By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
Two educators in the Archdiocese of Louisville were recognized with national teaching awards at the 16th annual Education Law Symposium at the Brown Hotel last month.
The 16th annual symposium was co-sponsored by the National Catholic Education Association and Loyola Marymount University’s Center for Catholic Education.
Paula Watkins, director of student achievement at Holy Trinity School, was recognized with the Edward M. Shaughnessy III Serving All God’s Children Award.
Mary Ann Hall, learning support program coordinator at Trinity High School, was recognized with the Edward M. Shaughnessy III Serving All God’s Children Lifetime Achievement Award. Hall was also the recipient of the Irene Casey Catholic Inclusion Award presented by the Archdiocese of Louisville in January.
Both awards presented July 7 honor an educator or other people in the United States who have made an outstanding contribution to inclusive Catholic education, said Sister of Charity of Nazareth Mary Angela Shaughnessy in an interview last week.
Sister Shaughnessy’s family instituted the award in honor of her brother following his death in 1999.
In her work as coordinator of the learning support program, Hall works with about 100 students who have varying degrees of specialized learning needs.
“I tell my students we all learn differently. Because of our learning differences, we have a leg up because we know what we need to work on. I tell them ‘If you can embrace your learning style, you can take ownership and can be the best advocate for yourself,’ ” she said.
Hall said, for her, teaching is not a job or a career, but a vocation.
“The students are why I’m here. I’m not here for a paycheck. I’m here to fulfill our mission,” she said. “In order to meet that we have to be able to support these young men to help them be the best they can be.”
Hall has served at the all boys’ school on Shelbyville Road for more than three decades, first as a teacher, then later as an administrator. She was the director of studies from 1994-2003, dean of studies for the academic and traditional programs from 2004-2008. In addition to her role as learning support program coordinator, she also currently serves as assistant principal.
She also taught first- through third-grade at Christ the King School from 1970-1973 and fourth- through eighth-grade at St. Margaret Mary School from 1975-1985.
Dan Zoeller, Trinity principal, said Hall has dedicated her life’s work to meeting the needs of students who have learning differences.
“She works with students who need extra help but who also need to be held accountable. She has a no-nonsense approach and is very good at meeting their needs and at the same time getting the most out of them,” Zoeller said.
Sister Shaughnessy said she has long known about the devotion Hall has shown for the students at Trinity and credits Hall with the growth and success of Trinity’s learning support program.
In her role as director of student achievement at Holy Trinity, Watkins serves about 80 students who have some sort of learning difference, whether that is dyslexia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or anxiety. She coordinates a team effort approach between parents and teachers in order to serve the individual needs of the student, Watkins said.
Prior to her time at Holy Trinity, she served as principal of St. Francis of Assisi School and as a teacher at Mother of Good Counsel School.
Watkins said she and the teachers she works closely with “do everything we can for every child in that classroom.”
“Ultimately we are called to educate all God’s children regardless of their physical needs, emotional needs or learning needs. I realize the difficulties in that … But, I know that’s what we are called to do,” Watkins said acknowledging the financial cost.
Working with a child who has Asperger’s syndrome or one who is on the autism spectrum, Watkins said, will look different than a child who has typical abilities.
“We are thinking outside the box. Their end result may be different than the child sitting next to them but everyone deserves to do that in a Catholic environment,” she said.
Jack Richards, Holy Trinity principal, said Watkins’ creativity and intelligence have transformed how Holy Trinity serves students with learning differences and their families.
“She walks this journey, this sometimes bumpy road, with them because she cares about who they are as students and as Catholic families,” Richards said.
Sister Shaughnessy said Watkins is changing Catholic education one student at a time.
“She’s devoted to providing a Catholic education to kids who otherwise wouldn’t have it,” she said.
Watkins will also head up Holy Trinity’s new endeavor — a dedicated campus that will serve children who have been diagnosed with language-based learning differences. Holy Trinity Clifton Campus is located in the former Clifton Center, 2117 Payne Street, which was once St. Frances of Rome Church’s school.
The school, set to open in August of 2019, aims to give students with language-based learning differences, such as dyslexia and severe Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, a faith-based education.
The goal of the school, Watkins said, is to bring them back into a typical classroom at their parish or regional school.
Sister Shaughnessy said her family is dedicated to honoring educators for their work in inclusive education because it’s what Jesus would do.
“Jesus said let all the little children come to me. He didn’t say the ones that are normal. That’s always been something important to me,” said Sister Shaughnessy, who has taught all levels of Catholic education. She also holds a juris doctorate and her research centers on the law as it affects Catholic education.
Sister Shaughnessy also noted that inclusive education can also benefit students with typical needs.
“I think it’s important for kids to see others that are not like them color wise, sex wise, ability wise. Some kids have special challenges and if you get used to kids being with you that’s the norm,” she said.
She added that inclusive education is preparation for the “world we live in.”
“We used to hide people with disabilities away; we don’t do that anymore. … I think there is a much greater openness than there used to be,” she said.
Two young adults were also honored at the symposium July 7. Chase Pomerleau and Nicholas Sneed were honored with the Michael Thomas Peters Memorial Award. Pomerleau is a 2018 graduate of Trinity High School. Sneed, a native of Springfield, Ky., attended St. Catharine College in St. Catharine, Ky., until it closed in 2016. He graduated from Campbellsville University this spring.
The award recognizes a student who has overcome considerable obstacles in the classroom, Sister Shaughnessy said.