Kelly Nichols, a second grade teacher at St. Peter School in Olney,is a 2018 Golden Apple Award winning teacher.
CS PHOTOS BY JACLYN LIPPELMANN Kelly Nichols, a second grade teacher at St. Peter School in Olney,is a 2018 Golden Apple Award winning teacher.
Kelly Nichols, a second grade teacher at St. Peter School, Olney, is grateful for the educators in her life who inspired her to pursue a teaching career early on, seeing in her the gifts of a dedicated teacher even before she realized it herself.

“I’m so thankful for all the examples in my life,” she said. “I’m the luckiest girl in the world.”

Nichols is one of 10 winners of the Archdiocese of Washington’s prestigious annual Golden Apple Award, which recognizes excellence among archdiocesan Catholic schoolteachers.  During a banquet ceremony later this month, the honorees will be presented with a golden apple, a certificate and a $5,000 prize.

A veteran educator of more than 20 years, Nichols has been a teacher for 17 of those years in Catholic schools, beginning her career in the Diocese of Wilmington. In the Archdiocese of Washington, she taught for seven years at St. Martin of Tours School, Gaithersburg, and is currently in her fourth year of teaching at St. Peter School.

Of her more than two-decades-long profession teaching second through fifth grades, primarily in Catholic schools, she said, “I’ve loved every minute of it.”

A native Washingtonian, Nichols, 52, grew up in Prince George’s County. She graduated from La Reine High School, a now-closed all-girls Catholic school in Suitland. Nichols said it was one of her teachers at La Reine, a Bernadine Sister of St. Francis, who first recognized her future teaching abilities.

“I was going to be a nurse, but one day Sister Sharon said to me, ‘Kelly, I think you are going to be a teacher.’  I now see God was working there the whole time,” she said.

Nichols attended Salisbury State University, earning a bachelor’s degree in elementary education.  During her college years, she said a dynamic and inspiring professor helped narrow her focus to concentrate on early childhood education.  She credits those high school and college educators as her inspirations to pursue “exactly what is the love of my life.”

Early on in Nichol’s teaching career in Wilmington, she recalls a mother who often volunteered in her classroom. Nichols said that parent’s example of a quiet, steadfast witness to the Catholic faith had a significant impact on her life and drew Nichols and her husband, Greg, to convert to Catholicism.

“She was a remarkable leading example and one of the main reasons I converted. I had found my true faith. The Holy Spirit was working,” said Nichols, who is a parishioner of Mother Seton Parish, Germantown.

In nominating Nichols for the Golden Apple Award, her St. Peter School colleagues describe her as someone who “shows great respect for her students … She considers every member of her classroom to be part of a team. This encourages a sense of belonging, of each part of the whole being essential to the workings of the group. It encourages cooperation and ownership among the students.”

Nichols said an added blessing of being a second grade teacher is preparing her young students for their First Penance and First Holy Communion, carrying on the faith witness she first experienced as a young teacher.

Guiding her students in their religious formation and being a part their faith journey to help them “prepare (for the sacraments) is such a joy,” Nichols said.

As she reflects on her Golden Apple honor, Nichols said being able to infuse all subjects areas with God and His Commandments or simply taking a moment to pray with an anxious student are the great privileges of teaching in a Catholic school. “There’s nothing else like it,” she said.