Matthew Henson Middle School teacher Holly Darby is known among students as a “cool” teacher who is supportive, takes the time to explain things and makes learning fun.
Darby teaches seventh and eighth grade language arts and serves as a co-sponsor to the Henson Student Government Association. In her role as an SGA adviser, Darby works with students on developing leadership skills and teaches them the importance of community service.
Darby has served as the SGA co-sponsor for the past five years and helped participation increase from three students to 45 members. She advocates for the student voice and is passionate about teaching students how to become leaders. Her passion for student leadership was recently recognized at the Maryland Association of Student Councils Convention, where Darby was named the 2018-19 Middle School Advisor of the Year.
Darby was unaware she was nominated for the award and first learned about it at the MASC Convention. She said she and the SGA co-sponsor, Henson language arts teacher Heather Tonnessen, usually split SGA duties, with Darby overseeing school-based events and Tonnessen traveling to out-of-county events with students. It was Tonnessen who convinced Darby to attend the convention so she could receive her surprise honor.
“I had no idea I was nominated for the award. It is a great honor to receive this award. And, to be nominated by a former student makes it so very special,” Darby said.
Darby was nominated for the award by one of her former students, Emily Kerns. Kerns is a junior at Maurice J. McDonough High School and participated in the Henson SGA for three years with Darby as her advisor. Kerns, who is McDonough’s student liaison to the Board of Education, credits Darby with fueling her love for student government.
“She is such an inspiring woman and I am so pleased to have experienced her leadership, which helped to foster my growth as a leader. Because of her adamantly asking me to join, student government has become one of the biggest parts of my life, and I cannot thank her enough. She is truly an amazing advisor, and there is nobody who deserves this award more,” Kerns wrote in a nomination letter.
To support Darby’s nomination, Gary Winsett, the adviser to the Charles County Association of Student Councils, wrote a letter on her behalf. Winsett has served as the CCASC adviser for the past nine years and works with student government advisers at the middle- and high-school levels. In his letter, Winsett credits Darby with growth of the Henson SGA.
“Mrs. Darby is the type of advisor who realizes how important an effective SGA can be for a school. Under her leadership, Matthew Henson has become a strong school of leaders that has shaped Henson into one of the top schools in our region. She possesses all the qualities associated with being a great advisor and to receive this award would not only be a tribute to her work, it would also be a tribute to those she has inspired,” Winsett wrote in a nomination letter.
Darby said she chose to help with the Henson SGA several years ago because she values its purpose. From fundraisers and community service projects to school elections and parliamentary procedures, Darby strives to instill in students the value of leadership. Not only does Darby think it is important for students to learn about leadership, she works with students to understand the impact of caring about others.
“These kids someday may be our leaders. SGA is one of the ways we can prepare our kids for leadership and teach them that caring about others in the community is important. These kids need to know they have a voice at school to create change,” Darby said.
Henson eighth grader Maxwell Gaynor is the SGA president and said Darby makes learning about government fun. “She finds fun activities for us to do and helps us manage our meetings to make sure we stay on track. She keeps us in line … Mrs. Darby is cool,” Gaynor said.
Darby was presented with the award at the annual MASC Convention held in April in Ocean City. Each year, the MASC honors a student government advisor at the middle- and high-school levels, a school principal and a student council group from one middle and one high school.
Complete award information is posted online at mdstudentcouncils.org/index.php/applications/masc-awards/.