PSEA: Educating our future

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PSEA members are working together to educate our future

PSEA’s 178,000 members – teachers, school nurses, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, school psychologists, and more – are proud to work in public education. And they’re dedicated to helping students learn. Every day, they enter their schools and classrooms ready to encourage, nurture, and excite their students – one mind at a time.

Emily's Story

Step Up student art project makes a powerful impact on community

Emily Nell, graduate of Upper Dauphin High School, came back to teach art and make an impact after spending 14 years as an independent artist working in schools and holding benefit auctions.

“When I came back, I didn’t see public art around,” she said. “I knew my students were the vessel for that.”

Nell formed the Step Up public art project to showcase her students’ skills, build partnerships, and raise money for a good cause.

“Our young people, they’re full of life; they’re full of talent. Why not use that to help others?” Nell said.

Seventeen student artists painted Converse sneakers in the style of a famous artist. Seventeen student authors wrote corresponding stories or poems expressing positive character traits. The shoes and stories were showcased together in local businesses on pedestals custom-built by Upper Dauphin’s cabinetry making class.

On May 16, every shoe and pedestal were sold during a live auction and red carpet gala, raising $10,575. All proceeds were donated to Lykens Valley Children’s Museum in Elizabethville.

In addition to the direct benefit to the museum, the museum director can now offer heavily discounted admission to families receiving SNAP benefits.

“Before our donation, they were zero percent to being a museum for all,” Nell said. “Now they’re 80 percent to becoming a museum for all.”

Nell’s passion for art inspired her students to use their creativity and work with their peers while giving back to the community.

Hear Nick's Story

Spanish teacher keeps students engaged online

Nick Coombs, a teacher in the Upper Darby School District, has always used a full-immersion approach to teaching his students Spanish. But when COVID-19 moved schools into virtual instruction, he found innovative ways to reach his kids online and make sure they were socially and emotionally engaged.

“When the pandemic happened, it was quite a change,” Coombs said. “So, I had to figure out ways to get the kids actively engaged. And the school district, along with PSEA, came up with a lot of professional development opportunities to help.”

Coombs created a lesson that allowed his students to take a virtual reality trip to Mexico. As part of the project, they were able to navigate the country online and use their senses to describe what they saw, draw pictures, and present what they discovered to the class.

Just as important, Coombs knew that his students were missing the emotional and social interactions that are essential to public education. So, he found ways to foster those kinds of connections even while his classes were online.

“What I did was make sure that I left opportunities to engage students as to how they were doing, how they were feeling, or what they did over the weekend,” he said. “I harnessed that into my lessons because I needed to have the kids socially and emotionally engaged.”

Coombs’ approach worked. And, now that more schools are reopening for in-person instruction, he’s confident that his students will pick up right where they left off and keep on learning.

Hear Eileen's Story

Third-grade teacher brings back pen pals

Eileen Seitz, a third-grade teacher at Lincoln Elementary in Bethlehem School District, decided to keep her students connected the old-fashioned way – with a Pen Pals program.

Almost immediately after schools closed last March, Seitz wrote and mailed letters to each of her students and included paper and a self-addressed stamped envelope so anyone who wanted could write back to her.
Her Pen Pals program was an instant hit, with 18 of her 21 students writing back.

“They shared all about what they were experiencing during this time with COVID-19, and how they were dealing at home with their siblings and managing the online work. So it was really, really special,” Seitz said. “I just wanted to let my kids know that I was thinking of them, and I would always be there for them.”

Not only did the project give kids something fun to look forward to that wasn’t screen-based, it also reinforced writing lessons from earlier in the year when Seitz taught her students how to write a friendly letter.
Seitz continues to interact with her students during online classes but said the Pen Pal project really helped bridge the gap in the uncertainty of those early months.

“I think it was also a nice way to stay in touch with the classroom because then when we did meet on Zoom we were talking about the letters that we were sending back and forth,” she said. “So it just gave students another way to stay engaged during a really difficult time.”

Hear Wendy's Story

School Nurses, COVID-19, and Going Above and Beyond to Keep School Safe

Wendy Robison, a school nurse in Western Beaver County School District, has been a leader in Beaver County’s efforts to keep schools safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Her goal? To make sure “every child succeeds” – no matter what.

Working with school staff, medical professionals, and community leaders in her county, she has helped to provide comprehensive information and plans to school staff.

“I’ve learned more about the virus than I ever thought I could,” Robison said. “I’ve learned how valuable our public education system is and how much work everyone has done.”

When the pandemic began in the spring, Robison collaborated with her superintendent, reached out to all other districts in the county, and raided the supplies of masks, gowns, goggles, and gloves from science rooms, maintenance, and nursing offices to deliver them to a local hospital.

After that, Robison’s primary mission was to look at all of the information and evidence she could find about COVID-19 and help shape the best way to teach and serve kids – while reducing health risks.

“We’ve researched everything – evidence based practices,” she said. “And we chose things that were supported by research.”

She helped to create a vast folder of all the research she could find from different states, the CDC, the WHO, and the DOH and tried to fit that information into the educational system, working to look at the broad picture, and gathering as many people’s ideas as possible.

“We’ll get past this eventually, but it’s going to take everyone’s effort to get past it. The educational process is so important to the future.”

Did you know...?

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Learning Lessons: Great ideas, Great schools

PSEA produces an online video series that features Pennsylvania educators who are making a difference in the lives of students with creative or innovative educational programs.