Skip to main content

Participating in ACE in India kickstarted Maddie Hess’ love of working with children. A former Duke Women’s Swimming and Diving team member, Hess is now a full time third grade teacher. Hess shares how ACE helped her explore goals beyond athletics. She is still finding ways to combine her love of sport and education, partnering with non-profit Girls on the Run to create a running club at her elementary school.

What are you doing now? How did ACE influence your academic or career path?

I’m currently a 3rd grade teacher in East Harlem, NYC and about to begin my fourth year! Crazy how time flies. At the end of my senior year, I applied for Teach For America, a program that places prospective teachers in low income schools. I was placed at Harlem Prep Elementary and have never looked back!

A large reason why I looked into TFA to begin with was due to my ACE experience. In India, I got a glimpse of how impactful education can be and got to work alongside some incredible people. This was my first taste of what working with kids was like – and I instantly loved their energy and humor. Same can be said about working in Harlem!

Additionally, while working full time, I earned a Masters of Education in 2021 and plan to eventually to go back for a doctorate. With my time in Harlem, I’ve learned that school is a place for more than merely academics. This past spring, a colleague and I decided we wanted to create a running club at our school. We partnered up with a non profit, Girls on the Run, and successfully completed our first season!

“It was one of those moments which you realize community and connection is something to never take for granted.”

– Maddie Hess, ACE in India 2018

21 girls and 12 weeks of training – at the end, we organized a 5k run in which families, friends, and classmates came to cheer. It was one of those moments which you realize community and connection is something to never take for granted. Many of our girls had never ran or been a part of an organized sports team – something that was a huge staple for me growing up. Starting this club gave our kids the chance to be a part of something bigger than themselves and a chance for me to be Coach Hess – a title I will always cherish.

Lastly, I am excited to be taking on an additional role this year that will allow me to utilize more of my academic background and personal interest! I will be the Department Chair for Science and Social Studies. I will be overseeing curriculum for all grade levels and coaching teachers in my department. Now that I’m done rambling about my life update, I do want to mention one thing. None of this might have happened if I didn’t reapply the following summer. Thank you for pushing me and giving me a chance. And for that, I am eternally grateful.

group standing in front of mural
Fellow ACE in India participants Nathaniel, Cassidy, and I outside of SPYM

Do you have one particular story during your ACE experience that changed the way you now think about something?

One odd thing I remember about my ACE experience is that everyone was obsessed with Justin Bieber. It was the strangest thing. You could walk down the street and hear one of his top chart songs playing out of a rickshaw. The kids I worked with would constantly bring him up and try to style their hair similar to the “Bieber Hair”. Some markets even had purple JB posters for sale. It made me realize how much of an impact western culture, especially Hollywood, has on the rest of the world.

Describe your ACE experience in as few words as possible.

Eye opening, reflective, team-oriented.

How did ACE impact you as a student-athlete?

As a former student athlete, I think ACE plays an important role in allowing students to see themselves in a world outside of athletics. Before my experience, I had complete tunnel vision in the pool. I hadn’t really thought about what I wanted to do after retirement and post grad. Volunteering in New Delhi gave me an opportunity to channel my energy towards a new goal and learn about myself out of the water. I didn’t leave knowing exactly what I wanted to do, but I got a sense of vocation to continue in civic engagement.