PSEA is a community of education professionals who make a difference in the lives of students every day.
Emily Nell came back to teach art and make an impact after spending 14 years as an independent artist working in schools and holding benefit auctions.
Pennsylvania’s public schools should be the safest and healthiest places for students to learn and grow.
PSEA is committed to making changes aimed at protecting everyone who works and learns in our schools.
Cover story: Connecting the dots - Community building for English Learners
Each year for Hispanic Heritage Month, teachers and support professionals find creative ways to teach students the historical and cultural impacts of the Latinx and Hispanic communities and how they have enriched our society today.
Teresa Hoover of Dauphin County Tech EA took her Spanish class students to the Hispanic Heritage Festival in Harrisburg.
“My goal is to have students experience the culture and use their language skills to engage in the Latino community,” said Hoover. “A group of students did community service by promoting our school at the festival. They had a great time.”
The celebration lasts from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, but PSEA’s members honor the diversity Latinx and Hispanic people bring to Pennsylvania and the nation all year round.
“Hispanic Heritage Month is a great opportunity to learn more about Latinx and Hispanic people and celebrate the diverse backgrounds that they come from,” said Rich Askey, PSEA President. “Our public schools are as diverse as our communities, and we are privileged to celebrate, nurture, and educate every student.”
David Raymond, Mike Graham, and Eric Gimbi, eighth-grade teachers in the Northeastern York School District, began producing a series of elaborate educational videos for their students when they started teaching online because of the pandemic.
It started as a one-man operation filming videos on a cell phone. Now, these three teachers and a videographer take their love of teaching science, history, and social studies across Pennsylvania on a YouTube channel known as Bobblehead George.
“In history class we cover a lot of topics that, right off the bat, the students might not be interested in,” said Gimbi. “But if they watch a video on YouTube of us saying it, it seems to sink in a lot better for them.”
The video series titled “Lessons on the Road” explores American history landmarks, recreates historical recipes, and teaches their curriculum in unique ways.
“I never in my life thought that I would be walking around in my stocking feet in George Washington’s house at 10 o’clock at night,” said Raymond. “I just never envisioned having the access to the things I have.”
Bobblehead George’s success has opened a new door to reaching students, not just in their own classrooms but around the world.
“This whole process has opened up all kinds of different avenues and connections that we never thought were possible,” Raymond said.
Michelle Eppinger delivered meals to Seneca Valley High School students in 2020 and wanted to continue helping them when they returned to in-person instruction. Her idea was to place donation bins throughout the district’s buildings for students to pick up items they needed, no questions asked.
It worked. Then she decided to take it to the next level, and that’s how the No Cost to Shop store came to be.
“I got the idea about collecting other things kids need,” Eppinger said. “I worked with our assistant principal and administration to start a real store for students to collect items for free.”
Her high school gave her a dedicated space, asked for donations from the community, and got a $3,000 grant to start the store. Art students painted decorations and a technical education teacher donated a bench.
The No Cost to Shop store opened on Nov. 1, 2021. Vocational-education students run the store and gain retail experience by collecting donated items, stocking shelves, and maintaining the inventory. Students sign up for a private time to shop and choose an administrator or teacher to accompany them.
“One of our school counselors recently visited the store with a student,” Eppinger said. “The student found every item he needed. He even asked if he could take a pair of earrings for his mother as a Christmas gift.”
Eppinger is excited to see how the store has evolved.
“I want to make sure every student is comfortable,” she said. “I’m so proud of the way the store has turned out. We’re going to help a lot of kids for years to come.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
Education Support Professional of the Year, Dolores “Dee” Scales, a paraprofessional in Woodland Hills School District, has provided support to her classrooms for 26 years and serves as a union leader for her local.
“Support professionals do a lot of work, not only within our schools but in our communities. Many support professionals live in the communities where they work so they have a great rapport not just with students but with students’ families, too.”
2022 Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year Elizabeth Raff, an English Language Arts and Social Studies teacher in Penn Manor School District, advocates for her students and fellow educators through the pandemic’s challenges.
“I see the work that you are doing, the daily stresses and challenges that you are tackling while trying to stay afloat. I see how you are taking moments to place joy and excitement in the heart of your classrooms.”
LaDontay Bell, a physical education teacher and football coach, knew he had to do something to protect his players after tragically losing three to street violence. He created a shuttle service to ensure that his players return home safe after practice and opened a football club where players can bond, practice mock interviews, and learn other skills.
“It’s more than a game. It’s more than X’s and O’s. It’s a brotherhood; it’s a family.”
Meg Pankiewicz, an English and Language Arts teacher, teaches Holocaust literature and even received a fellowship to visit various foundations and meet Holocaust survivors. Although she sometimes gets backlash from deniers, she is committed to helping her students understand this moment in history.
“I think teaching is a noble profession. I think as educators, being under attack if you teach an authentic or the authentic truth, is not something that’s new.”