For Tricia Hancock, a seventh-grade math and reading teacher at Little Flower School in Great Mills, Maryland, the best part of her job is what she calls “the aha moment.”

“I love the ‘aha moment’ when you see the kids grasp something, when you see that lightbulb go on over their heads when they finally get something they have been grappling with,” she said.

Hancock’s love of teaching, her dedication to her students and her commitment to her vocation as a Catholic school educator has been honored by the Archdiocese of Washington. She is one of 10 archdiocesan educators this year to be named a Golden Apple Award winner.

The Golden Apple Awards, sponsored by the Donahue Family Foundation, honors outstanding Catholic school teachers in this archdiocese, and several other dioceses in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Jack and Rhodora Donahue, founders of the Pittsburgh-based foundation, sent their 13 children to Catholic schools, and established the award to show their appreciation for Catholic education.

The annual award recognizes a teacher’s professional excellence, leadership, commitment to Catholic values, and devotion to teaching in Catholic schools.

“There was never a question that I would teach in a Catholic school,” she said. “I am a product of Catholic schooling, I went to St. John’s (in Hollywood, Maryland) and St. Mary’s Ryken” High School in Leonardtown, Maryland.

“Catholic school is what I grew up with and what I love. I love being able to live my faith every day at school,” she added.

Hancock and her daughter, Dakota, belong to Our Lady of the Wayside Parish in Chaptico, Maryland. Dakota, who 8 years old, will make her First Holy Communion in July. She was originally scheduled to receive the sacrament this past spring, but it was delayed because of the temporary suspension of Masses in the Archdiocese of Washington as a safety measure to help slow the coronavirus pandemic.

Outside of the classroom, Hancock recently completed her catechesis certification and said she looks forward to serving her parish as a Eucharistic minister once COVID-19 precautions are lifted. She also plays softball, basketball and volleyball on adult recreation teams.

An eight-year veteran of Catholic School teaching, Hancock has been on the faculty at Little Flower for four years. Prior to that, she taught for four years at Mother Catherine Spalding School (now known as Mother Catherine Academy) in Mechanicsville, Maryland.

Over the years, Hancock has taught pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, first grade, third grade and now seventh grade.

“Middle school is very different from teaching the little kids, but very gratifying because you get to talk to them (the students) on a different level,” she said. “But teaching is about trying to find what is best for students and doing the best you can so that each student gets what they need.”

When Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Washington were temporarily closed due to COVID-19 and teaching began remotely, Hancock said she took some time to get adjusted to the new style of teaching.

“Distance teaching was difficult at first because I am a hands-on teacher. I like bringing in projects and doing things with the students,” she said. “It (distance learning) was hard, but I made sure I was available to my students for questions or to chat or for Zoom meetings when they needed extra help.”

It was during a Zoom meeting with fellow Little Flower faculty and staff members that Hancock learned she was being honored with a Golden Apple Award. “We were having our weekly Zoom meeting with the principal and (secretary of Catholic Schools) Bill Ryan and (associate superintendent) Wendy Anderson said they had an announcement to make,” she said.

“Tears were running down my face,” Hancock said of when the announcement was made. “I was so surprised and overwhelmed. I never thought this would happen to me.”

While the Golden Apple Award may have been a surprise for Hancock, Barbara Stirling, the principal of Little Flower School, knows that her teacher deserves the honor.

“Ms. Hancock’s dedication to Little Flower School knows no bounds,” Stirling said. “She is enthusiastic, energetic, compassionate and a delight to supervise. She has a tremendous dedication to God, her family and her community. We are blessed to have her on our staff.”

Hancock and her fellow Golden Apple Award winners each will receive a $5,000 prize, along with a golden apple, pin and certificate.