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Smallwood teacher named finalist in Crystal Apple awards program

 

Caitlin Westhall is known for her passion for engaging students.  Her love of teaching recently earned Westhall, a third-year language arts teacher at General Smallwood Middle School, the Charles County Crystal Apple Award.

Smallwood Principal Kathy Kiessling said what sets Westhall apart from her colleagues is her willingness to go above and beyond her teaching duties while constantly advocating for what is best for kids. This is one of the reasons Kiessling helped to nominate Westhall for a local Crystal Apple Award, a title Westhall was recently honored with by the American Legion.

The Crystal Apple Award is sponsored by the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Maryland and honors excellence in education. Westhall was chosen as the local honoree by the American Legion Auxiliary Unit 82 in La Plata. Linda Rollins, the education committee chair with Unit 82, surprised Westhall at school on April 24 with the news of her award.

“Mrs. Westhall is an excellent example of a teacher who seeks to bring out the best in her students. We are happy to have her as our 2017 nominee for the Crystal Apple Award,” Rollins said. As the Charles County award recipient, Westhall is eligible for the state level award. The state honoree will be announced at the annual Maryland American Legion Auxiliary Convention in July.

Westhall teaches eighth-grade reading, English/language arts and is the department chair. She leads by example and shares engaging ideas with others. She works to establish relationships with her students and maintains high standards. Westhall strives to make learning fun for her students and supports a learning environment in which students are engaged in class content and excited to learn.

Whether her students are studying Shakespeare or learning about the Holocaust, Westhall is creative in her lesson plans to engage all students. For a unit on Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” students were able to write and act out a section of the play. During a unit on the Holocaust, Westhall secured a guest speaker for her students so they could hear about the history and connect it with their recent reading of “The Diary of Anne Frank.” Kiessling said Westhall is the type of teacher that “leaves no stone unturned when looking for ways to reach a child.” 

Michelle Mandley is the eighth-grade administrator at Smallwood and said Westhall’s ability to create strong relationships with students sets her apart from other teachers. Mandley wrote a letter of recommendation on behalf of Westhall’s nomination. In her letter, Mandley describes how she has watched troubled students transform with the support of Westhall as their teacher. “She is consistently able to bond with them. Her students trust her and want to be in her classroom learning,” Mandley wrote.

Another recent project Westhall organized for her students is a pen pal exchange program with Airmen located overseas. Westhall is a military spouse and wanted to connect her students with men and women serving in the Armed Forces. She collaborated with the 694 Intelligence Support Squadron Radio Frequency Transmission Systems work center located at Osan Air Base in the Republic of Korea. Her husband is stationed with this unit and helped her develop the pen pal exchange.

During the 2016 holiday season, Westhall’s students worked to create and deliver more than 100 cards for the men and women stationed at the work center. Several of her students also were paired with Airmen at the Base as part of the pen pal exchange program. Through the program, students share what they are learning at school, and the Airmen share about life in the Air Force and military lifestyle.

Westhall said she is honored to be recognized for doing something that she loves.

“I am honored to receive The Crystal Apple Award for the county level and I would be over the moon with excitement if I also won the state level. Teaching is my passion and I look forward to building relationships with even the most challenging students. I firmly believe that developing relationships with students, letting them know that you are here to support them, is key to any teacher's success, including mine. This year has been full of successes and it is wonderful to be recognized for them.  I'd like to thank all of you who contributed to my successful application,” Westhall said.

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