By VICTOR CALDERON
The New Vision
The many successes of three Catholic schools in Tucson were highlighted this past month when the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education visited them as part of a 50-city national bus tour.
The schools visited April 28-30- St. John the Evangelist, St. Ambrose and Santa Cruz – are the founding schools for the ND ACE Academies partnership with the university.
As the ACE bus pulled into St. John’s on the morning of April 28, students waved small golden flags that read “Catholic Schools are good for America!” as the school’s Mariachi San Juanitos band played.
“We were so privileged to receive the invite in 2011 from Bishop Gerald Kicanas… to support the work of these schools so we developed a partnership with the Diocese (of Tucson),” said Father Timothy Scully, C.S.C., ACE’s founder. “We really invited the teachers to a higher level of commitment in academics and the faith formation of the students and it has been a flowering of the ACE mission.”
Students at ACE academies are closing the academic achievement gap, officials and educators say. Schools display the words “College and Heaven,” echoing their commitment to growth in the students’ education and faith. For example, in the ND ACE academies in Tucson, the percentage of students performing at grade level in math and reading by the end of the third grade has risen sharply, which officials say makes them more likely to be on the path to college.
“When St. John’s became part of the Notre Dame ACE program, the school improved; athletic fields were cleaned and the school was painted,” said Agustin Espinoza, an eighth grader who said he will attend Salpointe Catholic High School in the fall and plans to become an electrical engineer.
Sister Rosa Maria Ruiz, C.F.M.M., the diocese’s outgoing Superintendent of Catholic Schools, was honored for her 50 years in Catholic education. Also at St. John’s, students in the Ballet Folklorico San Juan group performed Mexican folkloric dances.
Later that day, the ACE bus visited St. Ambrose School where a student choir was to greet officials. A reception was held in the evening at the Hacienda del Sol Guest Ranch Resort.
Sister Rosa Maria, ACE officials and St. Ambrose principal Emma Chavez visited Our Lady of the Valley Parish in Green Valley on April 29. Parishioners there pledged an $800,000 gift for the Tucson ACE academies.
The local tour concluded with a visit to Santa Cruz School on April 30 for a party with students before the bus continued on to Phoenix.