really well valuing the whole person and meeting the different needs that we have,” he said. “It’s really unlike any other teaching program. There’s not a lot of programs that have that connection between our Catholic identity and serving in a school.”

Caption: Denver’s current ACE teachers. From left to right: Marissa Cirillo, Thomas Mann, Kyle MacDonald, Mikaela Prego, Anthony Barrett. (Photo courtesy of Alliance for Catholic Education)

COMING UP: 2017 a ‘great’ year to celebrate Catholic Schools

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Superintendent Kevin Kijewski can’t wait for Catholic Schools Week this year.

“This is going to be a great year for Catholic schools,” he said. “We did a lot of foundation building last year, particularly with the drafting of two vision documents on the future of our schools, and we look forward to continuing to build on those foundations in 2017.”

He added that he is also looking forward to the opening of Frassati Catholic Academy this fall, which is slated to be a Classical academy located in Thornton.

The Archdiocese of Denver will celebrate Catholic Schools Week Jan. 29-Feb. 4 with several events underlining the value of Catholic schools, including the launch of a new vision document called “Worthy of the Investment,” and a resolution in the state Senate praising the contribution of Catholic schools to Colorado.

“Worthy of the Investment” will be released by the Office of Catholic Schools Jan. 28, just a day ahead of the first day of Catholic Schools Week. The document, which addresses the need to support Catholic education financially, is a follow-up to the similarly titled “Worthy of the Name.” Both documents outline key principles for securing the future of Catholic education in northern Colorado.

Individual schools have organized a variety of events for the week, including all-school Masses, ice-cream socials and faculty versus student basketball games.

On Sunday, Jan. 29, Our Lady of Loreto in Foxfield will launch Catholic Schools Week with the dedication of the West Wing of the St. Joseph Ministry Center, which will be used for school and religious education classrooms, house a new gymnasium, a combination stage/music room, and a new pre-school.

Bishop Rodriguez will celebrate the 11am Mass at the parish, and dedicate the new building at a 12:30pm ceremony.

On Tuesday, Jan. 31, Bishop Jorge Rodriguez will lead morning prayer for the state Senate, and stay for the reading of a Catholic Schools Week Proclamation. Representatives from the Office of Catholic Schools and several Catholic schools will be in attendance.

Bishop Rodriguez will also celebrate an all-school Mass Wed, Feb. 1, at St. Francis de Sales in Denver at 10:30am.

On Thursday, Feb. 2, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila will celebrate an all-school Mass at Sacred Heart of Jesus in Boulder at 9:30am, followed by visits to classrooms.

That same day, at 1:30pm, Bishop Rodriguez will celebrate an all-school Mass at St. Mary’s in Littleton.

Catholic Schools Week has been celebrated annually since 1974, and always begins on the last Sunday in January.

In northern Colorado, there are nearly 9,000 students enrolled in Catholic schools. An estimated 99.6% of students who attend a Catholic high school graduates, and 92.4% of Catholic high school graduates in the Archdiocese of Denver went on to enroll at a 4-year college.