As a middle school math and science teacher at St. Mary’s School in Landover Hills, Maryland, Laurie Maier believes she has to be there for her students, every day.

“I feel the most important job I have with these kids is to make a personal connection (with them), so they feel valued and have faith,” she said.

And when Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Washington closed in mid-March 2020 in accordance with government restrictions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Maier like Catholic school teachers across the archdiocese continued teaching her students through distance learning, using a variety of online platforms from her home.

“I Zoom-meet with them every day. I have math class in my living room and science class in my kitchen,” Maier said.

The veteran Catholic school educator has taught for the past 34 years at St. Mary’s School and before that taught for three years at Holy Family School in Hillcrest Heights. Her dedicated work has not gone unnoticed. This past year, she was one of 11 Catholic school teachers in the Archdiocese of Washington to receive the Golden Apple Award, and she was named to the Hall of Fame of her alma mater, Elizabeth Seton High School in Bladensburg.

And in mid-April, the National Catholic Educational Association announced that Maier was one of 27 honorees nationwide to receive the NCEA’s 2020 Lead. Learn. Proclaim. Award, highlighting outstanding work being done in Catholic education. Wendy Anderson, the associate superintendent for the Archdiocese of Washington, was also among the recipients of that award, chosen from among 150,000 Catholic school administrators and teachers across the country.

LaSandra Hayes, St. Mary’s principal, said she was thrilled for Maier to receive the award “because of the kind of educator and the kind of human being she is. She’s very authentic. She cares very deeply” for her students.

The principal noted how Maier devotes extra time to tutoring students and adjusts her teaching “so all learners, no matter what their level, are able to grasp the concept that’s being taught.”

Maier grew up in a devout Catholic family of eight children in St. Pius X Parish in Bowie, and attended St. Pius X Regional School and Elizabeth Seton High School. Her father Leonard Stascavage worked as an electrical engineer for the Department of Defense, and also worked at a store in the evenings so his family could afford to send their children to Catholic school. Her mother, Catherine Stascavage, taught third grade for 25 years at St. Pius X.

“We grew up in a family where academics were important, but the kind of person you were superceded that,” Maier said.

She originally hoped to study for a career in medicine, but Maier went on to earn a degree in elementary education at Loyola College in Baltimore.

“That (teaching) was God’s path for me,” she said, later adding, “I was meant to be a teacher.”

In a 2019 photo, students at St. Mary's School in Landover Hills, Maryland celebrate with their middle school math and science teacher, Laurie Maier, after she was named as a Golden Apple Award winning teacher. (CS photo/Javier Diaz)

Maier’s son Christopher, a graduate of St. Mary’s School and then DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, earned a doctorate and now teaches anthropology at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Her principal praised Laurie Maier for witnessing to her Catholic faith, in and outside the classroom, quietly leaving Christmas presents on the porches of students in need and helping shovel snow from the driveways of elderly neighbors.

Hayes noted how this past Saturday, volunteers at St. Mary’s distributed 1,000 packets of food to people needing help in the wake of the coronavirus shutdown, “and she was there to help in that distribution of food.”

St. Mary’s principal said Maier teaches her students “they belong to God, (and) they are here to make a difference in their own lives and in the lives they’re connected to.”

Maier said it’s important to her that her students see “not only did I talk the talk, I walked the walk,” by reflecting her Catholic faith in her words and actions. She added, “Outside the classroom, I’m still a teacher. My faith leads everything I do.”

At the Golden Apple Awards dinner in 2019, Maier was chosen to speak on behalf of the award winning teachers, and she reflected on her work as a Catholic educator.

“We have a vocation, a calling to something of greater significance,” she said. “…The reason we teach in Catholic schools is because we put Jesus at the forefront of all that we do and all that we are and all that we know.”

Maier found a special home at St. Mary’s School, noting that the school is small and diverse, with 218 prekindergarten through eighth grade students.

“We’re a melting pot of cultures, and every culture is celebrated,” she said.

In her classes, Maier “goes out of her way to keep students engaged,” her principal said.

During the coronavirus shutdown as Maier continued teaching students from her home, she attached a whiteboard on her office doors for the math classes from her living room, where she taught eighth graders about factoring trinomials, seventh graders about solving simultaneous equations in slope intercept form, and sixth graders about applying percentages in real life math, calculating taxes, discounts and sales commissions.

In one of the YouTube “I Wonder Why” videos from her kitchen, St. Mary's teacher Laurie Maier showed how a drop of soap causes pepper particles to disperse, demonstrating the importance of washing your hands with soap. (Screen grab photo/Andrew Biraj)

For the science classes from her kitchen, Maier is posting YouTube videos titled “I Wonder Why?” and leading students in a variety of experiments using household items, including sprinkling pepper in a plate of water to show how just a drop of soap causes those particles to disperse, offering a lesson on why it’s important to wash your hands with soap to get rid of dirt or any bacteria or viruses.

At the end of that lesson, Maier asked students staying at home due to the coronavirus prevention measures to remember that, “Little by little, day by day, things will get better… Until next time, know I love you and will see you soon.”

On another day, her Google classroom topic was chromatography, and in her YouTube experiment, she drew a circle with a colored marker on a coffee filter, and then put that in water to demonstrate how the ring of color was diffused. 

Those experiments are designed to help students think about the scientific factors causing those results, and tie that into what they are learning in class.

Maier believes in the importance of having fun with her classes, whether she is leading the lessons in her classroom, or in her living room or kitchen, and in being there for her students, at school, when they are learning at home, or at school sporting events or dances.

Which adds up to another lesson that she hopes she gives her students, that “I showed up for them. If they can leave and show up for somebody else, I’ve done my job,” Maier said.