Community Awards & Contests
The 2012-13 "Teacher as Hero" Award Recipients. Photos will begin scrolling momentarily...
Teacher as Hero
This yearly recognition program, sponsored by State Farm™, honors outstanding educators in the Delaware Valley
Do you know a teacher who...?
- Has provided many years of service in the field of education
- Volunteers in his/her community outside of school
- Demonstrates exceptional creativity in the classroom
- Defuses violence and bullying among students
- Perseveres despite increasing challenges
- Serves as a role model to other teachers
Presentations are made at a special ceremony at the National Liberty Museum attended by family, friends, colleagues, school administrators and representatives of State Farm™. The honored teachers receive a free family membership to the Museum; a free Guided Tour of the Museum for their class; their story featured in our Teacher as Heroes Exhibit; participation in a Museum Act 48 Teacher Training Workshop of their choice at no charge; and various other gifts from the Museum.
The Awards ceremony takes place in March. We invite fellow teachers, parents, students and other education professionals to submit nominations. A nomination form for the 2013-14 school year will be available shortly. In the meantime, we invite you to enjoy the stories of this year's winners posted below and view the photos of this year's ceremony by enlarging the image to the right.
Highlights of the 2012-13 Teacher as Hero Award:
The 2012-13 “Teacher as Hero” Winners are all very special people. They have helped make the world a better place for their students by going far beyond what is asked of them as education professionals. Below is a brief recap of the winners' stories. Special thanks go to Shirleen Allicot of 6ABC who served as the Master of Ceremonies and to all the representatives of State Farm™ who joined us for the evening and assisted in the presentations.
Allyn Bacchus – Downingtown Middle School, Downingtown, PA
Mr. Bacchus contributes to the quality of life at Downington Middle School by focusing not only on academic growth but also on growth of character and community. He formed the weekly student group “Success Syndicate” to encourage, promote and celebrate successes within the African-American male student population. This group has been successful in helping DMS students set and achieve higher goals. Not only is he a spectacular history teacher—he is also tremendously committed to reaching students outside of the classroom. He organizes and leads field trips and activities for the betterment of his students; coaches the football team and serves as the time and clock operator for DMS’ basketball teams; and volunteers as a moderator for the in-school suspension program, where discusses decision-making and character with students.
Carol Baker – Hillsdale Elementary School, West Chester, PA
Ms. Baker is being nominated for her ability to motivate students to read. When her 1st graders have read 100 books, they receive a stuffed bear as a reward and visit the principal’s office to show off their achievement. When they have read 500 books, Ms. Baker gets them their own fleece blanket with their name, the date, and their achievement embroidered on it. She has one student whose health issues are causing him to gradually lose his eyesight; when he reached 500 books, she embroidered his achievement blanket with extra-thick thread so that he would be able to feel the inscription when he can no longer see. Ms. Baker has even developed a reading website, Read2Dream.com, to support children beyond Hillsdale Elementary.
Alan Bronstein – Central High School, Philadelphia, PA
Teaching was a second career for Mr. Bronstein. He taught for a few years immediately after college, but then started a business. However, following a debilitating car accident in 1985, Mr. Bronstein reevaluated his career path and returned to teaching, what he saw as “doing what needed to be done to make life worth living.” As a chemistry teacher at Central High School, he makes science come alive by incorporating real-life situations into his lessons. He also tutors students, mentors students and teachers, sponsors Central’s Drama Society, and volunteers at a rehabilitation hospital with the newly injured.
Stacey Carlough – Friere Charter School, Philadelphia, PA
Ms. Carlough was nominated by her former students, who all had incredible things to say about her. One student noted: “Even though she is a strong veteran, she thinks of herself as a student first. Ms. Stacey is one of those teachers I will remember forever….Ms. Stacey’s classroom has always been intense, but it is the place where I produce my strongest works of critical thinking.” She relates classroom work to real-world situations, uses the city itself (specifically its parks) to teach literature, and encourages students to use Twitter, blogs, and other social media to respond to literature. She also directs the Writing Center at Freire.
Sean Deal – Gesu School, Philadelphia, PA
Mr. Deal has taught physical education at Gesu for 10 years. He gives up much of his free time to be involved in the sports activities of the school and even continues to advise his students after they go on to high school. Many students look to Mr. Deal as a referee both on and off the court, as he often has to diffuse tense situations. He himself overcame a learning disability and challenges to his fine and gross motor skills, but practice and perseverance allowed him to play basketball in high school. This ethic has rubbed off on his inner-city students, helping them to achieve success.
Mary Desmond – Samsel Upper Elementary School, Sayreville, NJ
As the media specialist and librarian in a school of over 900 students, Ms. Desmond adapts to the abilities of all students and colleagues she interacts with. She runs a program called Battle of the Books, in which students read various novels throughout the year and “battle” by answering comprehensive questions about the books. Another of Ms. Desmond’s contributions to the Samsel community was co-chairing the Red Carpet of Heroes, an event inspired by the students’ visit to the National Liberty Museum. Students learned research skills by researching various heroes from the museum and “nominating” them to a Heroes Hall of Fame through a presentation at an awards ceremony. Ms. Desmond incorporates technology into all of her lessons, but also holds fast to the belief that character and ethics are at the root of educating students and teachers alike.
Jean Donegan-Vrabel – Governor Wolf Elementary School, Bethlehem, PA
A caring teacher, counselor, and friend for those in need, Mrs. Donegan-Vrabel considers teaching not just a job, but also a way of shaping the future. She organizes the annual “Angel Tree” gift drive for low-income families at Governor Wolf Elementary and conducts a successful parenting class titled “Love and Logic.” A leader who is well-respected by Governor Wolf and Bethlehem Area School District staff, Mrs. Donegan-Vrabel is frequently selected to speak at school board meetings and community meetings and events.
Paul Eaton – Girard College, Philadelphia, PA
Throughout his life, Paul has endured both tragedies and challenges—including the loss of a child and a diagnosis of diabetes—but he never let these challenges get in the way of his teaching. He believes that he must stay on the cutting edge of his profession and offer only the best to his students. Mr. Eaton uses music as a communication tool, incorporating diverse genres and soliciting visits from celebrity musicians in an effort to connect his students more deeply with the practice of music. He helps many of his students overcome darkness in their lives and see hope for the future.
Barbara Fernicola – Mahwah High School, Mahwah, NJ
Ms. Fernicola was nominated by one of her students, who praised her teaching ability and enthusiasm. He notes in his nomination letter that she tells stories from history “with so much detail, as if she was actually there, truly enhancing how her students remember and learn the information.” Ms. Fernicola is also passionate about involving students in the political process by advising the Student Council, advising the Young Politicians Club, and holding voter registration drives for eligible seniors. She even worked with students to craft a new cell phone policy for the school, showing them firsthand the process of government.
Aaron Gerwer – Murrell Dobbins CTE High School, Philadelphia, PA
Mr. Gerwer always goes the extra mile for the students at Murrell Dobbins CTE High School. When there were no funds to pay for teachers to facilitate extra-curricular clubs, Mr. Gerwer offered his time for free so that students could still participate in the Red Cross Club. He always goes out of his way to make home visits and communicate with families so that students stay on the right track with their education. In addition to his work with the students at Dobbins CTE High School, Mr. Gerwer oversees professional development of teachers at the school and has helped to implement research-based instructional intervention used in the special education department.
Jared Hottenstein – Jamison Elementary School, Jamison, PA
Jared Hottenstein is an exceptional classroom teacher and a leader at Jamison. His former principal states, “Over the past ten years, I have observed children with a variety of learning issues from lack of motivation, emotional problems, to having learning disabilities make huge gains under Jared’s tutelage.” He teaches the whole child and emphasizes both content and character. In addition, he began an environmental club known as GRUBS to help students learn science in a year-round outdoor setting. Presently, an outdoor education classroom is coming to fruition because of Mr. Hottenstein’s vision and tenacity.
Karen Kardon-Weber– Abraham Lincoln High School, Philadelphia, PA
Ms. Kardon-Weber has been a strong source of individual support for her students’ academic success for over 25 years. During this time, Ms. Kardon-Weber has helped build the school's Horticulture Academy into a strong program with citywide recognition. Her horticulture students participate in the Philadelphia Flower Show every year and consistently win awards. Ms. Kardon-Weber has weathered much change during her tenure, which is part of what makes her so successful at working with administration and teachers to take the lead on projects, work with outside partners, and help to make the school structure function effectively. She takes the time to get to know the students in her program with an eye toward supporting their full academic experience..
Linda Michalski – Benedictine Academy, Elizabeth, NJ
Linda Michalski has been a teacher for nearly 18 years, ten of which have been at Benedictine Academy. Her student leadership team, the Benedictine Cor Defenders, work to raise awareness about and abolish human trafficking. This fall, in conjunction with the history and English teachers, the student leadership team worked with nine other schools across the nation to write a New Proclamation of Freedom in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. In addition, Ms. Michalski prepared her students to speak before the New Jersey state senate in support of an anti-human-trafficking bill (which was later passed).
Jill Miller – Beaver Creek Elementary School, Downingtown, PA
Upon coming to Beaver Creek Elementary School nearly five years ago, Ms. Miller immediately began to establish relationships with students and staff. In response to her data analysis from the school’s Olweus Bullying student survey results, she created student behavior contracts to track inappropriate behaviors and make consequences more visible to students. In addition, she implemented a new school-wise Positive Behavior Plan called Respect Rocks and led a kick-off assembly to introduce students to the new school-wide expectations. She regularly holds support groups to help students who are struggling emotionally or behaviorally.
Nicholas Milonas – DeFranco Elementry School, Bangor, PA
Mr. Milonas has spent the last seven years working to build bridges between the school and local community. When the district embarked on an after-school project to target children challenged by poverty, low levels of parental education, cognitive and emotional challenges, and other attributes that could pose obstacles to educational success, Mr. Milonas was the first to sign up. Joined by the school’s local State Farm agent and about 40 students, he helped complete over a dozen park cleanup projects, including restoring polluted streams and cleaning up litter and debris. He also worked to develop a student-run community farm stand in the middle of town and organized the very first Souper Bowl of Caring that resulted in 1,300 canned goods being collected and delivered to the local food pantry.
James Moore – Thomas May Pierce School, Philadelphia, PA
Mr. Moore has been teaching for almost 20 years, and his commitment to the school community both in and out of the classroom is admirable. He serves on various school committees, including the School Leadership Team, the School Improvement Committee, the Emergency Response Team, and the Ruth W. Hayre Scholarship Committee. Former students return to the school to seek Mr. Moore’s advice, and he serves as a positive male role model for the young men he teaches. He also takes the lead to bring resolution and calm to the school in times of crisis and strives to make positive change by leading special projects, programs, and events at the school, such as the National Liberty Museum’s Young Heroes Outreach Program.
Sherry Paris – Strath Haven High School, Wallingford, PA
Ms. Paris has distinguished herself as a strong advocate for all students in her roles as math teacher and Diversity Training Program advisor. As the Diversity Training advisor for the school, she coordinates training sessions with local organizations to teach 200+ students communication skills to prevent and defuse intolerant behavior in the school. These students then go on to present interactive workshops to middle schoolers with the goal of reducing or eliminating bullying. Ms. Paris has worked diligently for years to create a positive school climate and a broad acceptance of diversity in the community.
Vicki Robbins – Gloucester Twp. Elementary School, Blackwood, NJ
Mrs. Robbins involves her music students in opportunities that enrich their lives and connect them to the community. She is pivotal in producing the Gloucester Township’s annual ‘Americanism’ program, a musical production celebrating patriotism and showcasing student talents, which has been held since 1976. In her teaching, she blends music history education with hands-on opportunities to use instruments. She is incredibly committed to her students, prioritizing them even as she struggled through several bouts with cancer.
Denise Vetre – Connections Program, Davidson School, West Chester, PA
Mrs. Vetre has worked at Davidson School, which serves students with needs too great to be served by most school districts, since 1978. She has always made her classroom a place of acceptance, focusing not on students’ deficits but rather their strengths and capacities for growth. For example, when others said students like hers would be unable to comprehend the important contributions of Martin Luther King, she planned January lessons around friendship, peace, and the value of each person. Even though she has been physically and emotionally hurt by students, Ms. Vetre remains committed to giving students what they need in order to help them progress beyond hurtful behaviors. In the community, Ms. Vetre advocates for students with autism with legislators and presents her innovative methods at state and national conferences.