Ross teacher tops state honor roll
At Ross Elementary School, students know Lois Rebich as "the teacher who helps."
An instructional support teacher in the North Hills School District, Rebich was chosen Tuesday as the 2007 Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year.
"Whenever something bad happens, I go to her," said sixth-grader Mitchell Zink, 11. "She's helped me a lot. She helps me with tests and quizzes and whatever I need.
"Giving her that award was a really good choice," he said.
Rebich, 54, of South Fayette, becomes the state's nominee for the National Teacher of the Year competition. A winner will be chosen in April. She received the state award at a ceremony in Harrisburg, along with $6,000 and technology equipment for her classroom, including a laptop computer, a Palm Pilot, a projector and a SMART Board, an electronic whiteboard that is connected to a computer and a projector.
"She is a strong leader and role model who is fully committed to providing our students with a top-notch education," Gov. Ed Rendell said.
Rebich was chosen from among 12 finalists, who included Robert Rodrigues, a social studies teacher at Chartiers Valley High School in Collier.
Ross Elementary erupted in applause when the news was announced, Principal Barbara Weber Mellett said.
"It's exciting. I had chills. It's a wonderful honor," Mellett said. "We are delighted as a school and as a staff. You could not ask for a more dedicated professional committed to children and meeting their needs. It's a joy and a pleasure to work with her."
Rebich believes a life journey that took her from the corporate world to teaching could be one reason she was selected.
"I'm not your typical person who graduated from college and taught for 30 years. I spent time in business before I went into education. I think they were looking for that kind of a person with a different background," Rebich said.
Rebich taught in the Pittsburgh Public Schools for two years and has been at North Hills for 15 years.
Before becoming a teacher, she worked for H.J. Heinz as a buyer and Rockwell International as a financial analyst. She pursued becoming a teacher after she and her husband, Eli, decided to open a day care center.
But while doing her student teaching, Rebich fell in love with the profession and abandoned the day care plans in favor of a career in public education.
"It was a love affair with the classroom I hadn't expected," she said. "The good news is, I still have that love affair with the classroom."
As an instructional support teacher, Rebich helps students who are having academic, behavioral or organizational problems. She runs tutoring programs in which sixth-graders help their younger classmates at recess, and an after-school program in which high school students help elementary children.
Word of Rebich's honor spread quickly among her former students as well. Michelle Napoli, a freshman dance major at Arizona State University, was awakened in Tempe by a call from her mother. Rebich was her teacher for second and sixth grades.
"She always seemed to have a different kind of energy than other teachers. She seemed passionate about what she was doing," said Napoli, 18. "That was passed down to me. I'm thankful for that. It gave me good habits through school. I was really privileged to have her as a teacher."
Marilyn Cain, director of elementary education and professional services at North Hills, nominated Rebich for Teacher of the Year.
"She goes about her work quietly and carefully, and you can tell she deeply cares for children and what happens to them," she said. "They couldn't have chosen a better person."
Rebich was expected to be back in school today, which will hold red-and-white day, the district's colors, in her honor, Mellett said.