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Chamber honors nine educators

| Thursday, May 8, 2003

UNIONTOWN - Nine educators in Fayette County were honored by the Fayette Chamber of Commerce at a special ceremony Wednesday.

The chamber's executive director, Muriel Nuttall, thanked everyone for the "wonderful turnout" to celebrate excellence in teaching for their 2002 - 2003 Fayette County Education Works reception.

Nuttall said the chamber distributed 5,000 nomination packets to schools across Fayette County. The requirements weren't for the teachers' longevity at their schools or the knowledge of their subjects, but was based on the perceptions of those who nominated the teachers, those teachers' contributions to education, teaching strengths, extracurricular activities and community involvement.

To help highlight "these everyday heroes," Nuttall and the chamber let the presenters for each recipient share their thoughts on why their colleague, friend or admirer deserves to be at the podium.

The first presenter was Carl Bezjak, principal at Albert Gallatin Area High School, for Mary Ellen S. Jones, the school's advanced placement English language, honors British and American literature and academic American literature teacher.

Bezjak read a letter from one of Jones' students, which stated that Jones gives students an environment to debate, argue, share and recoil ideas and allows time for fun and games as well.

"It's really been a year for blushing," said Jones, who had been honored by the Educational Testing Service, to name one of many accomplishments.

Jones added that the award proves that teachers have cheerleaders.

Dr. Thomas A. Hisiro, principal of Redstone Middle School, presented the second Educator of the Year Award to Mary Seelye, a special education teacher in grades seven and eight for the middle school.

Hisiro told the crowd the adage that mediocre teachers tell while superior teachers inspire, and he has been exposed to a superior teacher who's both motivated and dedicated to students, student programs and organizations.

The award was an unexpected surprise to Seelye, who said - along with others who received their awards - that it is impossible to teach and succeed without the team effort of the faculty.

The third award was presented by Don Witt, a colleague of recipient Christopher C. Hornick, the band director at Connellsville Junior High East.

Witt said he could have listed so many things to honor Hornick, but that list would take so much time to read, it would have taken him longer than the audience would want to be there.

"It goes on and on," Witt said.

With more than 30 years of experience, Hornick said he loved every minute of teaching and that there is a need for positive support in the school system, and that support needs to stay positive.

Barbara Mehalov, principal at Frazier Middle School, presented the award to eighth-grade teacher Donna M. Clark.

Clark, said Mehalov, constantly gives advice and direction to all of her students, which she treats as a precious commodity, building self-esteem for each child and never refusing to help out.

More and more, said Clark, she's faced with "new challenges, new faces and new personalities, and I wake up every morning ready to face those challenges."

"This celebrates what's right about education," said William Simpson, of the Laurel Highlands School District, about the awards ceremony before presenting the fifth award to James E. Tobal, Laurel Highlands High School's Pennsylvanian and American history teacher.

The two things that make Tobal a superior teacher, said Simpson, is his caring for the students and his willingness to give back to the community that pays his salary through his volunteer work.

There are more deserving teachers for this award, said Tobal, "but none more appreciative than me."

Edward Fearer, principal of Marclay Elementary School, said that when they were in the hiring process for teachers in 1999, he saw the potential in one such applicant, and four years later, that applicant, Jeremy Leasure, would receive the Educator of the Year Award.

In a profession that's sometimes bogged down with negatives, said Leasure, a fourth- and-fifth-grade teacher, it's great when positive things like the awards happen and the teachers are recognized.

The awards, said Nuttall, have grown since their beginning in 1989 when only one teacher was recognized in Fayette County, to today, where all county school districts were represented.

But, said Nuttall, there were some educators we weren't paying attention to, so they added three additional categories to Educator of the Year.

The Post-Secondary School award went to Valerie Bacharach, an educator at Laurel Highlands Business Institute.

The institute's director, Nancy Decker, presented Bacharach with the award, noting that she has seen Bacharach change students' lives by pulling out the self-esteem in her students.

"I love teaching," said Bacharach, who added that the bottom line wasn't if she believes in the students, it's whether they believe in themselves.

Patty Franks and Lisa Durbin, parents of two kindergarten students, presented the award for private/parochial School to St. Mary School's kindergarten teacher Mary Lee DeCarlo.

In two tearful testimonies, both Franks and Durbin told the audience how DeCarlo has changed their daughters as well as other students for the better by teaching them to count to 100 in four different languages, recite all 43 American presidents and identify numerous world leaders.

The award, said DeCarlo, gave her more confidence in educating children in her positive classroom environment, because "all educators have a great obligation to students."

The final award, Vocational-Technical School/IU #1, was presented to Barbara Vance, a math teacher at the Fayette County Area Vocational-Technical School.

Donna Heintz, a colleague and friend of Vance, said Vance calmly and patiently goes through her day while involving herself with other extracurricular activities and organizations.

Vance said seeing teenagers that know what they want to do with their lives and applying what she taught them in their hands-on courses every day, as well as the students themselves, makes teaching the best job in the world.

Chamber member Lillian Cale closed the ceremony by telling the educators and administrators to continue to inspire and continue to do a wonderful job.

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