By Nancy Price
Students and staff at Central Catholic School are recognizing an educator who wore many hats during her 30-year tenure. Theresa Mendez, a recent retiree, served as an art and STEM instructor; as well, she was the school’s librarian, taught computer classes, led fundraisers and became the school’s unofficial event planner.
“Theresa is the spirit of teaching and learning,” said Patty Wulf, a second-grade teacher with Central Catholic. “If there is a way to make learning fun, she has been the person for the job. She worked so hard to build our STEM program. Her eyes light up at the thought of new projects that will inspire her students. Her ability to organize large events and create community is a gift to the faculty as well as the students. She has a strong desire to instill a love for reading in our students. She orders books from the Indianapolis Public Library for our school library, so they have new books often.
“The fact that she has taught 20+ years without her own classroom is a testament to her dedication and flexibility. The children anticipate the sound of the ‘art cart’ rolling into the classroom. She does it all with a smile and a humble heart.”
Mendez taught art to students from pre-K through eighth grade. Older students wove baskets, made Muslim angels, drew self-portraits, dioramas and learned the history of many famous artists, according to Barb Taylor, a former first-grade teacher at Central Catholic who now leads small groups for students in Kindergarten through eighth grade. “Being the first to arrive at school at 6 a.m. every morning, Theresa has always prepared amazing art projects for the students,” Taylor said. “She works tirelessly, and always with a smile!”
Margee McHugh, who teaches religion and science to eighth-grade students, said Mendez went above and beyond expectations when she started the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) program. “Students who struggle academically have come alive during STEM,” McHugh said.
“As an art teacher, STEM teacher and librarian, (Mendez) inspires our students to be creative, to be lifelong problem solvers and to read,” added Taylor. In addition, “she has always gone above and beyond planning social and seasonal activities throughout the school year for both students, staff and their families.”
Mendez began an organized an annual event at the end of the school year to celebrate reading, called the Mega Event, to recognize students who met their goals while participating in the Accelerated Reader program.
“Grades K-5 would come for the festive events; games, activities and a play put on by the teachers, and after having pizza, K-2 would leave and grades 3-5 would stay all night; watching a movie on the big wall and sleeping in the gym, then donuts in the morning before being picked up,” McHugh said.
Mendez also started Technology Fun Night; older students participated in competitions and younger children enjoyed carnival games, according to Taylor. “Theresa was the morale booster and party planner,” she said.
In 2003, Mendez received the Saint Theodora Guérin Excellence in Education Award given by the Office of Catholic Education for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.