February 1, 2018

Catholic school teachers honored with teaching excellence award

Story and photos by Carolee McGrath

Franciscan Sister of St. Joseph Andrea Ciszewski presents pre-school teacher Nicole Enderlin with the New Teacher Award at St. Michael Academy in Springfield.


SPRINGFIELD – Children and teachers gathered in the gym at St. Mary Academy in Longmeadow Tuesday, Jan. 30 for morning prayers. But their daily routine was suddenly interrupted by what’s become known as the “Prize Patrol,” out on a mission to honor dedicated teachers.

“I was very surprised,” said Mary Leclair, who has been teaching kindergarten for 30 years.

The “Prize Patrol” is led by Franciscan Sister of St. Joseph Andrea Ciszewski, superintendent of schools for the Springfield Diocese, and Gail Furman, associate superintendent. Armed with balloons and flowers, they presented Leclair with the Pioneer Valley Excellence in Teaching Award.

“I love being able to share my faith with the children. Our whole day is part of that. We start off the day with the whole school praying,” said Leclair.

“We celebrate birthdays together. We do a song and we always say, respect God, respect yourself, respect others, respect our school and respect life,” she continued.

The awards, launched by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation in 2002, are given annually to outstanding public and parochial school teachers in Franklin, Hampshire and Hampden counties.

Leclair and three other teachers from the diocese received the honor.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to recognize our teachers, who not only consider their daily work a job, but they go beyond that into ministry. As we know, they prepare all the children entrusted to their care to receive the best education possible,” said Sister Ciszewski.

Patricia Meade poses with her first grade class at St. Joan of Arc School in Chicopee.

The next stop on the Prize Patrol route was St. Joan of Arc School in Chicopee, where they surprised Patricia Meade in her grade one class.

“I’m really excited. It’s quite an honor. I love the children,” said Meade, who has been teaching at St. Joan of Arc for 26 years. Meade is a parishioner St. Rose de Lima Parish in Chicopee, across the street from the school.

“I love the fact that we can bring God into our class every day. I love that our church is right across the street. We can go to Mass monthly,” Meade said.

The Prize Patrol caught up to Maureen Jagodowski during a history lesson in her grade eight class at St. John the Baptist School in Ludlow.

“They’re beautiful,” said Jagodowski of her students. “I enjoy coming in every morning. That is a gift to me.”

Jagodowski, a member of St. Patrick Parish in South Hadley, has been teaching in Catholic schools for 32 years.

“I never expected this. It humbles you because in all honesty, you look around and see all the great work everybody is doing,” she said.

Winners receive $500, a scholarship to take graduate courses at local colleges, a three-month membership to a local YMCA, in addition to other prizes.

This year a relatively new teacher made the list. Twenty-five-year old Nicole Enderlin received the New Teacher Awar, for her work with pre-school children at St. Michael Academy in Springfield. Enderlin went to the former Holy Cross School, where St. Michael’s is located, and to the former Cathedral High School in Springfield.

Enderlin said faith has guided her career.

“It was always important growing up. It’s nice to instill that in the young ones, to teach them parts of the Mass, all the prayers. To know that I had that experience that changed my life. Now I’m doing that for these kids as well,” said Enderlin.

All award winners from both Catholic and public schools will be honored at a banquet at the Log Cabin May 2.