GREENFIELD — An A grade is not the only award to come to St. Michael Catholic School this year.
One of its teachers won the highest award the Archdiocese of Indianapolis can bestow on an educator.
Leah Massingale, who teaches middle school science, was selected from among the archdiocese’s 68 schools to receive the Saint Theodora Excellence in Education Award.
She was recognized during a recent Mass at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. The annual Mass honors Catholic educators and those who work in religious education and pastoral ministries.
Around St. Michael, Massingale is known for high standards and a sense of humor.
Patty Mauer, a past recipient of the award who served as Massingale’s principal for two years, said she was struck by how the longtime teacher appreciates all students.
“She just pushes them wherever they are,” Mauer said. “She accepts them as a gift from God and that everybody’s got a place — ‘I’m going to take you from where you are and build you up.’”
Cheryl Hentz, who has three sons who are current or former St. Michael students, also sees that interest in every individual. She has seen how Massingale connected with various types of students — reminding a perfectionist to not be too hard on himself, motivating a do-the-minimum student to go above and beyond — and nominated her for the award.
“She truly sees Jesus in every one of her students,” Hentz said. “I think she really feels that every one is meant to be in her class at the time that they’re there.”
Massingale said she appreciates what’s unique about the middle school years. Students at this age are young enough to still be influenced, and they’re old enough to get jokes, she said. Over the three years, she teaches them science, gets to know students and their families and witnesses a great deal of progress.
“They grow a lot during that time,” she said. “There’s a big difference between a sixth-grader and an eighth-grader.”
Massingale studied parks and forestry at Purdue University. She realized what she enjoyed about the field was sharing knowledge with others, so she transitioned to education. She’s in her 20th year of teaching at St. Michael.
Her award announcement came during a school assembly. Unknown to her, her parents and her sister had been invited to the gathering to share the moment.
“I was just stunned and very surprised and excited,” Massingale said. “I got a lot of hugs from a lot of kids.”
Mauer said Massingale has done a lot behind the scenes, such as serving as test coordinator and a “techie person” for the school’s computers. Hentz said Massingale is humble and does all this without expecting a pat on the back, so it was satisfying to see her work honored publicly.
“She does so much that so many people don’t know about,” Hentz said. “To see her finally get something like this, it was fabulous.”