March 31, 2016

Meet the winners of the 2015 PSEA Celebrating Excellence Awards

Pennsylvanians care about public schools and their communities - and PSEA's Celebrating Excellence Awards celebrate a few of the outstanding individuals and organizations each year.

Meet the 2015 winners of the Adler Friend of Education Award and PSEA's Human & Civil Rights Awards, and watch video footage of their remarks at the Celebrating Excellence Awards Dinner.

Adler Friend of Education Award: Representative Gene DiGirolamo 
Video: Rep. DiGirolamo accepts the Adler Friend of Education Award

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First elected in 1994 to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, Rep. Gene DiGirolamo has served the citizens of Bucks County for 20 years.

Rep. DiGirolamo has been a lifelong supporter of public education, educators, and the students in our schools. He has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with PSEA to oppose attacks on school employee pensions and collective bargaining rights, and has fought for fair funding for our schools.

"Rep. DiGirolamo is one of the most courageous lawmakers I've ever met," said PSEA President Mike Crossey. "His courage comes from his convictions and his strong beliefs about helping students, helping Pennsylvanians who are suffering, and helping the middle class. He's not afraid to let people know that government can be a powerful force for good in our state. I'm proud to call him my friend, and I am so glad that he is PSEA's ally."

Community Leader - Individual: Christian Bucks 
Video: Christian Bucks accepts the Community Leader Award

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When his family was faced with the possibility of moving to Germany in 2013, first-grader Christian Bucks was checking out an international school online. There he saw a picture of a special bench where lonely students could go to sit on a playground. Christian thought the bench would be a good idea to have on his playground at Roundtown Elementary in the Central York School District. He knew that some of his friends sometimes felt lonely at recess and thought the "buddy bench" would help to end that. After sharing the idea with his principal, Matt Miller, Christian helped to design the bench and it was constructed on the playground at Roundtown the following year.

If a student feels lonely on the playground without anything to do, he or she can go to the buddy bench. Another student then goes to the bench and asks if the lonely student wants to play or talk. The buddy bench helps to eliminate loneliness and foster friendship on the playground.

Christian's inspirations are far-reaching, and his hopes and dreams didn't end in York. Today, more than 500 buddy benches are in all 50 states and in 10 countries. Christian has traveled to New York, Hawaii, and California to talk about the importance of compassion, peace, and friendships.

Community Leader - Organization: Tiger Pause 
Video: Tiger Pause Director Matt Nance accepts the Community Leader Award

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Founded in 1988, Tiger Pause Christian Youth Ministry serves the youth and families of Beaver Falls and the surrounding Beaver County. The community organization provides young people and their families with opportunities to participate in quality programs that help them reach their full potential.

With the help of staff and volunteers, Tiger Pause offers after-school programs at four locations, a summer camp, as well as, healthy meals, fitness and sports opportunities, and homework help. Counselors also help to provide mentoring, one-on-one direction in life skills and educational development.

Teaching work ethic and basic business skills, the Eye of the Tiger Pause Work Program has offered employment to more than 70 youth at The Tiger Pause Furniture Bank and a non-profit coffee shop in town. Tiger Pause members also installed and now operate a splash pad and there are plans to build a bowling alley, with both places offering job opportunities, training, and a safe place for Beaver Falls children to go to play and have fun.

Student Leader: Emily Shrader 
Video: Emily Shrader accepts the Student Leader Award

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As a senior at Cumberland Valley High School in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, Emily Shrader took to heart her high school's directive to "Be the Change." This year, Cumberland Valley students and teachers were challenged to come up with ideas on how to make a difference in their school or community. Emily made a big difference to many in her community with peanut butter - 5,202 jars of peanut butter to be exact.

Last summer as a volunteer at the local New Hope Ministries food bank, she noticed how quickly jars of peanut butter would fly off the shelves. The demand for peanut butter prompted Emily to set out on a mission she called, "Project Peanut Butter." In three months, Emily worked with her church, local businesses, students, friends, family, and community members to collect 5,202 jars of peanut butter to donate to New Hope Ministries. Eric Saunders, executive director of New Hope Ministries, found it remarkable for Emily to not only have this much compassion for others, but also have the skills to organize an effort of this magnitude and collect so much in such a short time.

In the fall, Emily was the chair for Harvest at Homecoming, a district-wide food drive supported by Cumberland Valley's Eagle Foundation. In the schools across the district, students were asked to bring a food donation for the New Hope Ministries food bank. Under Emily's leadership, nearly 8,000 pounds of food was collected and donated to New Hope Ministries.

Local Association: Greenville EA, Hermitage EA, and Hermitage ESPA 
Video: Greenville EA and Hermitage EA and ESPA members accept the Local Association Award

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Last fall, the Greenville Education Association, Hermitage Education Association, and Hermitage Education Support Professionals Association partnered with the Greenville Area School District, Hermitage School District, and United Way of Mercer County to sponsor a pre-kindergarten book drive to benefit children in the local communities. The locals started out with a goal to collect enough books to distribute to 1,000 pre-kindergarten children in each district.

Collection sites were set up in every Greenville Area and Hermitage school building, as well as the United Way of Mercer County Office, the Community Library of the Shenango Valley, and at a local book store. The book drive was promoted through flyers and press releases. And in just under two months, the locals collected nearly 10,000 books.

The local members used the book drive as an opportunity to talk with parents and community members about the importance of public education and encouraged them to join Partners for Public Education (PPE). Reading tips and book recommendations were given to parents during the book drive. A PPE bookmark and sticker were attached to each book prior to distribution.






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