Outstanding Montgomery County Teachers Receive the 2014 Shirley J. Lowrie “Thank You for Teaching” Award

by Anna Hargrave, Deputy Director of The Community Foundation in Montgomery County

This spring, The Community Foundation worked in conjunction with the Montgomery County Public School Education Foundation and Independent Education to select two elementary school teachers to receive the 2014 Shirley J. Lowrie “Thank You for Teaching” Award: Maura Backenstoe and Mehdi Elkassem.

Now in its sixth year, this annual 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 fund supports a $2,500 monetary gift for each of the winners.

Shirley Lowrie earned her degree in elementary education in 1957 from the University of Memphis.  She taught for several years as a teacher and substitute teacher in California and Connecticut before relocating with her family to Potomac.  After her teaching career, Mrs. Lowrie remained a strong supporter of the many teachers in her family’s life.

“Shirley was most passionate about supporting teachers, particularly those involved in elementary education.  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,” explains Gerald Lowrie.

The annual selection processes for the two awards are facilitated by The Montgomery County Public Schools Educational Foundation, Inc. and Montgomery County Public Schools Office of Human Resources and Development for the public school award and through Independent Education, an association of independent and private schools throughout the greater Washington area.  Both convened panels of experienced school officials to identify the candidates who best exemplify all of the award criteria:

  • Serves as an elementary school teacher (pre-K through grade 5) who works directly with students in the classroom on a daily basis
  • Demonstrates a thorough knowledge of subject matter which is effectively communicated to students
  • Shares enthusiasm for learning with his/her students
  • Encourages students to set and achieve high goals
  • Fosters relationships with colleagues, parents, and community members
  • Goes the extra mile to ensure that students receive the support they need to succeed

Maura Backenstoe is a kindergarten teacher at Burning Tree Elementary School in Bethesda, MD. In her nomination, colleagues and parents praised the thoughtful way that Backenstoe engages all of her students. With tremendous energy and passion, Backenstoe finds creative strategies to encourage students to reach their full potential.  All of the nominators commended how she serves as an anchor and moral compass for the students, faculty, and the whole Burning Tree community.

The Montgomery County Public Schools Educational Foundation, Inc. presented the award to Ms. Backenstoe on May 19, 2014 at Burning Tree Elementary School.

Mehdi Elkassem is a science teacher at the Washington Episcopal School in Bethesda, MD. In his nomination, colleagues and parents applauded his unique ability to connect with students and to instill them with a life-long love of learning. Colleagues especially praised Elkassem for consistently going above and beyond the call of duty, encouraging students and fellow colleagues to “walk the extra mile, reach for the stars, and discover the joy of learning each and every day.”

Independent Education, Inc. presented the award to Mr. Elkassem on June 2, 2014 at Washington Episcopal School.

The Community Foundation is honored to help the Lowrie family honor Shirley’s memory in perpetuity by recognizing her love of teachers.  By recognizing the shining example of two phenomenal teachers, we hope that this award serves will serve as an inspiration to all teachers throughout our community.