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GRACE Program Graduates First Cohort of Catholic Educators

For the last two years, the first cohort of the Gulf Region Academy for Catholic Education (GRACE) has lived in community while simultaneously finishing a master’s degree in Catholic education, teaching in a Catholic school, and deepening their spiritual lives. They took the final step together across the stage at commencement on May 15.

A special Mass will be held at 6:30 p.m. in the Chapel of St. Basil on Thursday, May 20 to honor the GRACE graduates. Archbishop Jospeh Fiorenza and Father Michael Buentello, CSB, are the celebrants. A reception will follow in Malloy Hall.

Often described as the Catholic version of Teach for America, GRACE is a partnership between UST and the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. GRACE is a member of the University Consortium for Catholic Education, an alliance of 15 universities which offer similar programs including University of Notre Dame, Boston College, University of Portland, Seton Hall, Loyola Marymount University, Loyola University Chicago, Valparaiso University and Christian Brothers University.

The six students who graduated from the GRACE program are John Bates, Meris Chaumont, Humberto Carmona, Leigh Sherman, Luc Tran and Sharon Winski.

“These young men and women have grown as professional educators and in their commitment to their faith and Catholic education,” said Dr. LeBlanc, dean of the School of Education.  “With Cohort 1 graduating, Cohort 2 entering their second year and Cohort 3 about to begin in June, the full cycle of the program is complete. We have increased interest in each of the recruiting cycles and look forward to the continued success of the program.”

LeBlanc said the program differs from the typical experience of pursuing a master’s degree in education, because GRACE cohorts are completely immersed in the program, and they benefit from a stronger professional mentoring and spiritual support system.  GRACE is an integrated program of study and supervised field experience, which introduces students to the profession of education. The faith-based community living also offers opportunities for retreats and other spiritual growth activities.

Chaumont, who graduated from UST in 2008 with a degree in theology and a minor in philosophy, stayed at UST to participate in the GRACE program. While taking classes, she was assigned to teach theology at Queen of Peace Catholic School. After graduation, she will teach grades one through five at St. Theresa School and serve as co-campus minister with UST alumnus Tim Caruthers.

“We consider ourselves the pioneers of the GRACE program, and we invested time into identifying the strengths of the program and how to make it better for future cohorts,” Chaumont. “This was an amazing opportunity to not only earn a master’s degree, but also to earn job experience in Catholic schools that needed us. I loved growing in my faith with my fellow GRACE students and with the students in my class.”

Humberto Carmona is originally from Mexico and earned a degree in mathematics from the University of Texas at Austin. During the GRACE program, he taught sixth- through eighth-grade math and science at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. He plans to continue to teaching at Mt. Carmel after graduation.

“I enjoyed getting practical teaching experience while we were taking classes,” Carmona said. “The first year of teaching can be really difficult, so it was helpful to live in community and come home to share your experiences with others who were going through the same thing.”

Dr. George Laird, associate superintendent of Catholic Schools of Archdiocese of Houston-Galveston, applauded the success of program’s first year, and looks forward to working with a new class of future Catholic educators. Laird will teach one of the GRACE courses on Catholic education.

“All of the students have done a tremendous job teaching in our Catholic schools,” Laird said. “The GRACE students truly demonstrated leadership not only in the classroom, but they also provided spiritual leadership, and they went above and beyond to become involved in extracurricular activities.”

Leigh Sherman graduated from UST with a degree in communication in 2007, but said she always wanted to be a teacher. During the GRACE program, Sherman taught fifth grade at Holy Rosary in Rosenberg and she coached volleyball, basketball and track. In the fall, she will begin teaching fourth grade language arts at St. Vincent de Paul.

“GRACE gave me the chance to do what I always wanted to do,” Sherman said. “I grew up in Catholic schools and I think Catholic educators really get the opportunity to know the kids and be there for them. Catholic educators can afford to focus on the whole development of the student, and not be solely focused on curriculum and tests.”

Shown above from left to right: Father Sean Wenger, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Humberto Carmona, Luc Tran, Sharon Winski, Meris Chaumont, Leigh Sherman and Dr. Robert LeBlanc