Charles County teacher awarded Crys­tal Ap­ple

Amer­i­can Le­gion Aux­il­iary gives top hon­ors to La Plata na­tive

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU jan­fen­son-comeau@somd­news.com

As Caitlin Westhall pre­pares to leave her na­tive La Plata for Ger­many, she has a new me­mento to take with her, a Crys­tal Ap­ple and the ti­tle “Teacher of the Year 2017” from the Amer­i­can Le­gion Aux­il­iary, De­part­ment of Mary­land.

Westhall said she was ex­tremely hon­ored to re­ceive this award at the state and lo­cal level.

“As any good teacher would likely say, I don’t work hard for the recog­ni­tion but for the kids. I truly care about each and ev­ery stu­dent,” Westhall said in an email. “While my time with Charles County has come to a close, I look for­ward to an ex­cit­ing fu­ture teach­ing over­seas as I re­lo­cate to Ger­many with my hus­band who is in the United States Air Force. If it is in my fu­ture, I wel­come the op­por­tu­nity to re­turn to Charles County Pub­lic Schools where I have blos­somed as an ed­u­ca­tor.”

The state Amer­i­can Le­gion Aux­il­iary or­ga­ni­za­tion pre­sented Westhall, re­cently an English teacher at Gen­eral Small­wood Mid­dle School, with its top teacher award dur­ing its an­nual con­ven­tion July 13. She later re­ceived her award from the lo­cal post that nom­i­nated her on July 29.

The Amer­i­can Le­gion Aux­il­iary was formed in 1919 as a women’s pa­tri­otic ser­vice or­ga­ni­za­tion; its mis­sion is to sup­port the Amer­i­can Le­gion and to en­hance the lives of vet­er­ans,

ser­vice mem­bers and their fam­i­lies, at home and abroad, ac­cord­ing to the na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion’s web­site.

Westhall, the wife of an Air Force ser­vice­man cur­rently serv­ing in South Korea, was rec­og­nized in part for the ways in which she has in­cor­po­rated the military into her les­son plan, en­cour­ag­ing stu­dents to write cards to Air Force per­son­nel in ba­sic train­ing, cre­at­ing a pen pal pro­gram be­tween stu­dents and air­men and ar­rang­ing for her hus­band Alexan­der Westhall to speak with stu­dents dur­ing Ca­reer Day via Skype from South Korea.

Westhall was named the Charles County fi­nal­ist for the state ti­tle by the Amer­i­can Le­gion Harry White Wilmer Post 82 Aux­il­iary in April.

Linda Rollins, chair­woman of Post 82’s ed­u­ca­tion com­mit­tee, said Westhall ex­em­pli­fied ex­cel­lence in teach­ing as well as the aux­il­iary’s core mis­sion of sup­port­ing ser­vice mem­bers and vet­er­ans.

“We would have been sur­prised if she wasn’t cho­sen [for the state award],” Rollins said. “We felt for cer­tain that when we sent her nom­i­na­tion up, that we had a win­ner.”

Rollins said four out of the five past Crys­tal Ap­ple win­ners have been from Charles County.

“We have a lot of great teach­ers here in Charles County, who don’t get the recog­ni­tion they de­serve,” Rollins said.

Westhall grew up in La Plata and was part of North Point High School’s first grad­u­at­ing class in 2009. She at­tended the Col­lege of Southern Mary­land be­fore trans­fer­ring to the Univer­sity of Mary­land Col­lege Park for her bach­e­lor’s and master’s de­grees in ed­u­ca­tion.

Westhall said that when she grad­u­ated, she wanted to come back to Charles County to teach. Her mother, An­gel Wil­lett, also works for the school sys­tem. Westhall be­gan her ca­reer at Gen­eral Small­wood Mid­dle School in 2014.

She said teach­ing turned out to be even more chal­leng­ing than she thought it would be.

“My first year of teach­ing, I came home in tears al­most ev­ery day,” Westhall re­called. Still, she stuck with it and be­came ac­tively in­volved both in­side and out­side her school com­mu­nity.

In her let­ter of nom­i­na­tion, Kathy Kiessling, prin­ci­pal of Gen­eral Small­wood, said Westhall is the first to step up when there is a chal­lenge.

“As a teacher, Mrs. Westhall does not shy away from stu­dents whom oth­ers may find dif­fi­cult to work with,” Kiessling wrote. “She in­sists on work­ing with all stu­dents, in­clud­ing those who have daily strug­gles in life and in school. Her com­pas­sion, abil­ity to dif­fer­en­ti­ate in­struc­tion, and love of chil­dren, al­lows her not only to be ef­fec­tive, but to gain the re­spect of those in her classes.”

Westhall said that be­ing able to reach the most dif­fi­cult or chal­leng­ing stu­dents is what makes teach­ing worth­while for her.

“I know a lot of teach­ers prob­a­bly say this, but it’s the ‘aha’ mo­ment, when the most dif­fi­cult or chal­leng­ing stu­dent gets it, that re­ally makes ever ything worth­while,” Westhall said.

Most re­cently, Westhall has served as the de­part­ment chair­woman for lan­guage arts at Gen­eral Small­wood.

“I can hon­estly say that Mrs. Westhall stands out among her peers,” Linda For­rest, read­ing spe­cial­ist, wrote in a let­ter nom­i­nat­ing Westhall for the award. “On a daily ba­sis she re­lates to the teach­ers that she works with and leads by ex­am­ple. … No mat­ter the task, com­mit­tee, or extra re­spon­si­bil­i­ties asked of her, she ac­cepts the chal­lenge openly.”

Westhall was un­able to ac­cept the Crys­tal Ap­ple Award in per­son dur­ing the aux­il­iary’s Ocean City con­ven­tion or Post 82’s pre­sen­ta­tion of her award, as she was in South Korea vis­it­ing her hus­band at the time, but she and her hus­band used FaceTime to lis­ten and watch both events in real time while her fa­ther ac­cepted the award in her place.

Westhall’s hus­band has been re­as­signed to Ger­many, and Westhall is cur­rently in the process of pre­par­ing to move to the coun­try. She said she hopes to con­tinue teach­ing there.

STAFF PHOTO BY JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU

Caitlin Westhall, re­cently an eighth grade lan­guage arts teacher and the lan­guage arts chair­woman at Gen­eral Small­wood Mid­dle School, holds her Crys­tal Ap­ple “Teacher of the Year 2017” tro­phy from the state Amer­i­can Le­gion Aux­il­iary.

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