Liz Smith poses with her students at St. Francis International School in Silver Spring.
Liz Smith poses with her students at St. Francis International School in Silver Spring.
Liz Smith, a pre-kindergarten teacher at St. Francis International School, said what she loves most about teaching young children in Catholic schools is that it allows her to help make their faith come alive.

"Bringing the faith to them is the most important thing," she said. "I want them to know that God is there and made us all special."

An educator for the past 20 years, Smith is a winner of this year's Archdiocese of Washington's Golden Apple Award for excellence in teaching and commitment to Catholic education.

Smith is also the team leader in the Early Childhood Learning Center at St. Francis International School in Silver Spring, which serves 120 students ages 2-5. St. Francis opened its doors at the start of this year, joining together the school communities of St. Camillus School and the nearby St. Mark the Evangelist School in Hyattsville. From 1995 to 2010, Smith taught pre-K, Kindergarten and second grade at St. Mark, where she also served as assistant principal from 2003-05.

At the beginning of every school year, Smith meets with the parents of all her students to learn as much as she can about each child to best meet their needs.
"Every child is very different, and you try to figure out how you can help them learn the best way they should be learning," said Smith, 46, who has spent the majority of her career in early childhood education. "I've always loved working with small children."

A graduate of Boston College, Smith is married to her high school sweetheart, Pat, an English teacher and director of admissions at DeMatha Catholic High School, Hyattsville. They are the parents of six children, including two sets of twins, ranging in age from 4 to 21.

She said she is especially appreciative of her family and her parents for their support of her career throughout the years. "My kids have helped move me into the new school and paint the classrooms. My husband comes over Wednesdays and helps out with lunch duty," she said. "My mother and father have always been so generous to our family and the school."

Tobias Harkleroad, St. Francis principal, wrote a letter nominating Smith for the Golden Apple Award: "As a new school, we have faced many challenges and we have had to make adjustments on our journey. Liz's work with her team and her involvement on my administrative committee have influenced the directions our school has taken this year. I am grateful that she has been part of the roots that will allow St. Francis International School to truly grow and blossom over the years to come."

Father John Dillon, her pastor of St. Mark Parish, described Smith as an excellent teacher and active member of her parish community. "Mrs. Smith's children have always been a reflection of her strong character as a mother...She is a fine example of a Catholic woman."

For Smith, she said she is blessed to be a Catholic educator in a community that is not only academically strong, but one that is "loving, stable and committed to the whole child," and most importantly, enables her to use "every moment that I have to bring others closer to Christ."