Ann-Marie Novak is the kind of kindergarten teacher children always remember. Perhaps it’s because she’s been teaching kindergarten at Our Lady of Presentation (OLP) for 14 years, or it could be because she seems to connect with these young children from the time they enter OLP until the time they leave.
Either way, Novak could feel the love when she was surprised with OLP’s third annual Sisters of Charity Award for Excellence in Catholic Education. Cheered by a standing ovation, Novak accepted the award that students and staff successfully kept secret until it was announced at an all-school assembly recently.
“I really had no idea, even as they were giving out clues during a skit,” says Novak of the award. “Someone asked me later if I saw my husband in the back of the crowd and I didn’t even see him! Kindergarten always sits in the front of the assembly, so I was busy watching my class.”
The school’s Sisters of Charity award is given to a teacher who demonstrates a dedication and service to the school. Students, staff and parents can nominate a faculty member. An outside panel of Catholic education professionals reviews the anonymous nominations. The recipient receives a plaque and a $1,000 check provided by the school’s PTO.
Growing up in St. Louis, Novak graduated from Truman State University with a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s in elementary education. Although she didn’t know anyone in Kansas City, she was able to get her foot in the door at St. Bernadette Elementary School in Raytown, where she supervised the before- and after-school program. She eventually joined OLP, where her children attend school, and has never had the desire to leave kindergarten.
“In kindergarten, the kids love school, and they think you’re the prettiest and the smartest person in the world,” Novak chuckles. “When they’re that enthusiastic, that’s half the battle of teaching them. They want to learn.”
While Novak did not see the nomination, she believes it’s her way of connecting with students that likely caught the attention of the judges. She says older students continue to return to the school, sharing memories of their days in her classroom. They even remember little songs Novak taught them during their kindergarten year.
An icon at the school, Novak is well known for providing a calm and reassuring voice and demeanor to both young students and parents alike. Kathleen Chastain’s two children had Novak for their kindergarten year. “Her command of the classroom and ability to engage the children in learning as a lifestyle are among her many talents,” says Chastain.
Novak says she is appreciative of parents, like Chastain, who regularly support the school. She noted, for example, the number of parents who help the school celebrate Catholic Schools Week by taking time away from work to volunteer for the various activities.
She’s equally complimentary of the OLP staff. “Everyone at this school works so hard, the school just gets better and better.
I can ask a colleague for help with an idea or study material and there’s always a willingness to help,” she says.
Part of what makes OLP different, she says, is its focus on faith. Novak says faith is “the most wonderful thing OLP gives its students.”
As for those precious kindergarteners who enter Novak’s room wide-eyed and fresh-faced each year, she says their growth in one school year is unbelievable.
“I see so much growth from the first day of kindergarten to the last,” she says. “When they come in, they can barely stand in a line and by the end of school, they are reading!”