ACE Grants in Action, Thanks to ACA Donors

by Thom Hiatt

There are nearly 50 Catholic schools in the Diocese of San Diego. Some of those schools need financial assistance from time to time, to support infrastructure needs or to fund programs that sustain value. This year’s Annual Catholic Appeal provides a total of $400,000 in ACE Grants to 11 of our local Catholic schools. It’s another way your gift is making a real difference in our community.

Blessed Sacrament Parish School and it’s students are benefiting from $25,000.00 in ACE Grants. The funds have been invested into the operating costs of three school programs including Mobile Learning, Project-Based Learning in a STEM design of a Nine-Hole Disc Golf Course on the parish grounds, and Multi-Age Groupings to foster Christ-like leadership. The programs help the school remain the best choice for Transitional Kindergarten-8th grade education in the area.


“I love school,” declared Tomas Ramirez, a fifth grader at Blessed Sacrament Parish School. “The teachers are great; they make it easy to learn, and they make the work fun,” he added. Tomas knows a good school when he sees one. From kindergarten through 3rd grade, he attended a nearby public school. “There was a lot of bullying there. They were hitting and kicking. So I left,” Tomas said. “But here the kids are lovable and easy to interact with.”Tomas’ class uses 12 laptop computers as part of the school’s Mobile Learning program, funded by ACE Grants. The devices operate on a campus-wide wireless network, making resources available in every classroom. “On the computers we use Lexia, Reading Plus, and First in Math,” explained Tomas, “and when we are finished with our work, we can simply hand the computer to another classmate!” The math programs must be working. During our interview, when asked math questions in rapid-fire style, Tomas quickly answered each problem perfectly. When asked how the school can raise money for the seven additional laptops needed, Tomas generously offered, “We can bring in things we don’t need and sell them. I have a Wii game system that I would give to the school, so other kids can have a better education.”

Tomas’ generous heart is no doubt a bi-product of his faith-filled education, his experience as an altar server, and his many hours in the choir. “It’s fun to listen to the Mass. It’s interesting how Jesus was so worthy of helping, and he shared his love with other people,” said Tomas. “I’m totally going to Mass when I am older.”

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Eighth grader Raul Lopez and fourth grader Irene Torres participate in Multi-Age Grouping, another program funded by ACE Grants, which encourages older students to work directly with younger students. “I like that when we don’t know something, [the older students] will help us to understand,” said Irene. “Working with others helps with my social skills. And it helps me to pronounce things better,” she added.Raul, who entered Blessed Sacrament in Kindergarten, explained that through the grouping program, “We learn about the other students. These are kids you wouldn’t normally meet because they are in other grades.” The program helps students beyond textbook education. “I am typically very shy when I meet new people. It’s given me more confidence,” said Raul.

The same goes for Irene, an athlete who has taken her social confidence onto the tennis court. “I play competitive tennis and I’ve played against high school students at Cathedral Catholic. I came close to winning!”

Raul recently fought a tough opponent, and won. He spent a year in the hospital, suffering from a rare lung infection that spread to his heart and esophagus. “I was very, very sick. In September the doctors told me I may not make it to Christmas,” Raul said. “My classmates sent cards and videos, and they helped me to fight.” After all standard procedures failed, doctors suggested an experimental half-match bone marrow transplant, with Raul’s father as the donor.

“I kept telling myself that everything is going to be fine,” said Raul, “God has a plan for me. He knows what He’s doing.” Each week, Raul attended Sunday Mass at the hospital. He also kept up his school work — even when times were tough. “There were times I was in so much pain that I could not stand up. I just had to have trust.” As his faith strengthened, so did his grades. “I did the best I could. And I got honors!” exclaimed Raul, “Without this school, I don’t think I would still be alive.”

Now in full health, Raul is considering a future as a brain surgeon, while Irene looks toward becoming a chemist. “Science is my favorite class,” she said, “In the third grade, I learned about how atoms interact with each other.” Thanks to the ACE Grant-funded Multi-Age Grouping program at Blessed Sacrament, it looks like the interaction goes far beyond atoms.

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Students at Blessed Sacrament Parish School put their science, technology, engineering, and math skills to the test on the only disc-golf course of its kind. “We’re unique,” said Dylan Miles-Jones, a fifth grader who helped design the school’s new obstacle course. The discs, goals, and other equipment were purchased with funds provided by ACE Grants.“Each class works as a group to develop obstacles,” she said. Grades five through eight develop 20 total ideas, then work together to narrow the field to six. “We put water, sand, and rocks in the way,” said Dylan, explaining how the students mix science and physical education to create the obstacle course. “Plus we have to calculate how many steps it will be from start to finish,” she detailed how math fits into the planning stages.

The combination of math and science will come in handy for Dylan down the road. This entrepreneur has plans to open her own bakery! But patrons may want to play a few rounds of disc golf before enjoying her favorite recipe: a cookie layer with a brownie top and Reese’s Pieces in the middle!

Dylan has fun at Blessed Sacrament and enjoys the friendships she’s made since preschool. Students attend weekly Mass and on occasion Dylan likes to “bring up the gifts and sometimes read.” When asked what she likes most about private school, Dylan shoots and scores by saying, “I like that we get to be closer to Jesus. I need God to forgive me for my sins.”

Tomas, Irene, Raul and Dylan appreciate your support of the Annual Catholic Appeal and the ACE Grants program that supports students at 11 of our local Catholic schools in need. Learn more at

[The above article was written by Thom Hiatt as part of the Diocese of San Diego 2016 Annual Catholic Appeal report to donors. The article is included on this website as a sample of our videography, photography, and writing work.]