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Celebrating Excellence Awards: Meet the Winners

Congratulations to the 2018 honorees!

Adler Friend of Education: Rep. Bernie O'Neill

Educational Leader: Matthew Hathaway, Exeter Twp. EA

Student Leader: Megan Miller

Community Leader - Individual: Mary Pellegrino, Central Bucks EA

Community Leader - Local Association: Trinity Area EA

Community Leader - Organization: In Ian's Boots

Meet this year's winners

Adler Friend of Education: Rep. Bernie O’Neill

Rep. Bernard O’Neill has spent much of his life helping others – as an educator, athletic coach, club adviser, township supervisor, community volunteer, and a state legislator. First elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representative in 2002, Rep. O’Neill is now serving his eighth term. In the House, Rep. O’Neill has focused primarily on improving public education, reforming the school funding formula, advancing opportunities for individuals with disabilities, and protecting domestic animals.

Community Leader - Individual: Mary Pellegrino

For the Pellegrino Family, the road to parenthood was life-threatening and terrifying. In 2013, Mary Pellegrino, a special education teacher at Tohickon Middle School in the Central Bucks School District, gave birth to her son Bennett 15 weeks before her due date. Bennett struggled for his life in those early weeks and was later diagnosed with a rare form of liver cancer requiring surgery and chemotherapy. While trying to cope with Bennett’s struggles and wanting to help other families going through similar experiences, Pellegrino co-founded the BennettStrong Foundation. The BennettStrong Foundation focuses on supporting families of children with complex medical needs.


Community Leader - Organization: In Ian's Boots

Ian Joshua Miller was just 12 years old when he was killed in a sledding accident in January 2010. The Emergency Department doctors found a piece of paper folded inside Ian’s boot with a Bible verse, James 1:2-4: Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. Devastated but moved by the message of perseverence, Ian's parents Holly Wastler-Miller and Ron Miller, established a nonprofit organization, called In Ian’s Boots, to provide shoes and boots to those in need.

Educational Leader: Matthew Hathaway, Exeter Township EA

When Matthew Hathaway, a third-grade teacher and member of Exeter Twp. EA, met with several elementary students in the summer of 2004 on his parents’ back porch to review math and reading, he had no idea how much of an impact he would make. Those unofficial and fun summer gatherings have grown to become Teachers in the Parks (TIPS), a multisite operation with more than 100 educators involved, bridging the learning gap for hundreds of students each summer. Each fall, valuable class time is spent relearning the reading and math skills that are lost during the summer break. The TIPS program addresses this issue by providing reading, math, and science classes in unconventional ways that help children of all abilities bridge the summer learning gap. Hathaway sees children gain 25 percent more instruction time prior to state testing when they address the summer learning gap.

Local Association:Trinity Area EA

Members of the Trinity Area EA are supporting members of their communities in Southwestern Region in many ways. The Hiller Holiday Helpers, Trinity EA members, work to raise money for various needs within the school community and provide material goods during the holidays. During the holiday season, the group gathers clothing and gift information for families who need help. Student Council members then purchase the gifts for their classmates. The honors English program sponsors an annual food drive that provides families with a box of pantry items and a holiday ham to brighten their spirits during the season. To help families battling cancer in their communities, members have raised more than $6,000 to help support medical costs and needs.


Student Leader: Megan Miller

Megan Miller, an eighth-grader at Cedar Crest Middle School in the Cornwall-Lebanon School District, has worked for years with an organization called the American Foundation for Children with AIDS to raise awareness and money. In 2012, she recruited her friends at church to create pieces of art and asked congregation members to bake cookies and cupcakes that they sold to raise more than $1,000. In 2014, after committing to raise $1,500, Miller asked her family and friends to donate money to the American Foundation for Children with AIDS instead of giving her birthday gifts. She also started “Bracelets to Help Sick Babies” to raise money for the American Foundation for Children with AIDS.

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 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.