July 15, 2014

Meet the winners: 2014 PSEA Celebrating Excellence Awards

Recipients of PSEA’s 2014 Adler Friend of Education Award and Human and Civil Rights Awards were honored at PSEA’s Celebrating Excellence Dinner on May 15.

Jeffrey G. HawksAdler Friend of Education Award
Jeffrey G. Hawks
Army Heritage Center Foundation, Educ. Dir.
National History Day State Coordinator for PA

In addition to his position as the Army Heritage Center Foundation’s Education Director, Jeff Hawks also acts as the state coordinator for National History Day in Pennsylvania, one of the largest in the nation. Based on an annual theme, students in grades 6-12 select a topic, research and analyze various sources, analyze their findings, and create projects to demonstrate their conclusions. The students can work as individuals or groups to develop dramatic performances, imaginative exhibits, multimedia documentaries, web sites, and research papers to present their discoveries. National History Day is not just a day; it is a year-long program that culminates each June with a national contest. National History Day makes history come alive for students by engaging them in the discovery of the historical, cultural, and social experiences of the past. Students are engaged in the study of history, and they learn the skills and techniques of historians.

Jeffrey G. Hawks at Celebrating Excellence AwardsThe Army Heritage Center Foundation’s Education Department sponsors and manages the statewide National History Day in Pennsylvania program. As the state coordinator for National History Day in Pennsylvania, Hawks coordinates 11 regional affiliates with more than 11,900 students and 325 teachers participating annually. Each May, more than 800 students attend the annual state contest. Nominator Lynne O’Hara commented that Hawks and his staff "run a state contest that is second to none." It is organized and well-planned. More students compete in some regional contests than compete in many other state contests. Hawks also coordinates the more than 100 professional historians, educators, and community leaders who volunteer as judges at the state contest, and the hundreds more who serve at 11 regional contests.

Principals and superintendents from across the Commonwealth agree that the National History Day in Pennsylvania program encourages and challenges students in their districts. Without Hawks’ amazing logistical coordination with students, teachers, and judges, none of this would be possible. As Irish author and statesman Edmund Burke said, "Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it."

Human and Civil Rights Awards

Adam ForgieEducational Leader Award
Adam Forgie
Woodland Hills Education Association

Woodland Hills Social Studies teacher Adam Forgie is a faithful and devoted ally in the fight for equality in Western Pennsylvania both inside and outside the classroom. A 13-year veteran in the classroom, Forgie also is the former two-term mayor of Turtle Creek Borough in Allegheny County. At the age of 27, Forgie was the youngest mayor to be elected in the Borough’s history. As mayor from 2006 to 2013, Forgie led Turtle Creek through three emergency flood disasters, created the Turtle Creek Community Crime Watch, and initiated the "Walk and Talk" program in which he met with residents and walked alongside them to discuss ordinances violations, nuisance properties, and tolerance among neighborhoods. During his tenure as mayor, Forgie worked to update technology in the police department by putting laptops in police cruisers and equipping patrolmen with Tasers.

Adam Forgie at Celebrating Excellence AwardsNominator Ed Erickson, one of Forgie’s colleague at Woodland Hills Academy, recalled an incident when Forgie and another teacher helped to stop an alleged gunman who attempted to stop a school bus of Woodland Hills students. For his act of bravery, Forgie received a proclamation from the Allegheny County Council.

In the classroom, Forgie’s students all have a voice and are respected for their differences. He incorporates lessons about anti-bullying, gender discrimination in the workplace, and discrimination based on sexual orientation. Erickson commented that Forgie tells his students, "My passion to stop injustice, discrimination, and inequality leads me to teach my students to recognize it themselves."

Outside the classroom, Forgie is a 16-year member of the Turtle Creek Fire Department, having served as captain and lieutenant. He also is a veteran of the United States Army Reserves. Forgie is the fifth generation of his family to reside in Turtle Creek. Born and raised there, he also is a graduate of Woodland Hills High School. His wife Allison is a second-grade teacher in the Woodland Hills School District. Adam and Allison are the proud parents of a new baby girl, Amelia. 

Frank SchaeferCommunity Leader
Frank Schaefer

When Pastor Frank Schaefer officiated at his son’s same-sex wedding in 2007, he had no idea that six years later he would become a de facto spokesman for gay marriage rights in his church. He just thought he was being a "loving father." Schaefer led Lebanon Zion United Methodist Church of Iona in Lebanon for more than a decade. But in early 2013, a church member filed a complaint upon learning he performed the wedding for his son in Massachusetts, where same-sex unions are legal. While the Methodist Church accepts gay and lesbian members, it rejects the practice of homosexuality as "incompatible with Christian teaching" and forbids the clergy from performing same-sex unions. Schaefer’s decision to officiate the wedding was seen as contradictory to church teachings.

Frank Schaefer at Celebrating Excellence AwardsLast November, a church jury suspended Schaefer for 30 days. In December, Schaefer told church officials that he could not follow the Book of Discipline. Schaefer maintains that the Book is contradictory and discriminates against gay people. After the church asked Schaefer to surrender his credentials and he refused, Schaefer was defrocked on Dec. 19, 2013. 

Now a United Methodist lay person, speaker, and activist, he continues to advocate for human rights. Schaefer continues his cross-country tour of churches, and later this year he will release his autobiography about the trial and events leading up to the trial. Schaefer has learned that a church appeals council has agreed to hear the case later this year. Composed of 13 members – clergy and lay – the appeals committee will, by majority vote, have the authority to sustain the findings, reverse the penalty, or remand the case to a new trial. 

Never regretting any of his actions or decisions, Schaefer is now the voice for the thousands of LGBT members in the Methodist Church. He told a newscaster last year, "I’m so blessed to share my story of inclusiveness and love."

Hazleton Integration ProjectCommunity Leader Organization
Hazleton Integration Project

Several years ago, when Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon returned to his hometown of Hazleton, he saw a city divided by race and ethnicity. He saw an older, white population and the new, rapidly growing Hispanic population, and they weren’t getting along. Hazleton has long been considered a melting pot since the 19th Century, when the Irish, German, Welsh, Polish, Slavic, and Italians came to the area to mine anthracite coal. Back then, the ethnic groups were divided by parish and church, but eventually the groups intertwined. What Maddon saw was a tense, untrusting city with new anti-immigration laws that punished illegal immigrants and created pressure and hostility for many others. This wasn’t the same Hazleton that Maddon had grown up in and came to love.

After that trip home, Maddon told his cousin Elaine Maddon Curry and her husband Bob Curry that he wanted to "do something to repair what had been damaged here." With help from the Currys and other community members, Maddon started Hazleton Integration Project (HIP) in 2011. HIP is a community-based effort that seeks to unite the people of many different cultures in Hazleton. Hazleton One Community Center opened in a former school building in 2013. Backed by Maddon, the center houses HIP’s headquarters and serves as host to social events amd celebrations, conducts tutoring and after-school events, and organizes other unifying community events. Volunteers at the center include teachers and school staff members, high school students, doctors, business community members, and retirees.


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Maddon has spoken at many public events for HIP, urging members of the Latino and white community to "get to know each other and figure out, together, how to foster prosperity in the economically challenged city they share." Maddon and HIP leaders believe that it is important for different cultural groups to spend time together to truly get to know each other while understanding and appreciating cultural similarities and differences.

"We are a country of different cultures that have grown into one. That is the American way, and it is our greatest strength as a nation," Maddon said. "I am confident that as long as we are all willing to work together, we can and will rebuild our city into a model community that will inspire a deep sense of pride in all of our citizens."

Arizona BrennanStudent Leader Award
Arizona Brennan
Pottsgrove High School

Arizona Brennan has undoubtedly left her mark on Pottsgrove High School. The senior will graduate in June leaving behind an exceptional legacy. This amazing young woman has shown determination, a commitment to community service, leadership, and the ability to overcome adversity.

The co-founder and president of the Pottsgrove High School chapter of Club Wave, an after-school service club sponsored by Spark the Wave, Brennan is dedicated and motivating to her peers. Spark the Wave is a nonprofit organization committed to empowering students in their communities. Spark the Wave offers after-school and weekend seminars that provide an opportunity for middle and high school students to develop their skills in effective communication, leadership development, service learning, project planning, and diversity awareness.

Arizona Brennan at Celebrating Excellence AwardsAccording to Katie Oleksiak, the program manager for Spark the Wave, Brennan and her club have become the model for other Spark the Wave chapters in the Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. areas. Oleksiak goes on to say, "Her work as club president over the last two years speaks highly to her ability to motivate her peers and her personal commitment to humanitarianism on a global scale." Over the last several years, Brennan has helped to organize and coordinate Spark the Wave events such as an exercise clinic hosted weekly for elementary school children; an annual Winter Festival benefiting Toys for Tots; book, toy, clothes, and food collections for needy children; cooking and serving meals for area homeless; disaster relief fundraisers; and pet supply drives.

Her gifted support teacher, Club Wave adviser, and nominator Eileen Forsyth considers Brennan, "a force to be reckoned with both in the classroom and in life." To her class work, Brennan brings an attention to detail, a passion for understanding, a collaborative spirit, and a disciplined work ethic.

Last year, Brennan was selected to attend the ANNPower Leadership Forum in Washington, D.C., where she participated in leadership training and networked with women leaders from across the country.

Through all of this, Brennan also had to deal with her father’s cancer diagnosis and eventual death. She used this tragedy as an opportunity to inspire others and change the world around her. Brennan aspires to be a part of large-scale humanitarian aid in the world, and as she sets out to begin her next chapter, she is "living a life that would make her father incredibly proud."

Students participate in Penny Wars to raise money for a local food bankLocal Association Award
Moniteau EA and Moniteau ESP
Dassa McKinney Elementary School

Over the last six years, the Moniteau EA and Moniteau ESP members at Dassa McKinney Elementary School have raised more than $14,000 for the Salvation Army. Located in West Sunbury in PSEA’s Midwestern Region, this school is home to hardworking staff members who have spent much time, money, and effort to raise funds to help their community.

Beginning in 2008, Darlene Twentier, a member of Moniteau ESP, rallied members to host several bake sales to raise money for the Salvation Army. These staff members were the only people to bake and buy the goodies! That same year, they also signed up to ring the Salvation Army bell for one Saturday in December. After raising nearly $1,200 that year, they were named Rookie of the Year and haven’t looked back since. In 2009, the group won the traveling trophy from the Salvation Army for the most money raised in Butler County. Since then, they have come in either first or second place for the Salvation Army trophy. These bell ringers include teachers, staff, parents, students, and even school board members. The Salvation Army uses the funds collected to host free after-school meals and tutoring for students, free summer daycare, free summer breakfast and lunch for kids, nutrition training, health care support, and free youth activities to keep students off the streets.

In addition to collecting money for the Salvation Army, the staff and student council at Dassa McKinney Elementary School participate in penny wars to collect money for the local food bank, raising between $2,500 and $4,000. They also send care packages to soldiers on active duty, as well as make and send cards to veterans. Because the local Meals on Wheels is often close to shutting down their program in the summer, they donate money toward their operating expenses. At Christmas, the staff also coordinates gift buying for needy families.

This small but mighty group of about 75 EA and ESP members goes above and beyond educating their students. As nominator and Allegheny Clarion Valley EA member Jennifer Stover said, "Their love of their entire community shows why they have the heart of lions." 



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