A Cockeysville resident and middle school math teacher at Notre Dame Preparatory School, in Towson, will be honored by the National Catholic Educational Association this spring for her leadership, faith and commitment to learning.
The association recently named Mary Agnes Sheridan, 49, who grew up in Towson, as one of 41 people who work in Catholic education nationwide who will receive the "Lead. Learn. Proclaim. Award" at the association's national convention in St. Louis in April. Sheridan is one of three educators in Maryland to win the award, and the only teacher to win it from the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
The award recognizes outstanding contributions to Catholic education, according to the association's website, and is based on the criteria in the award's name. To "proclaim" means to embrace one's Catholic identity, according to the group.
The association is the largest private educational professional association in the world, according to its site, with a focus on leadership development and being a voice for Catholic schools. Its members include 150,000 educators and 1.9 million students.
Margaret Kaplow, a public relations manager for the National Catholic Educational Association, said in an email that an awards committee selects winners from nominations and that, therefore, no one person at the organization could speak about why Sheridan was chosen specifically.
Sheridan, who has spent much of her life either learning in or working for Catholic schools, was once called a "math angel" by a parent because of the extra work she puts in after class to help students at the all-girls school feel confident in their skills, said Cami Colarossi, Notre Dame Prep's communications director.
Sheridan also played an integral role in the creation of the school's new Middle Level Innovation Lab, which opened at the start of this school year, providing a vision for it, Colarossi said. The lab, which contains 3D printers, a station for robotics, a video studio and interactive and collaborative computer stations, offers students a place where they can explore a variety of science, technology, engineering, art and math concepts. The lab is available for use by all middle school teachers at the school.
In addition to teaching math, Sheridan is Notre Dame Prep's middle school level STEAM coordinator. STEAM is an acronym that refers to the combined disciplines of science, technology, engineering, art and math
She was nominated for the award by the school's principal, Laurie Jones.
"Her love for her students, her passion for learning and teaching and, I think, her ability to inspire her colleagues makes her a very well-deserving recipient of the award," Jones said.
Sheridan's nomination was also supported by letters from the school's headmistress, Sister Patricia McCarron, who is Sheridan's older sister; a fellow teacher; a parent and sixth grader Catherine Bowen. In her letter, Catherine, who has Sheridan as a math teacher and adviser, said the instructor is dedicated to teaching and kind to everyone.
"She is like a mother to her students," Bowen wrote in the letter. "Her enthusiasm for our STEAM program has rubbed off on each of us."
Sheridan attended St. Pius X School in Towson, Institute of Notre Dame high school in Baltimore, and Notre Dame of Maryland University, in Baltimore She earned a Master's degree in math from Boston College in 1992.
She worked at Notre Dame Prep for two years, then left for an opportunity in higher education. In 2011 she returned to the school to teach math, which she said is a common thread in a variety of subjects, such as art and science.
"It seemed to me to be a way to connect to many different ideas and interests, but at the same time it was simplistic and beautiful," she said.
Math doesn't merely teach students how to calculate but also how to solve problems, she added.
"Giving them the confidence to understand a subject, and have it relate to everything they do, is a really important part of my work," Sheridan said. "And I really love being in a Catholic school doing that."
Jones added that Sheridan's Catholic faith is another reason she was nominated for the award. Sheridan starts every class with a prayer that encourages students to communicate, learn, grow and to do so "with love, no matter what, no matter when."
The frosted-glass inscription on the front entrance to Notre Dame Prep inspires her daily, Sheridan said: The School Sisters of Notre Dame Welcome You.
The School Sisters are an international organization of vowed women who operate Notre Dame Prep, Notre Dame of Maryland University and Institute of Notre Dame.
Sheridan said she feels the strength of sisters who have taught and influenced her when she enters the school and knows that they are praying for her "for whatever issue, whatever child, whatever need there is for that day," she said.
"I really feel that strength as I push open that door and think, 'OK, be with me today.'"