Nicole Hayes credits being raised in a homeschooling family with a military background as setting the foundation for what she refers to as her life’s vocation – being a Catholic elementary schoolteacher.

Hayes, a first grade teacher at St. Philip the Apostle School, Camp Springs, is one of 10 winners of the Archdiocese of Washington’s prestigious annual Golden Apple Teacher Awards, which recognizes excellence among archdiocesan Catholic schoolteachers.

Throughout her childhood, Hayes said her family moved frequently, but eventually settled during her middle school years in Waldorf, where she grew up in St. Peter’s Parish. Her dad served in the U.S. Marines and her mom served in the U.S. Army.

Hayes said her mother’s encouragement while homeschooling her and her two siblings through high school and her mom’s dedication as a religious education instructor at St. Peter’s led her to start thinking about pursuing a teaching major in college. “My mom taught me and religious ed, which really geared me toward my vocation,” she recalled.

In her high school years, Hayes, 29, taught pre-K religious education at St. Peter’s, which she credits as another inspiration to her becoming an elementary Catholic schoolteacher.

She went on to attend Frostburg State University where she received a bachelor’s in Early Childhood and Elementary Education. Two years later, she earned a master’s degree in reading from Frostburg.

Since 2010, Hayes has taught first grade at St. Philip the Apostle School. She describes first grade as a “huge year” full of challenges and major leaps in learning. She said what she enjoys most is teaching all the subjects and how the Catholic faith is present in all areas of academic life.

“Not only do you get to teach academics and help them in all subjects, but you get to show them how everything comes back to Christ,” she said. Hayes attends Mass at St. Mary’s Parish in Annapolis, where she resides.

“I have been able to see that Miss Hayes has been consistently a very important part of our school’s mission,” said Father Edward Hegnauer, pastor of St. Philip the Apostle Parish. “I have found her to be someone easy to work with and dedicated to her faith and vocation as a teacher.”

Reading literacy and proficiency is another subject area, which Hayes especially enjoys imparting to her young students. “When they take off and they are reading for fun, it’s great to see them reading and laughing and having a genuine love of books,” she said. “I love to watch that develop.” She said she particularly likes Dr. Seuss’ books for young kids.

Hayes said she is honored to be chosen for the Golden Apple Award. She is quick to praise school principal, Karen Clay, for her encouragement, support and positive energy among the 200-member student body.

On the day her Golden Apple award was announced at school, Hayes said she was taken by complete surprise, even as a banner was unfurled in her honor. “I was thrown completely off guard!” she said. 

As Hayes reflects on her chosen career path, she said it is more than just a job, but something she truly felt called to do and where the love of her Catholic faith and teaching are inextricably combined.

“A job is what you do to make money and pay the bills,” said Hayes. “Working in a Catholic school, you can truly live out your vocation.”