Celebrating Excellence

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2024 Celebrating Excellence Awards

The 2023 Adler Friend of Education winner and the Human and Civil Rights award winners were honored at the Celebrating Excellence Dinner in May 2023.

Award Nominations

Adler Friend of Education

Nominate an individual for the Adler Friend of Education Award. 

Nominations must be received by December 31, 2023, at 4:30 p.m. 

Human & Civil Rights Award Nominations

Nominate an individual or group for a PSEA Human & Civil Rights Award.  Categories are: 

  • Student Leader 
  • Educational Leader 
  • Community Leader 
  • Local Association 

Nominations must be received by December 31, 2023, at 4:30 p.m. 

2023 Winners

Adler Friend of Education: The Honorable Tom Wolf

From the moment he was first elected Pennsylvania’s governor in 2014, Tom Wolf made public schools and students his top priority. During his eight years in office, Gov. Wolf secured historic increases in public school funding, protected PSEA members’ pension system from relentless attacks, and stood up to lawmakers and special interests who wanted to weaken unions like ours.

Gov. Wolf accomplished all of these things in the face of historic challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic was unprecedented in modern history. It was a crisis with no roadmap or template, but Gov. Wolf’s steady leadership ensured that public schools continued to function while keeping the students and staff who learned and worked there safe.

It is likely that the most important part of Gov. Wolf’s legacy will be the historic public school funding increases he was able to sign into law. Under his leadership, public school funding has increased by $2.1 billion since 2015. The more than $1 billion school funding increase included in his final state budget was the largest in Pennsylvania’s history and will help provide Pennsylvania’s schools and students with the resources they need to succeed for years to come.

For eight years, Gov. Wolf was a tireless advocate for public education and PSEA’s close friend and partner. Like PSEA members, Gov. Wolf has always believed that the power of a great education can transform the lives of Pennsylvania’s students and help create a brighter future for our communities, our commonwealth, and our nation.

It is a privilege to recognize his leadership with the Lewis F. Adler Friend of Education Award.

Student Leader: Panthers Anti-Racist Union (PARU) - Central York School District

In 2020, Central York School District’s school board voted to prohibit teachers from using a resource guide referencing books and materials gathered by the district’s Diversity Committee. The guide helped teachers answer questions about race and culture following the murder of George Floyd and the civil rights protests that followed in the summer of 2020.

Edha Gupta, Christina Ellis, Renee Ellis, and Olivia Pituch, Central York High School seniors and members of a student group called the Panthers Anti-Racist Union (PARU), and their advisors, Benjamin Hodge and Patricia Jackson of Central York EA, learned about the book ban and immediately recognized that it was an attempt to whitewash the district’s curriculum and silence classroom discussions.

In protest, students and hundreds of local community members rallied together before and after school for a month. PARU recruited students to wear black shirts to school and created signs that read “Diversity is our strength” and “Our story matters. My voice matters.”

Central York school board members eventually voted to revoke the book ban, but many believed it would be reinstated after the 2021 school board election. PARU responded by organizing banned book readings on Instagram, writing letters to the editor, and speaking to the media. Again, their efforts made a difference, and the newly elected school board did not approve the book ban.

PARU’s dedication to inclusivity is an inspiration. Their powerful work made national headlines. But, even more important, it helped mobilize the Central York community and achieved a great victory for fairness, justice, and diversity in the Central York School District.

Community Leader - Individual: Marisa Vicere

After Jana Marie Vicere lost her battle with depression and passed away in 2011, Marisa Vicere wanted to honor hersister’s commitment to helping others and her love of creative expression and the arts. As the founder and president of the Jana Marie Foundation, Marisa fights to promote mental health and safety in Centre County’s public schools. She commits her time to guide children and teens through transitional years and educates parents, guardians, and the community about mental and emotional health. Marisa strongly believes in empowering young voices. Through the Jana Marie Foundation and support from Centre County’s public schools and community, she is helping youth break down walls through candid conversations and transforming emotional distress into resilience and hope.

Local Association: Wallenpaupack ESP

When Rosemary Martynuk and fellow Wallenpaupack ESP members saw a need to help the many disadvantaged students in the Wallenpaupack Area School District, they began sending food baskets home with them for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. But they realized that their project was not meeting the daily nutrition needs of the students they wanted to help.

Rosemary established Our Kids Food Pantry in the district’s high school to send students home with weekly groceries donated by school staff. With support from the community and programs like First Harvest Food Bank, every district building now has a food pantry so that students of all ages can get groceries to take home with them. Volunteers send 100 grocery bags home with students throughout the district on a regular basis.

Families in the district can also receive a food basket during a weekly distribution day at the high school. Over 100 holiday meal baskets filled with turkey, ham, dinner rolls, and desserts were distributed to families in 2022.

Wallenpaupack ESP and Rosemary helped make Our Kids Food Pantry a success, ensuring over 1,000 students do not go hungry.

Community Leader - Organization: JAMbethekindkid Inc.

JAMbethekindkid Inc. is a nonprofit organization founded by Maureen Frew, a member of the Avonworth Education Association, and two students, Julia and Ameilia (JAM). They, and the organization they created, are dedicated to “spreading kindness through making.”

Now run by over 80 Avonworth Primary Center students in grades K-6, JAM meets weekly to create items to donate or sell for profit to benefit causes of their choice. Their most notable creations are student-made #bethekindkid T-shirts, with over 100,000 sold to various schools and organizations across the world.

JAM has made more than 50 contributions to organizations in Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania, such as UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, the ALS Foundation, and the Beaver County Humane Society.

JAM has since spread the program to other schools in Allegheny County. Their model of spreading kindness to the world with a simple message of being kind empowers children to help those in need and inspires others to do the same.

To make a donation or join JAM, visit www.bethekindkid.net.

History of the Awards

Since 2005, PSEA's Celebrating Excellence Awards Dinner honors winners of the PSEA Adler Friend of Education Award and the PSEA Human and Civil Rights Awards.

PSEA hosts the dinner each May to provide a special opportunity to recognize individuals, local associations, and organizations going the extra mile for our schools and communities.

The Adler Friend of Education award recognizes an individual who has made significant statewide contributions to public education. Adler Award recipients have included PSEA leaders, public officials, and others whose work has improved public education in Pennsylvania.

The Human and Civil Rights Awards are intended to applaud the outstanding work occurring every day in Pennsylvania's public schools and in our communities.

A selection committee meets each January to review the nominations submitted and select winners in four categories: Student Leader, Educational Leader, Community Leader, and Local Association, along with the Adler Friend of Education Award. 

Among the past winners: an organization that provides the simplest joy of a birthday celebration to children who are less fortunate; an educator who organized Unity Week activities to raise awareness of harassment, bullying, and intimidation; an ESP leader who works with Hispanic students and their families; a special education advocate; a former congressman who worked tirelessly to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell;” a student who fought to create a safe haven for fellow students by forming a Gay-Straight Alliance at his school; and a Philadelphia organization that delivers means, counsel, and hope to people with life-threatening illnesses - and many other exceptional individuals and organizations who make a difference each day in our own lives and those of our students, families, and societies.

Past recipients of the Adler award include Fred Rogers, Ambassador Walter H. Annenberg, Sen. Bob Casey Jr., State Sen. J. William Lincoln, Gov. George M. Leader, Teresa Heinz Kerry, and PSEA Board member Marylou Stefanko.