April 25, 2014

Teacher with ‘greatest job in the world’ earns national award

A teacher at St. Mary School in North Vernon, Lisa Vogel is the recipient of the 2014 Distinguished Teacher Award from the National Catholic Educational Association. Here, she pauses for a photo with two of her seventh-grade students, Allison Short, left, and Macy Diekhoff. (Submitted photo)

A teacher at St. Mary School in North Vernon, Lisa Vogel is the recipient of the 2014 Distinguished Teacher Award from the National Catholic Educational Association. Here, she pauses for a photo with two of her seventh-grade students, Allison Short, left, and Macy Diekhoff. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

The wedding invitations from her former grade school students offer one sign of Lisa Vogel’s specialness as a teacher.

So does that fact that on the wall of her classroom she has a picture of every student she has taught at St. Mary School in North Vernon during the past 15 years.

Still, perhaps the most telling sign of Vogel’s approach and impact as a teacher is revealed in a moment involving a student struggling with the approaching one-year anniversary of his dad’s death.

“We spent a great deal of time talking about his dad during my prep period and discussing ways in which he could deal with his emotions,” Vogel recalls. “When the day arrived and the young man showed up at school, his emotions were very visible, and it was obvious it was going to be a difficult day.

“I quickly made arrangements to have someone cover my class so that the two of us could spend some time lighting a candle and praying in the adoration chapel. As we knelt beside each other, crying and praying in unison to our God, I knew God was the only one who could help him make it through this difficult time. I prayed many prayers of thanksgiving for the opportunity to be right where I was on that day.”

It’s moments like that one that lead Vogel to say, “I have the greatest job in the world, and the rewards and blessings are infinite.”

It’s moments like that one that help explain why Vogel was selected as one of the 11 national recipients of the 2014 Distinguished Teacher Award from the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA).

Keeping the focus on faith

Vogel was “very humbled” by the honor that she received during the NCEA national conference in Pittsburgh on April 22. Colleagues and parents of the children she has taught in the seventh and eighth grades view it as well-deserved.

“I have had kids at St. Mary’s for over 14 years and, in that time, the impact that Mrs. Vogel has had on not only her students, but the entire school, is nothing short of amazing,” notes Brenda Campbell, a parent.

“Lisa is the true embodiment of a Catholic educator. She lives and breathes her faith. She helps the whole student grow and develop not just in school subjects, but in maturing and growing, and encourages them to develop themselves in their faith.”

That focus on faith is crucial to the teaching of Vogel, a 39-year-old mother of four who has been married for 17 years to her husband, Kevin.

“I believe that first and foremost it is my responsibility to help these young people develop a lifelong relationship with Jesus Christ that will help them throughout their lives,” she says. “We are Catholic first and a school second.

“Catholic identity is an integral piece of my entire curriculum. My students learn there is very little, if any, facet of their day-to-day life where Catholic teaching and doctrine are not considered. I might take the chance to educate my students about the beatification process, or about a saint while learning about parts of speech. This provides an opportunity to learn more about their faith while also covering the state academic standards.”

For several years, 100 percent of her students have passed the math part of Indiana’s standardized test while more than 95 percent have passed the language arts part. Her students also have a history of graduating from high school in the top 10 of their class.

She also finds creative uses for technology, such as having her students form groups that design and create a model of an amusement park ride to demonstrate Newton’s Three Laws of Motion.

‘They are mine for life’

“I once had an administrator [at another school] tell me that his students would also perform at a very high level if they only had to teach ‘the cream of the crop,’ ” Vogel recalls.

“I quickly explained to him that not all my students were ‘the cream of the crop.’ I just treated them like they were. On a daily basis, I challenge my students to do their best work and to push themselves. It is my duty to ensure that they recognize their own potential.”

She has that same goal for herself.

She places flags on the graves of veterans on Memorial Day. She assists with food drives for the St. Vincent de Paul Society. She takes part in many 5k walk-and-run events to support charities. She leads the school’s reverse raffle, which raised more than $40,000 last year. An extraordinary minister of holy Communion, she also has a regular weekly prayer hour in St. Mary Parish’s adoration chapel.

The list goes on and on for Vogel, who attended St. Mary School as a child and is still a member of the parish.

“Her commitment of endless time and energy is displayed through her assistance and her support of her fellow co-workers,” notes Sandra Kirchner, a third-grade teacher at St. Mary.

“She sits as the co-chair of the St. Mary’s School Improvement Team, playing an instrumental role in the future development of the school. She spends hours evaluating information through data and helps create programs to ensure continued progress for students at all grade levels.”

And she loves being a teacher.

“Where else on Earth would I have the opportunity to teach and help mold young people while sharing my faith, my family and my friendship?” Vogel says.

“I love each and every one of my students. Once they have spent time in my class, they are mine for life.” †

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