When Christopher Hayes entered the hall at St. Mary’s School in Bryantown, Maryland, on April 1, he thought he walked into some elaborate April Fools’ joke. He was greeted by a flurry of red, white, and blue, with students waving small American flags to celebrate their history and religion teacher, who was one of 11 Archdiocese of Washington Catholic school teachers to be named a Golden Apple Award winner for 2019.

“For a guy who doesn’t stop talking in the classroom, I don’t know what to say,” Hayes said. 

Hayes is the 10th teacher at St. Mary’s School in Bryantown to receive the award over the years. He has taught fifth grade and sixth grade social studies and sixth grade religion since 2014. Members of his family were present at the surprise, including his mother, grandmother, and sister, who were and are teachers as well.

“Our family is good evidence that teaching is in the blood,” Hayes said. 

The annual award recognizes a teacher’s excellence, leadership, and commitment to Catholic education. At the awards dinner at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington on May 16, Hayes and his fellow honorees will receive a golden apple, a certificate, and a $5,000 check. The awards were established in this archdiocese more than 10 years ago through the support of the Pittsburgh-based Donahue Family Foundation established by Jack and Rhodora Donahue, who sent their 13 children to Catholic schools. 

Hayes credited the students of St. Mary’s for the excellence of the teachers. 

“Teachers are great because students are great,” he said. 

Hayes emphasized faith, along with humility and lifelong learning, as fundamental to his teaching style and his growth as a teacher. He used the story of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples to explain his own service. 

“That is an example we are to follow: to humble ourselves and spend our lives serving others, like our students,” Hayes said. 

“Mr. Hayes fits into our mission here at St. Mary’s because he lives his faith daily, in the classroom and out of the classroom,” principal Sharon Caniglia said. “He’s very humble, very compassionate.” 

The award-winning teacher said, “The religion is tied in [...] When I’m here at St. Mary’s in Bryantown, it’s the whole culture, it goes beyond the classroom.” 

Caniglia said Hayes is a “lover of history” who was also named a Charles County History Day Teacher of the Year for his teaching history in the wider community. Caniglia recalled a picture she received from the sixth graders’ field trip to Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, in which the students put Hayes “in the stocks.”

Whether he is starting the morning off with a joke or anecdote or telling the Scripture stories of the prophet Gideon, Hayes’ style is not the textbook method, his sixth-grade student Tristan Tonic said. 

“He always gives us a nice little laugh,” Tonic said. “His smile will make your day.” 

Ross and Brigitte Wehr and their sixth-grade daughter Ava nominated Hayes for the award when they saw how excited about learning their daughter was at the end of each school day. 

“Thank you for making learning fun,” Brigitte Wehr said, “and for making the sixth grade such a happy place for our family.” 

Christopher Hayes, a middle school religion and social studies teacher at St. Mary's School in Bryantown, Maryland, is one of the 2019 Golden Apple Award winning teachers from Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Washington. (CS photo/Javier Diaz)