24 Years of Mary Hopkins

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On June 12th, after a month of fun-filled celebrations and heartfelt tributes, Mary Hopkins walked out the doors of Connelly Hall for the last time as a Holy Child employee. This past summer, Hopkins and her husband, Chip, moved to Richmond, VA.

Mrs. Hopkins’ history at Holy Child is a long one. Well before she began her own career here, Mrs. Hopkins’ mother, Mary Kosch, was a beloved Holy Child teacher who also served as Headmistress in the early eighties. (Mrs. Hopkins’ daughter, Maddy, graduated from Holy Child in 2014.) Throughout a career spanning twenty-four years, Mrs. Hopkins fulfilled many roles at Holy Child: mentor, administrator, innovator, teacher, colleague, and friend.

Hopkins remembers, “I came to Holy Child as an eighth-grade language arts and social studies teacher, and each year was encouraged to keep growing and learning and challenging myself.  I taught theatre, physical education, and photography.”  The roles and responsibilities Mrs. Hopkins took on over the year, attest to not only her diverse interests, but also her willingness to serve the Holy Child community the best way she knew how – with her whole heart.

As Head of School, Dr. Shannon Gomez said in her introduction to Hopkins’ commencement address at graduation “Mary has never been the kind of teacher or administrator who sits idle. She’s an innovator; someone who is invigorated by new ideas, opportunities, and experiences that can benefit the student body, but also enrich the careers of her colleagues.”

In fact, Hopkins’ last several years at Holy Child were exceptionally creative and forward thinking, with the establishment of three landmark programs that have revolutionized the school including the Senior Internship Program, the Junior Entrepreneur Program, and the Innovate the Space initiative.

Two years ago, Hopkins established the Senior Internship Program, which provides soon to be graduates an opportunity to explore career interests and gain experience working in a professional environment. The internship also gave the opportunity for current students to intern closely with local alumnae as their sponsor. Past alumnae that have participated include Robin Witowski Kramer ’78 with The Christ Child Society, Erica Tokar ’01 with the law firm Gray, Plant, Mooty, Mooty, & Bennet, and Brynn Mayo ’10 at Discovery. Launching the program to students and parents, Mrs. Hopkins reflected on an internship she had in college with a newspaper. As an English major and voracious reader, Hopkins dreamed of being a journalist. After an internship with a local paper during college, she realized journalism was not the career for her. The real-world experience of working in a field before committing to a major and career track adds incredible value.

This past year, Mrs. Hopkins created the Entrepreneurship Program for juniors, which focused on innovation, leadership, and collaboration providing juniors opportunities to engage in a truly hands-on learning experience.

After a week of exercises and lectures, including team building outings and advice from experts on a variety of topics (determining strength, prototyping, business modeling, and telling your story), teams ventured out into local start-ups to see innovation in action. This year’s start-ups included Catalylator Makerspace, Artists Fine Circle Art, CHROME, and Emily Cook Therapy. Throughout all of this, the students created their own mini start-ups, conceiving a product, bringing it to life, and finally presenting their project in Holy Child’s own Shark Tank.

One of Mrs. Hopkins’ greatest legacies at Holy Child is the Innovate the Space initiative, which is currently in its final year. Throughout her career, Mrs. Hopkins “began to draw parallels between and among subject areas and started asking how the brain learns. Exposure to more information and ever curious colleagues led me to look at the influence of the environment on learning.”   Research conducted by Steelcase Education motivated Mrs. Hopkins to consider new ways to furnish a classroom. She collaborated with the faculty to create, as she puts it, “optimal learning environments.”

The classroom of yesteryear – rows of desks facing the teacher at the front of the room – is an archaic way of teaching, which focuses more on the instructor rather than the needs of the student. This method does not in any way prepare students for 21st century workplace where collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking are keys to success. Hopkins instantly found the parallel between this modern way of thinking and Cornelia Connelly’s focus on the uniqueness of each student and always working to meet the wants of the age.

This approach fit perfectly with Holy Child’s history of thinking outside the box. To date, Holy Child has innovated 20 classrooms with chairs on wheels, configurable desks, and moving whiteboards. Teachers can be more flexible and creative with lessons, knowing that they can reinvent a classroom at a moment’s notice.

The key to Mrs. Hopkins’ vision was the professional development that accompanies the renovation. Mrs. Hopkins’ stressed that without instruction behind the thinking, the furniture is meaningless. The redesign of each classroom had an intentional purpose to meet the unique teaching style and learning that happens in that space. In order to receive new furniture, Mrs. Hopkins required teachers to submit a proposal explaining their personal vision for their space, and how it would enhance their teaching. Each room’s design is specifically to that teacher’s needs and subject matter to further innovative practices and student engagement happening at Holy Child.

To continue Mrs. Hopkins’ legacy, Wooly (Rita W.) Devine ’79, Becky Ward ’14, and C. Maury Devine initiated a fund in her honor, the Mary K. Hopkins Fund, which will continue to support improvements in the program and for the professional development required to keep the program leading edge for faculty and students alike.

When Mrs. Hopkins departure was announced, good wishes from former and current students and colleagues began pouring in. Each message seemed to carry common themes: always believing in the abilities of her students to succeed, unwavering support of parents and colleagues, her deep faith, and her booming laugh. Katia Vargas, Holy Child’s Multicultural Diversity Coordinator wrote, “I truly believe that your honesty and going straight to the point attitude is one of your strongest qualities. You are funny, respectful, and supportive; a great role model, and always willing to challenge and encourage us to give the best we can give.” Andi Elliott, mother of Faith, Class of 2018, said that Mrs. Hopkins was “a big part of why we chose Holy Child for Faith.

Your speeches at admissions events made us realize that this school is a place where students can be seen and appreciated for being themselves. You are not only an excellent administrator, you are a Holy Child Mom who understands teenage girls and the growing pains of the high school years. That was comforting to us as parents.”

“Mama Hops,” as many students and faculty called her, generosity, creativity, and compassion are missed every day by her former students and colleagues, and it is evident that she treasures the time spent in Potomac where she made an impact in the lives of countless people. “Thanks to the support of the Holy Child administration, the encouragement of my colleagues, and the generosity of the Holy Child community, I was able to learn and grow for 24 years,” Mrs. Hopkins said. “What I will miss most about Holy Child is the people. I am who I am as an educator because of all of you.”

For more information on the Mary Hopkins Fund, please click here.