Hannah Ruckstuhl, a second-grade teacher at St. Mary of the Assumption School in Upper Marlboro, has spent more than half her life at the Prince George’s County School.

“I have been here for 19 of my 34 years,” Ruckstuhl said. She has been a part of the school community there as a student, as the mother of a student, and now as an award-winning educator.

Ruckstuhl was recognized recently as one of 10 Archdiocese of Washington Catholic school teachers to be named as a Golden Apple Award winner. The annual award recognizes a teacher’s professional excellence, leadership, commitment to Catholic values, and devotion to teaching.

“I am so proud of her, and she is certainly more than qualified for this award,” said St. Mary’s principal Steve Showalter. Showalter knows Ruckstuhl well. He is not only her principal at the school, but he was her teacher when Ruckstuhl was a student there.

Showalter said that as a student, “Hannah was a delightful young lady and a go-getter and even then I could see the teacher in her,” he said, adding that he still sees those qualities in her today. “She is a leader on several teams and committees and is a real go-to person.”

He is the former teacher of two of this year’s Golden Apple Award winners: Ruckstuhl and Justin McClain, a theology and Spanish language teacher at Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville. He taught them during their seventh and eighth grades at the Upper Marlboro School.

“They were both attentive. They were both tuned in. They were both good kids,” Showalter said of the award-winning teachers.

Not only is Ruckstuhl a teacher and former student at St. Mary’s, she is the third of four generations of her family to attend the school. Her grandmother and mother were students at the school, and her daughter, Grace, is currently a first grader there. In addition, Ruckstuhl’s mother, Michele Young, is a reading specialist at the school.

The school, Ruckstuhl said, has maintained “the same values and core principles” through the four generations of her family who have attended there.

As a second-grade teacher, Ruckstuhl said, “I prepare them (her students) for two milestones in their lives: First Penance and First Holy Communion.”

“It is a moving experience to help children grow in their faith and to see so much spiritual growth in them,” she said. “I want the kids to see Jesus is their friend and that He wants to love them. I don’t want them to fear Him.”

Father Thomas LaHood, pastor of the parish, called Ruckstuhl “a committed and loving teacher.”

“I have worked with her primarily in the sacramental formation of the students preparing for First Confession and First Communion,” Father LaHood said. “I have observed her love of her students and her love for the faith, which she shares with them.”

Outside of the classroom, Ruckstuhl has represented her school on several archdiocesan committees, and she initiated the “footprints program” at the school that “catches kids being good.” It is a program where a student’s good behavior – not bad behavior – draws the attention of educators.

“Teaching takes a lot of patience, but it is a very fulfilling job,” she said. “I love the interaction with the kids and their families.”

Ruckstuhl and her fellow Golden Apple honorees will be recognized by Cardinal Donald Wuerl at a May 4 awards dinner in Washington. Each of the honored teachers will receive a golden apple, a certificate and a $5,000 award.

The Golden Apple Award was established in this archdiocese more than 10 years ago through the generous support of the Pittsburgh-based Donahue Family Foundation established by Jack and Rhodora Donahue, who sent their 13 children through Catholic schools and created the award to show appreciation for Catholic school teachers who provide a quality academic and faith-filled education to their students.