Sharon Shipley of Oakdale has a mission for her kindergarten classroom -- to grow in the love of their Lord by doing their best academically, socially and spiritually.
For 27 years, she has been fulfilling that mission by giving her time, love and energy to her students at St. Philip School in Crafton.
In recognition of her efforts, the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh selected Mrs. Shipley for the prestigious Golden Apple Award, which symbolizes excellent performance in the classroom, church, and community.
Mrs. Shipley and other awardees were honored May 28 at the Golden Apple award dinner at the Westin Convention Center Hotel in Downtown.
Bishop David Zubik presented the awards, which included a gold apple that Mrs. Shipley said is sitting in her china closet at home so everyone can see it.
"It was wonderful," she said. "I was surprised that I got it. It was very, very exciting."
She is the fifth St. Philip teacher to receive this honor. Another awardee is St. Philip principal Sister Geri Marr,
Mrs. Shipley was 34 years old and a stay-at-home mom when she decided to pursue a degree in teaching. She said she always knew she wanted to work with children, so she took a class in early childhood education and was hooked. She graduated summa cum laude from Point Park University at the age of 40, and then accepted a position at St. Philip.
Mrs. Shipley has remained in the kindergarten classroom throughout her career at the school and said she has a tender heart toward students of that age and grade.
"They come in, they're a little bit backward and frightened, then they leave me reading and spelling cities and states across the country," she said. "I just love that -- seeing that progression."
Part of that progress includes training her students in the A.N.G.E.L. Way, which stands for Achieving Natural Goodness in Everyday Life. Mrs. Shipley and a few other St. Philip teachers developed this virtue program 15 years ago with a different virtue presented each report card period.
Included among the virtues being instilled among the children are kindness, self-control, courageousness, and truthfulness.
"That's value education, and that's what Catholic school is about," Mrs. Shipley said.
Mrs. Shipley's love and care for her students and their well-being transcends the classroom, as evidenced 21 years ago, when she started an After-School Program. Moved by compassion for a second-grade student who wore a key around his neck and had to walk two streets home to an empty house each day, she received approval from the principal to start the program.
What started out with two children has since grown to include 45-55 every day. In addition, Mrs. Shipley runs a Summer Camp Program for seven weeks in the summer from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. that draws 40-50 children daily as well. She described it as a literature-based program that includes arts and crafts, field trips, bowling and reading.
The programs, which are staffed by teachers, have been a huge help to parents by providing a safe place for children after school and in the summer, Mrs. Shipley said.
In addition, she said they serve as a recruitment tool, drawing two to three more students to the school each year.
When she's not with her students in the classroom, after school, or during the summer, Mrs. Shipley and her husband, Wayne, can be found volunteering at the school and their parish, St. Columbkille in Findlay where she teaches Confraternity of Christian Doctrine.
She and Mr. Shipley, who she described as a "Mr. Fix-It," helps out at St. Philip wherever needed.
Though she receives much satisfaction from all that she sows into her students and the school, Mrs. Shipley said that among her biggest joys is watching her students blossom.
"I just love seeing that change, that progress, that confidence," she said. "They just blossom so much for me. That's the best thing."
Shannon M. Nass, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org