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Excellence in Catholic Education Nomination reflects long-time commitment to students and lifelong faith in action

The Catholic Diocese of Richmond annually recognizes excellence in teaching by honoring one representative from each school in the diocese. Saint Mary’s Principal Brandon Hess requested that faculty and staff nominate up to two candidates for this honor. This year, Señora Mercy Thompson was nominated by her peers to represent Saint Mary’s at an event held last week by the Diocese.

Thompson began teaching at Saint Mary’s in 1998 and has taught at our school for 24 years. She started as a preschool teacher, but was shortly recruited by principal, Hazel Lewane, who asked Thompson if she would help establish the first Spanish language program at Saint Mary’s. She agreed, and the result is that hundreds of students have since benefited from her gifts and her hard work.

After researching Spanish-language programs at other schools in Richmond and beyond, Thompson began with two classes in the elementary school. She and French teacher Robin Rooks worked together, offering students French one year and Spanish the next until the elementary classes had all had some Spanish. They then established Spanish for the middle school students, who could then prepare for high school language by having three consecutive years of either Spanish or French.

“The goal has always been to get our students to love language.”

Mercy thompson, ib world language teacher

Her instruction, as well as that of Elementary French and Spanish teacher Kathy Lee, and French teacher Jessica Healy, actually helps students improve not only in those languages, but in their English classes, too.

“One of the wonderful aspects of being part of our IB team is finding the overlaps in our classes across the curriculum to make interdisciplinary connections,” said Scott Schaefer, middle school Language and Literature teacher and the first winner of the of the Excellence in Education award for our region in 2018. “Years ago, I thought about how we learn our native language differently than how we learn our foreign languages in school.

Múltiples beneficios

“Our students know pronouns in English from being immersed in the language,” he said. “To learn conjugating verbs in their foreign language they have to use the same charts we do in our pronoun unit for grammar class, so every year when we learn pronouns and fill in the charts we do it in English, French, and Spanish. This leads to all sorts of other fantastic class dialogue each year.”

When she learned she’d received the Saint Mary’s nomination for the Excellence in Education award this year, Thompson said it was overwhelming and humbling.

“I think everyone’s really good,” she said.

Muy buena profesora

The Excellence in Education award honors educators who exhibit a strong commitment to education and to the Catholic faith. Thompson’s colleagues, who nominated her for the award, said things like:

“Mercy exemplifies excellence in her caring demeanor and her quiet strength…Her example both in the school and in the church are as a faithful follower of Jesus and a kind person who consistently looks out for others among her colleagues and students.”

Another said: “Mercy is thoughtful, faithful and dedicated to her profession — it’s not only what she teaches, but how she teaches it. She is thoughtful and insightful and always looking to find creative ways to engage her students.”

Another nomination read: “Mercy’s life, since I’ve known her, has been dedicated to her family at home and to her family at school. She is steadfast, smart, kind, helpful and compassionate. She is accessible to colleagues and students alike and embodies the kindness Jesus calls us to.”

Her dedication to her family influenced Thompson’s decision to retire at the end of this school year. In addition to wanting to spend more time with her daughters and three grandchildren, Thompson and her husband Tiger help take care of Thompson’s mother, who lives with them.

“I am going to miss the kids a lot,” she said. “Their stories are the stories I tell at my dinner table. I am going to miss the families – I love the people here. Saint Mary’s has always been my home away from home. My coworkers are like my family and the families here hold a special place in my heart.”