A polyglot who speaks five languages, he helps bilingual students get settled in at the beginning of the school year. He has coached two boys soccer teams. He created a geology field workbook for the sixth-graders to use when they visit national parks.
For all these activities and more, Mehdi Elkassem of Potomac, a science teacher at Washington Episcopal School in Bethesda, has won the Montgomery County Independent School 2014 Shirley J. Lowrie Thank You for Teaching Award.
The annual award recognizes outstanding county elementary school teachers, with one from a public school and one from a private school.
This is the first time a teacher at Washington Episcopal School has won the award.
“Teachers are entrusted by God and by parents with the most valuable thing on earth, their children,” Elkassem, 39, said in his acceptance speech last month, according to a school news release. “It is our duty as caregivers and educators to teach, share our expertise, serve, protect, care, and love our students. I am honored to receive this award.”
Elkassem has taught at the school for 13 years. Besides the aforementioned activities, he has helped establish an Early Childhood Science program for the school’s prekindergarten and kindergarten; volunteered as a science teacher and summer camp instructor for young patients and their siblings at the National Institutes of Health from 2008 to 2011; and raised funds for school supplies for disadvantaged children in Montgomery County. Elkassem also co-sponsors the school’s annual science fair.
During the nomination process, Elkassem’s colleagues and students’ parents applauded his ability to connect with students and instill in them a lifelong love of learning. Colleagues especially praised him for consistently going above and beyond the call of duty, encouraging students and colleagues to “walk the extra mile, reach for the stars, and discover the joy of learning each and every day,” according to the news release.
The award is made possible through the Shirley J. Lowrie Memorial Fund, which Gerald Lowrie and his children, Lynn Longley and Rick Lowrie, established at the Community Foundation to honor their late wife and mother. In addition to recognition, the award includes a $2,500 monetary gift for each winner.
“Shirley was most passionate about supporting teachers, particularly those involved in elementary education,” Gerald Lowrie said in a statement. “It seemed only natural to honor her memory by recognizing enthusiastic elementary level teachers who go the extra mile to help young children develop a love for learning, particularly reading.”
According to the award criteria, winners are elementary school teachers who work daily with students; demonstrate a thorough knowledge of subject matter, which is effectively communicated to students; share enthusiasm for learning with students; encourage students to set and achieve high goals; foster relationships with colleagues, parents and community members; and go the extra mile to ensure that students receive the support they need to succeed.
“This is an enormous honor for Mehdi and a wonderful reflection on what makes [Washington Episcopal] such a special school: our outstanding teachers! We congratulate Mehdi Elkassem for this accomplishment. We could not be prouder,” Kirk Duncan, head of school, said in a statement.