Sophomore swimmer Connor Killion knows what to expect from his stringent schedule — morning practice, class, afternoon practice, homework — but the pea plants were an unusual surprise. The first-grade students at Venable Elementary were always energetic when Killion arrived for his hour-long shift as a volunteer through the Athletes Committed to Education program, but he remembers a day in the garden with particular fondness.
“I got to go outside with the kids, and they planted pea plants, which was really cute … it was just an hour out of the week, but I still thought that was perfect because as athletes you find it hard for free time,” Killon said. “This was just a complete escape from sports, school, everything college. You just go be with these little kids, you get to interact with them, and it’s really unique.”
The Virginia Athletics department launched ACE as a way to connect student athletes with volunteering opportunities in local elementary schools. Currently, the program has almost 70 athletes, and last fall, the program teamed up with Madison House.
Rachel Clark, Class of 2019 alumna and one of Madison House’s 2018-2019 community engagement interns, began the process of reorganizing the program with help from the athletics staff.
“[Madison House] has resources, we have recognition, so it’s a way to get student athletes’ foot in the door when it comes to getting involved with the University’s student community, as well as the Charlottesville community, too,” Clark said.
ACE sends volunteers to Cale, Jackson Via, Johnson, Venable and Walker Upper elementary schools. However, the program’s basic purpose — to connect local teachers with University students that serve as classroom aides — is not unique within Madison House programming. The well-established Cavs in the Classroom program operates in a similar way. What sets ACE apart is its total dedication to student athletes, including a method of pairing teachers and students that defers more to the volunteers’ inflexible schedules.