By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published February 5, 2015
DECATUR—Kathy Merritt walked heel to toe across the table to count out the 7-foot length of the classroom furniture, as her young students watched, sitting with crossed legs. Moments later, she guided the hand of a young girl, who mimicked her teacher as she, too, walked across the tabletop.
That is how Merritt began her lesson on inches, feet and yards.
Merritt is a veteran teacher at St. Thomas More School. She has on wire-rimmed glasses and a pin on her black blouse of a thread and thimble. It encourages children to pronounce the sound of the day—“th.” A reward is a prayer card, which is valued by her two dozen waist-high students.
Merritt leads one of two kindergarten classes at the Decatur school. At 62, she said she shares a “grandmotherly vibe” with her students. She arrived here in 1981 as a music teacher. Other than a two-year absence when she stayed home when her daughter was young, the school on the edge of downtown Decatur is where you’d find her for the past three decades.
At St. Thomas More School, teachers vote on who should be recognized at the annual Archbishop’s Banquet for Catholic Education. In choosing her, school leaders called Merritt “an institution” at the school. The nomination said she incorporates movement, music and acting into class lessons.
“I was very, very honored. This means my peers voted for me. That means a great deal to me,” said Merritt, a native of Tennessee.
She was also a leader in introducing the “No Place for Hate” anti-bullying program to the school, adding particular Catholic lessons to the curriculum.
“We wanted our students to learn to stand up for what is right and not stand silently by when they see wrongdoing,” she wrote in an email.
The material wasn’t an exact fit for the Catholic school, so she added material from the Bible and the “Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.”
“In my career, I am probably most proud of the way we did ‘No Place for Hate’ under my leadership,” she said.
Her first teaching positions were in public schools. She was attracted to Catholic schools because of the openness to faith.
“Belief is a central part of who a human being is. It’s hard to teach when you have to leave that most basic element out,” she said.
Merritt doesn’t rely on big words or abstract ideas to share faith with the youngsters. She brings acting and art into conversations about faith.
“The Catholic faith is very adult. You have to give it to them in teeny, tiny pieces,” she said.
Youngsters are excited to experience the world around them, so Merritt turns her class into a theater where students act out the roles in Bible stories. One got to play the part of his namesake, St. Matthew, a tax collector. “It makes the Scripture come alive for them.”
Atlanta is large, but the school works to build a small community, where parents, teachers and students care for each other, she said. “These bonds are just very powerful. This feels like a family.”