During an All Saints’ Day Mass at St. Bartholomew School in Bethesda, Maryland, one year, surrounded by students dressed as saints, Kerry Parker’s daughter Keira was baptized into the Catholic faith. Parker, who teaches third grade, realized the community and students at St. Bartholomew were truly part of her family and wanted them to share her joy. 

“That’s how my life is at St. Bart’s, it’s just an extension of my home,” Parker said. 

And when Keira and Parker’s younger daughter Kallan appeared with her husband Scott and other relatives during a school assembly on April 2, Parker knew something big was happening. The students cheered as Parker was chosen as a 2019 Golden Apple Award winner. 

“I was in shock,” Parker said, adding that as the assembly began, she thought, “Whatever is happening, this is huge.” 

The Golden Apple Awards, annual awards presented to 11 teachers in the Archdiocese of Washington for their commitment to Catholic education, were founded through the generosity of the Donahue Family Foundation. Teachers will receive a golden apple, a certificate, and $5,000 at the awards ceremony on May 16 at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. 

At the assembly, Father Mark Knestout, pastor of St. Bartholomew Parish, prayed from St. Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians, in which the apostle compares the various members of the body which compose the whole to the one Body of Christ. 

“‘If one member of the body is honored, all members of the body rejoice,’” he read. “It is that wonderful lesson from St. Paul that reminds us we are a community, we’re a family of faith, we are St. Bart’s School together.”  

Parker is the third teacher at St. Bartholomew to receive a Golden Apple over the years. For Parker, teaching the third grade, which she has done since 2008, is more than a career. 

“I really put my heart and soul into -- it’s much more than a job -- into my vocation,” Parker said. “I get excited every day about seeing my third graders.” 

Her Catholic faith, Parker said, has really come into focus and has become a priority through her work. 

“I’ve really learned more about my own personal faith by being a Catholic school teacher at St. Bartholomew,” Parker said. “I find myself being able to connect everything to Jesus, because it’s really the only answer to the very important question, ‘What would He do?’” 

And whether Parker is teaching about Benjamin Franklin, helping students with art projects like the dream catchers they made after learning about Native Americans, or playing sports with her class, she seeks to show her third graders that Jesus is a friend who is with them all the time. 

“I literally join their games,” Parker said. “I’m ultimate pitcher for kickball, they actually request me.” 

Sophia Delaney, one of Parker’s students, said, along with enjoying the kickball games, she has learned from Parker the value of endurance in the spiritual life. 

“Ms. Parker has taught us no matter how hard it is, you need to still have faith in God,” Delaney said. 

Frank English, the principal at St. Bartholomew School, said Parker’s faith sets her apart as a teacher who inspires the next generation “in a way that hopefully gets them to heaven.” 

Amy Boccella Smith is a parent to children at St. Bartholomew, and a previous colleague and friend of Parker’s who nominated her for the award because of the gifts Parker brings to the community. 

“I am here and have been here so long because of the things that Ms. Parker does every day,” Boccella Smith said. 

“She comes in every day with her A-game,” she said. 

Parker said she hopes everyone can experience the joy and community that come from living one’s true vocation. 

“I hope everybody is like me, that they wake up happy and excited, literally singing in their cars on the way to work, like I do,” Parker said. “This place is my home.” 

She also said she hopes her students, whether when they are in fourth grade or years down the road, will remember third grade fondly and hold fast to the learning and faith cultivated there. 

“What’s really funny is that, when this is over, I’m going to have a free period, I’m going to call my third grade teacher, Mrs. Jackson in Ocean City, Maryland, and tell her about this,” Parker said.