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Emily Appert, a seventh and eighth grade teacher at St. Joseph Marquette School, teaches during a seventh grade religion class in Yakima, Wash. on Friday, Oct. 7, 2016. (SHAWN GUST/Yakima Herald-Republic)

A native of New Jersey, teacher Emily Appert had to find Yakima on a map when she accepted a two-year commitment through an AmeriCorps program after graduating from college.

Beginning at St. Joseph/Marquette School in the 2008-09 school year, she planned to complete her two years and return to the East Coast. But Yakima took her in, Appert said.

“Especially this school; they really welcomed me,” she added.

Since then, Appert, 30, has built a dizzying schedule at the school, where she is the seventh-grade homeroom teacher. Appert also teaches seventh- and eighth-grade religion and seventh-grade reading along with assuming multiple other responsibilities.

On Saturday, the Catholic Foundation of Central Washington honored Appert as one of its 2016 Champions of Catholic Education. She received the St. John Baptist de la Salle Award during the Celebration of Faith, the annual fundraiser for the nonprofit, which supports Catholic education in Central Washington.

“It’s kind of humbling. I’m a little overwhelmed,” she said of the award, which recognizes her for teaching and inspiring students. “Especially when people like (the Revs. Bill and John Shaw) are also being honored.”

Esther Seidl, who teaches math at St. Joseph/Marquette School, nominated Appert.

“She’s just one that always goes above and beyond,” Seidl said. “In the classroom, she’s an amazing teacher. She always finds creative ways to get the kids engaged.

“And if you ask her to do something, she’ll always say yes. That’s why I nominated her.”

One of nine siblings, Appert received a Catholic education from kindergarten through 12th grade, then graduated from Rutgers University as a language arts educator. And while she wanted to be a teacher from a young age and is the daughter of a Catholic educator (her father, Tom Appert), she wasn’t set on teaching at a Catholic school until she moved to Yakima, she said.

Since then, she has embraced her role so enthusiastically that some may wonder when she sleeps — which is “not much,” she said cheerfully.

She rises around 4 to 4:30 a.m. many school days to run for about an hour. That continues after school, because Appert coaches the track team distance runners and is heading up the new cross-country team with St. Paul Cathedral School; the joint team trains with the La Salle High School team three days a week.

“(La Salle Coach) Rick Maib, he’s kind of mentoring me,” she noted.

Appert has “revolutionized the middle school religion program,” the Celebration of Faith program brochure noted. “Throughout the year, she leads numerous prayers, services and Masses, often helping the children prepare Latin chants and songs to sing.”

Something about chants connects with kids, said Appert, who took Latin as a seventh- and eighth-grader. “On big feast days I try to find one” that is related to that day and teach it, and the children “join right in” during Mass, she added.

She finds ways to involve her students in service projects, the program brochure noted, and she provides Irish dance lessons to students free of charge. Four of her six sisters competed in Irish dance, Appert noted.

“I’ve got one group of seventh-graders” who have been dancing together since kindergarten, she said. “They’re getting really good.”

Also a dedicated parishioner of St. Joseph Parish, Appert attends Mass several days a week and regularly serves as cantor. And she leads a Bible study group that meets every other week during the school year, and every week in the summer.

“I think you have to find joy in what you do,” Appert said. She finds joy in learning, and wants her students to do the same, while also meeting high expectations.

Appert met her husband, Yakima native William Sziebert, and they married in August 2013. They’re expecting their first child on St. Patrick’s Day, something she finds absolutely delightful.

“It’s perfect!” Appert said.