When Mary Hay began speaking to students at St. Philip the Apostle School in Camp Springs on April 18, she thought she was going to be congratulating them for their participation in the school’s Math-A-Thon, which this year raised $35,000 for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital under her leadership. Instead, Hay got a large “congratulations” of her own when she learned that she had been selected to receive a 2018 Golden Apple Award, which recognizes teachers in the Archdiocese of Washington for their excellence as Catholic educators.

As Vicky McCann, the director for curriculum and instruction in the Archdiocese of Washington, announced that Hay was one of the 10 teachers in the archdiocese to receive the prestigious award this year, the screen that had been used for the previous presentation was lifted to reveal a banner congratulating her. Students erupted in cheers and waved pom-poms, as Hay’s father and grandfather came in to surprise her.

Hay, who attended St. Philip’s from kindergarten to eighth grade, now teaches third grade religion and is a resource teacher at the school, which means she works one-on-one with students who have special needs to help them achieve their reading, math, or study skill goals.

“One of the biggest aspects of my educational philosophy is I really feel that a Catholic school should be open to all families who wish for their child to receive a Catholic education,” said Hay. “And I am very lucky that I was able to have the role as a resource teacher, so I could have a direct hand in making sure that our school is accessible in appropriate ways for students who have various learning needs and can attend our school and learn the Catholic faith.”

Hay helps eighth grader Devin Harley by reading her tests to her, and Harley said, “If I need any help she will go over and beyond what I have asked for.”

On top of the instructional support that Hay gives her, Harley said every time they walk past each other in the hall she will always say “Hi” and ask how her day is going.

“She always says if I need any help or anything that she can help me or I can turn to God for support,” said Harley.

Another student whom Hay works with is Karlena Somerville, a second grade student with Down syndrome who in 2015 handed Pope Francis flowers when he arrived at Joint Base Andrews. Upon hearing the announcement about the Golden Apple Award, Karlena ran up to Hay and gave her a big hug.

“I love being able to share my faith every day, and I get to do that in my role as a resource teacher but also in my role teaching third grade religion,” said Hay. “It’s great being able to share my faith, which is so important to me, as well as answer a lot of children’s questions and watch them develop deeper prayer lives and deeper relationships with God.”

Noting that Hay is a lifelong member of St. Philip the Apostle Parish, the parish’s pastor, Father Ted Hegnauer, said, “She brings tremendous energy, creativity, passion and leadership to her work here.”

“She is a real asset and a real blessing to this school community and I am so happy that she is being honored with this award,” he added.

As a part of the Golden Apple Award, Hay and the other nine teachers will receive a $5,000 check and a golden apple, and they will be honored at a dinner in Washington with Cardinal Donald Wuerl to recognize their dedication to Catholic education.

Stephen Lamont, the principal of St. Philip the Apostle, noted that Hay’s love of God is most readily on display in the way that she “will give and give and give of herself.”

“She puts all of her students’ needs before her own. She works to make sure they can grow,” he said. “As the resource teacher, she understands that kids learn in different ways; that they face different challenges…she knows that she can help each one of these students and if she doesn’t know exactly how to help them at that moment, she is going to take the time to figure out how to help them…You can tell by the way that her students, and the ones who she works most closely with, love her so dearly that she’s got a true gift.”