LA PLATA, Md.—The Board of Education at its Dec. 11 meeting honored five Charles County Public Schools (CCPS) staff members for their dedication and commitment to teaching and learning, and for making a difference in the lives of students.
Honored were Maggie Fitzgerald, a Spanish teacher at Piccowaxen Middle School; Eileen Holden, a third-grade teacher at Berry Elementary School; Jennifer Joyner, a drama teacher at La Plata High School; Keith Juarez, the technology facilitator at Eva Turner Elementary School; and Laura Kelly, an art teacher at Dr. Thomas L. Higdon Elementary School.
Fitzgerald has been teaching Spanish to students at Piccowaxen for several years and is also certified to teach math and art. She currently teaches several Spanish classes, sixth-grade art and helps to co-teach math. Fitzgerald was recently selected to pilot new textbooks in her Spanish classes and sponsors the school's Spanish Book Club. She is enthusiastic in the classroom and presents fun and engaging lesson plans for students. Fitzgerald is a role model and often receives visits from new teachers to observe her in the classroom. She is well known among Piccowaxen parents as a teacher who is consistent and committed to maintaining relationships with students. Fitzgerald also oversees the school's Sunshine Committee, co-sponsors the Student Government Association (SGA) and organizes events for school staff. Piccowaxen Principal Wendell Martin said Fitzgerald helps to boost staff morale. "She hosts art classes for morale boosting among colleagues. She sets up staff luncheons and helps to interpret for our Spanish-speaking families. She is an integral part of our school community," Martin wrote in a nomination letter.
Joyner is the performing arts department chair at La Plata, where she has been teaching theater since 2007. With her leadership, students have won the one-act competition at the Maryland Thespian Festival and advanced to the International Thespian Festival. Joyner has also had several additional solo and group performers advance to the International Thespian Festival. She oversees both the fall and spring productions at La Plata and works with students to also put on a winter production. She takes acting classes in both Washington, D.C., and New York City, and is an active member of the Screen Actors Guild and Actor's Equity Association. Joyner recently starred in the Riverside Dinner Theatre's production of "On Golden Pond," and also had a part in the 2016 Oscar nominated movie "Loving." Additionally, Joyner has helped the school thespian troupe receive excellent marks at the state festival and work toward the goal of being the first school in Maryland to advance a full-length production to the festival. La Plata Principal Douglass Dolan said Joyner is an example of a teacher who puts her students first. "Her productions are enjoyed by all ages and bring people from all over the country. She is making a difference for our students and we appreciate all of her hard work. Her proudest moments in teaching have come when former students continue to work in the entertainment business," Dolan said.
Juarez is an integral part of the teaching staff at Turner. He helped to restructure the school's check-in, check-out program to help students achieve success. His commitment to build and maintain meaningful relationships with students and parents is apparent in his actions. Juarez models "we rise by lifting others," takes time during his lunch and planning period to check on students, and is the go-to for anyone with technology questions. A project of note recently launched by Juarez is the use of a life size bingo board to increase staff morale. Pieces on the board require staff to do things such as write three positive referrals, share a teaching practice with a colleague or attend a student event. His students are excelling in programs such as DreamBox and Microsoft Office, and he presents content in fun and engaging ways. Juarez also coordinated a neighborhood walk for staff to visit Turner families to help change community perceptions. He serves in leadership roles such as team leader, Mathematics, Engineering and Science Achievement (MESA) sponsor, public relations liaison, Synergy coordinator and oversees the production of the school newsletter. Turner Principal Ingrid Williams-Horton said Juarez is a professional and important part of the school team. "Mr. Juarez serves in the best interests of others. He visits classrooms to offer support or listen to the needs of students and teachers. He takes pride in his work, but ultimately he takes pride in serving others," Williams-Horton wrote in a nomination letter.
Holden is a longtime CCPS staff member and began her career as a special education teacher. She has been teaching at Berry for the past 11 school years and has worked with students in inclusion, gifted education, accelerated math and third-grade classes. She is the grade-level team leader and works hard to plan and prepare engaging lesson plans. She proudly displays the work of her students in school hallways. Holden's commitment to student success is her main priority and she goes above and beyond to connect with each student in her class. She demonstrates a high degree of pride in her work and an exemplary work ethic. Recently, Holden helped to teach third graders sign language to perform a song at the schoolwide Veterans Day program. She has also served as a member of Relay for Life, and the social, volunteer recognition, talent show and early education night committees. Holden also has a running buddy through the Girls on the Run in Charles County group. Berry Principal Lou D'Ambrosio said Holden is an example of a teacher committed to education. "Her work ethic is evidenced by the time she takes to prepare her classroom and lessons for her students each day. She works hard to provide her students with the tools they need to succeed in her class," D'Ambrosio wrote in a nomination letter.
Kelly is a longtime art teacher at Higdon and provides students with instruction that inspires them to do their best. Her students work hard to create projects that use a variety of mediums and art techniques. Kelly often uses her planning time to work with students who need to complete a project or who are in need of individual teacher support to enhance their work. She mentors struggling students and her hard working nature has earned her the respect and admiration of students, staff and parents. Kelly inspires students to enter local art shows and helps to build their confidence toward their artistic endeavors. She photographs school events to celebrate student and staff accomplishments, and helps whenever she is needed. Kelly is also a leader among her colleagues and has served as the specials area team leader, member of the Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS) committee, yearbook sponsor and bus coordinator. Higdon Principal Kathleen Morgan said Kelly is an exceptional member of the school team. "Ms. Kelly presents different artists and their styles to promote students' creativity and individual artistic talents. Laura regularly makes cross content connections to enhance students' work and she incorporates writing as a form of formative assessment to have students reflect on their completed work," Morgan wrote in a nomination letter.
The Board at its monthly meetings honors exemplary CCPS students and staff for their accomplishments.