By JESSICA ABLE
Record Staff Writer
Phyllis Elbert Dries, a teacher at St. Patrick School, has been awarded the National Catholic Educational Association’s (NCEA) Distinguished Teacher Award for 2012.
The third-grade teacher has spent more than a quarter of a century educating and nurturing students in the Archdiocese of Louisville — 16 of those years have been at St. Patrick School, 1000 N. Beckley Station Road.
In a recent interview at the school, Dries said she especially appreciates the vitality and enthusiasm of her students.
“I love being with children and being around their energy and excitement. I love getting to know them and finding out their strengths,” Dries said in a recent interview at St. Patrick School. “I love those little ‘a-ha moments’ when they finally get something.”
As a young girl, Dries said, she knew she wanted to pursue teaching as a career.
“I’m so blessed that I knew what I wanted to do and that I had the opportunity to do it,” she said.
She remembers her teachers at Our Lady of Lourdes School and Sacred Heart Academy (many of whom were Ursuline sisters) as being very accepting and nurturing.
“In high school I had Mrs. Helen Mazzoli (wife of former U.S. Congressman Romano Mazzoli). She was very professional. Also she was fair and she had high expectations of her students,” Dries recounted.
Dries attended the University of Louisville where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in elementary education and a master’s in education as a reading specialist. She began her teaching career in the public school system, where she taught for five years. From there she taught at St. Martha School for 11 years. She has been teaching at St. Patrick since 1996.
Being able to encourage children in their Catholic faith is of utmost important to Dries.
“I hope to instill in my students a compassion for others and a love of our Catholic faith tradition,” she said. “It’s important that we can worship together as a school and pray together in the classroom.”
Dries, a soft-spoken individual who possesses a nurturing demeanor, said she is humbled by the award and all that it means.
“I feel like I’m accepting this award for all the teachers (who are) so dedicated to our students and who give so much of themselves to teaching our students, not only the core subjects but our Catholic Christian faith — that is so important,” she said.
“The people at this school, especially the third-grade team (Terri Lear and Diane McGrew), are very supportive. I also want to acknowledge Sarah Vanegas (classroom assistant), and our wonderful administrative team — Dr. Bratcher, Ms. Gardner and Father Martin Linebach, who is very dedicated to our school,” she said.
Dr. Michael Bratcher, St. Patrick principal, says Dries’ commitment to her profession is evident.
“She is the first one here everyday and makes coffee for the teachers every morning. And often times she is one of the last to leave,” he noted.
In his nomination letter to the national association, he applauded Dries’ commitment to Catholic education.
“Phyllis’ commitment to Catholic education is admirable. I could go on about her professionalism and effectiveness as an educator; however, the most important fact is that Phyllis is genuine in her approach to our students,” the letter said.
After all her years as an educator Dries says she still gets energized at the beginning of each school year.
“For me teaching is a ministry. I enjoy coming to school and enjoy working with the children and having the opportunity to share the Catholic faith with them,” she said.
Dries is a member of St. Agnes Church. She will receive the NCEA award April 11 in Boston, Mass. Mary Gardner, St. Patrick School’s assistant principal, and three coworkers will accompany Dries to the awards ceremony. Also attending will be her three children, seven grandchildren and her four siblings.