As the second grade teacher at St. Raphael School in Rockville, Maryland, Kasey Trees loves preparing her students to receive the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist. Seeing the 7 and 8-year-olds come out of the confessional after their first Confession “just bubbling with excitement,” is “pure joy,” she said. 

“It’s the highlight of my year, every year,” Trees said. 

This spring, the Catholic Schools Office of the Archdiocese of Washington named Trees as one of the 2020 Golden Apple Award recipients for teaching excellence, which recognizes 10 Catholic school teachers from throughout the archdiocese.  

A Bethesda native, Trees began teaching in 1984 when she graduated from Mount Saint Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland. She said she knew as she was graduating from high school that she wanted to work with kids, as she was surrounded by kids all her life. Her first job was at St. Jane de Chantal School in Bethesda, which she attended as a young girl. 

“I didn’t really know where I was going to teach, but I knew that I wanted to teach in a school that was similar to the schools that I had gone to,” Trees said, adding that she attended Catholic schools from first grade through college. 

From there, she fell in love with Catholic schools. “Once I got into it, I knew I wasn’t going to switch out of Catholic schools,” she said.

On and off for the next 35 years, Trees spent her time teaching and then raising her own children. She taught at the St. Raphael Nursery School as well as some substitute teaching at other local Catholic schools. She has now taught the second grade at St. Raphael School for 11 years. 

“I’m very proud to say that I’ve been a part of building the grades as they go up and watching the school become the Blue Ribbon School that it is,” she said. In 2019, the U.S. Department of Education named St. Raphael School as a National Blue Ribbon School.

Bringing the faith into the classroom is just one aspect of being a Catholic School teacher that she loves. 

“Faith is a huge piece of it,” Trees said. “I have the pleasure, the honor of preparing (the students) for the sacraments of Reconciliation and First Communion. And I get to work my faith into math, reading, social studies, all sorts of things, and there’s no hesitation… The kids are used to it. It’s part of their DNA.” 

The faith formation begins in the preschool, Trees said, so that “when they get to me in second grade, they know the importance of it, and they feel the excitement.” 

For the second graders, receiving the sacraments makes them the “stars of the school” for the year, Trees said – and the whole school comes together to help celebrate them.

“The older kids will share their feelings of when they were getting ready to make their First Reconciliation… and it helps them,” she said. 

Due to distance learning earlier this spring in response to the coronavirus pandemic, her second grade class for the 2019-20 school year will receive their First Reconciliation and First Communion in the fall as third graders, and Trees will still be there to accompany them through the sacraments. 

Beyond that, Trees said she appreciates the family spirit of the school community and the partnership she is able to have with the parents.

“The parents have always been supportive and they embrace things, they listen, and they feel free to share with me,” she said. “Our communications are open. They’re willing to do for their children what needs to be done.” 

Throughout the past few months of distance learning, Trees said she missed her students and the ability to teach hands-on, but that her students made it better as they sent her pictures of them doing their homework to send along with their assignments. 

“They want the connection so much, and I appreciated getting all of those fun little messages from them,” she said. “But it just makes you miss them more.” 

As the recipient of the Golden Apple Award, Trees joins nine other teachers from archdiocesan Catholic schools to receive a $5,000 award, as well as a golden apple and a certificate. 

“I’m proud and humbled by the fact that I was nominated,” she said. “Honestly, this online learning was such a shift for me… and I wasn’t feeling my best because I was missing the kids so much… But my son said to me, ‘This Golden Apple is not for online learning, this Golden Apple is for your 25 years, your experience that you’ve had.’… I’m humbled by it… but I’m also so proud of my kids and the place where I work.” 

Teri Dwyer, the principal at St. Raphael, said Trees is a “master teacher who is always learning more and wanting to refine her skills.” 

“She is aware that education is not one size fits all and she is relentless in her efforts to attempt to find what works for each of her little ones,” Dwyer wrote in an email. “She loves her students and they love her! Kasey gets the St. Raphael difference and lives our mission!” 

Trees and her husband, Jeff, have been married for almost 36 years live in the local Washington, D.C. area and they are the parents of three children and grandparents to three, with three more on the way this summer.