Helen Washington is the November winner of the Chick-fil-A Everyday Heroes award

Posted at 8:56 AM, Nov 30, 2018

On a Wednesday morning at St. Ignatius Loyola Academy, there is a rousing discussion happening in Helen Washington's classroom about the book and recent movie "A Wrinkle in Time."

The students are so excited and eager to share their thoughts on the plot that Washington has to kindly remind them every now and then to raise their hand before speaking.

It's a sense of pride for Washington to see her students, who are all boys and mostly African American, so enthusiastic about books, especially "A Wrinkle in Time."

"I didn’t realize the vocabulary [in the book] was as challenging as it is," she said. "So for them to use the word in a sentence themselves makes me turn around and wipe my tears for a minute and say look what you did!"

This is Washington's first year teaching at St. Ignatius Loyola Academy in South Baltimore. The school is an all-boys school that serves fifth through eighth grade. Tuition is free for each student and all of them qualify for federal free or reduced meals.

Washington's connection to the school, however, goes back more than 10 years when her son went to the school in 2011-2014.

"This place is amazing. It’s an all-boys school educating African American boys living in Baltimore in underserved communities. I’m finally home."

One of her big passions in life is STEM, or science, technology, engineering and math. But when she came to St. Ignatius Loyola Academy, they asked her to teach reading.

"I noticed it with my son and a lot of other students, African American boys have difficulty with reading comprehension. They issued the challenge and I said, 'Well let’s meet it.'"

Just because she's not teaching STEM doesn't mean she's put it on the back burner. She says she tries to incorporate it into her lessons as much as possible and she started the school's Environmental Club.

Washington says the club members want to build an outdoor free library and a vegetable garden.

"They’re really excited about all things STEM. They’re excited to come not, just because I'm going to feed them pizza, but because its actually fun and we make it fun," she said.

Her colleagues say her ability to make learning exciting and fun encourages her students to want to learn and grow.

"Everyone wants to learn, they want to read, they want to recycle,they want to do whatever it is that Mrs. Washington is doing because she genuinely cares about them," said Teresa Scott, the principal at St. Ignatius Loyola Academy.

The school day at St. Ignatius Loyola Academy goes from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., so the days are long and the work doesn't end when the bell rings. But for Washington, she couldn't be happier.

"I come to work everyday and I'm smiling," she said. "I can't imagine doing anything else."