As the tour bus turned the corner to head down West Dakota Avenue in the Athmar Park neighborhood the morning of March 12, the 250 students from St. Rose of Lima Academy that lined the street broke into screams that would’ve made any rock star feel welcome.
It wasn’t rock stars that stepped off the bus, but Holy Cross Father Lou DelFra and staff members from the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE). Father DelFra and team matched the students’ enthusiasm, running down the line of kids to greet them with high fives, handshakes and fist bumps.
The 50-city bus tour, branded “Fighting for Our Children’s Future,” was launched by ACE in honor of their 20th anniversary. From October through May, the team is traveling across the country to visit Catholic schools, primarily in inner-city locations, where they have placed teachers. ACE partners with more than 100 schools in 15 states covering 26 dioceses.
“St. Rose of Lima is one of the schools where we began our work and since then it’s just blossomed,” explained John Staud, senior director of pastoral formation and administration for ACE. “A lot of it was (former principal) Jeannie’s (Courchene) leadership and now Tracy’s (Alarcon) and Father (Jerry) Rohr, a great pastor.
“It’s really a community in sync. You can just feel the energy in this place.”
ACE provides teachers and administrators to schools in high-poverty communities to ensure access to a quality Catholic education for low-income students. The alliance’s Service Through Teaching program accepts 90 applicants each year. The participants teach in select Catholic schools for two years, assisted by a living allowance. During that time, they complete a curriculum that results in a master’s in education from Notre Dame.
Of more than 1,300 graduates of the program, 75 percent work in education, and most in Catholic education.
Staud considers St. Rose of Lima an extraordinary success.
“If you just look at the demographics, you might say: ‘Well this school might be closed,” he said of the low-income, predominantly Latino neighborhood. “But in fact because of its great leadership and spirit, the school is excellent and bursting at the seams.”
According to Alarcon, in her fifth year as principal, the school has “the numbers” as far as enrollment, though finances remain a concern.
“Ninety percent of our kids are at or below the poverty level,” she said. “The majority of our students are on scholarship so we’re heavily scholarship and grant dependent. We always have financial concerns.”
She appreciates the partnership St. Rose of Lima, the first Catholic Expeditionary Learning school in the country, maintains with the university.
“Each year Notre Dame and ACE continue to staff our school with high quality teachers,” she said. “These teachers are such wonderful role models for our students each day. We are blessed and I am grateful.”
Currently there are six ACE teachers at St. Rose and there have been 26 through the years, including Elias Moo, currently assistant principal. There are also ACE teachers at Annunciation, Guardian Angels, St. Therese and St. Pius X in the Denver Archdiocese. There are about 50 former and current ACE teachers in Catholic schools in the archdiocese,
Following the celebration of the bus’ arrival around 9 a.m., the school community headed to the church for a Mass of thanksgiving with Archbishop Samuel Aquila.
“It is exciting to see (all that’s been accomplished here),” the archbishop told the congregation at the end of Mass. “When I returned to Denver a little over a year and a half ago, one of the exciting surprises I discovered was that St. Rose of Lima was still in existence and doing very well. That was a gift to see.”
He thanked ACE for providing dedicated and faith-filled teachers.
After Mass eighth-grade students led a community meeting in the school gymnasium, followed by an awards presentation honoring supporters Joanne Horne, and Ralph and Trish Nagel.
Horne received the University of Notre Dame Sorin Award for Service to Catholic Schools for her role in founding the Ambassadors of Hope program of volunteers that serve in Catholic schools. Since 2003 it has grown to 100 active members.
The Nagels were recognized with the University of Notre Dame Champion for Education Award for their generous support of Catholic schools including St. Rose of Lima. Donations have amounted to more than $1 million allowing the school to build a gym, library and preschool.
The bus then headed out to its next stop: Colorado Springs. For more information visit http://ace.nd.edu/20/.
KIDS SPEAK OUT
Eighth-graders: What do you like about St. Rose of Lima Academy?
“I just like being here; you get a feeling of joy. You know that the teachers really care about you. You get a feeling you won’t get left behind, they’re always there to support you.”
“The teachers are always there for us when we need them.”
“I’ve been here since kindergarten, so I really like how we’re all like a family, not just students.”
“I really like St. Rose because they push us to do our best, to be better people; and that prepares us for high school.”