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Centre County educator named Teacher of the Year

December 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Caption: Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis is pictured with Tricia Miller, a literacy coach in Penns Valley Area School District, Centre County, who was named the 2012 Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year. Pictured from left are Secretary Tomalis, Miller and John Anthony Ventura III, a former student in Miller s English class. 

PUBLISHED IN THE CENTRE DAILY TIMES

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 7, 2001

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BY ED MAHON

In third-grade, Tricia Miller’s seat ended up right next to the teacher’s desk.

The teacher didn’t set up her classroom that way because Miller was a troublemaker who needed to be kept under a watchful eye. She did it because, even before the age of 10, those around Miller recognized she’d be a good teacher.

On Monday evening, the state recognized that, too.

Miller, a secondary English teacher at Penns Valley Area High School, was named the 2012 Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year, becoming the first Centre County educator to receive the award in its 54-year history.

“The experience has just been phenomenal,” said Miller, who was honored with 12 other finalists at a conference in Hershey this week. “I was with many, many, many fine teachers. …We all do what we can for kids, and that’s what’s so exciting.”

She will now serve as a spokesperson for teachers from across the state at events and conferences throughout the year, and she will represent the state in the national teacher of the year competition. Penns Valley Area High School plans to honor her and other teachers with a pep rally this afternoon.

“She cares about achievement, she cares about the teaching profession, as well as the community that she works in,” said Jacque Martin, the high school principal who nominated her for the honor. “So I am just so proud of her.”

Miller graduated from Bellefonte Area High School in 1990, and now lives in Lock Haven with her husband, two daughters, and stepdaughter. She has worked for Penns Valley since 1994, teaching English classes for most of that time.

In February 2009, she became the district’s literacy coach for grades 7 through 12, and helped introduce new instructional strategies in classrooms. Martin asked her to take on that role, which meant less time with students, and more time coaching her fellow teachers.

“I knew her colleagues respected her,” Martin said. Miller returned to the classroom full-time this year. John Ventura, 20, is one of her former students. He walked into her 12th-grade English classroom the second half of his senior year, after he’d already been accepted into Penn State.

“The first line out of her mouth was … ‘If you have senioritis, go see a doctor,’ ” recalled Ventura, who gave a speech honoring Miller at the Hershey conference. One of the lasting images he remembers from that semester in spring 2009 is the stare she could give, one that would send the message: You’re going to do the work, even if you fight it.

“She may come off as somebody who’s tough and hard, but she’s somebody who knew you had the ability to do great things as long as you put your mind to it,” said Ventura, who’s now a hotel and restaurant management major at Penn State. “She instilled some things that I’ll carry with me forever.”

Two other Penns Valley teachers, Jacqui Wagner and Mary Conner-Righter, were semifinalists in the state Teacher of the Year program. Erich May, who taught journalism and English at Bellefonte Area High School before taking an administrator job in the Allentown School District earlier this school year, was also one of the 12 finalists for the Teacher of the Year award.

In one of her many application essays, Miller wrote about the third-grade teacher who she ended up sitting near. She also wrote about the first-grade teacher who gave her a “beautiful, green, rubber bouncy ball for jumping rope longer than anyone else in the class,” the second-grade teacher who gently removed a pin that Miller had accidentally jabbed into her own finger instead of into a Christmas decoration, and the high school teachers who helped her play alto saxophone “without screeching,” and who taught her who “to love American literature, as well as analyze it, critique it, summarize it, and reflect on it through writing.”

“These are the greatest influences on my decision to become a teacher,” Miller wrote in her application, “and these teachers are behind my accomplishments, not only in education but personally as well, whether they realize it or not.” Ed Mahon can be reached at 231-4619.

Read more here: Centre County educator named Teacher of the Year.

Taking personal out of personnel

November 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Caption: Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis speaks to the Pennsylvania Association of Elementary and Secondary School Principals at a statewide conference October 25, 2011. CDT/Nabil K. Mark

PUBLISHED IN THE CENTRE DAILY TIMES

BY ED MAHON

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WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 26, 2011

UNIVERSITY PARK — Ken Pruitt, a former English teacher and current middle school assistant school principal, told the state education secretary he wanted some advice.

“What you just said to us, we can all agree. There is a systemic problem. My concern is the tone of the argument constantly goes to personnel problems,” Pruitt, from the Burrell School District in Westmoreland County, told Ron Tomalis at The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel on Tuesday. “And I was wondering what we could all do to talk about that systemic problem without attacking people and making it personal.”

“I hear that a lot,” Tomalis replied.

Arborist reflects on role in Flight 93 cleanup

September 18, 2011 Leave a comment

PUBLISHED IN THE CENTRE DAILY TIMES

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 10, 2011

BY ED MAHON

Mark Trautman was an arborist at Penn State when a childhood friend and Pennsylvania state trooper called him on Sept. 13, 2001, asking for help.

State police and FBI investigators needed a few climbers to ascend treetops at the United Airlines Flight 93 crash site near Shanksville to recover evidence that had been snagged and embedded into hemlock and beech trees.

The debris there would include shrapnel and, more horrifically, human remains.

Trautman, along with another Penn State employee, agreed.

Memories of those four days in September have haunted him since: the charred flesh that was stuck on the tops of trees, the smell that stayed on his boots, the personal items that had belonged to the passengers.

“We found somebody’s wallet. And there were pictures just strewn everywhere. I mean, this is this guy’s life,” Trautman said this week. “You could tell it was an older gentleman’s wallet. I don’t know if it was his wife in a younger age, but it definitely looked like his sweetheart with a beautiful, ’57 convertible.”

Trautman, 44, of Spruce Creek, is one of the first responders who will be honored this weekend at the Flight 93 National Memorial dedication and ceremony in Somerset County.

Read more: Arborist reflects on role in Flight 93 cleanup.

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Categories: Features, Penn State, Profiles

Retired teacher trades windsurfing lessons for charity

September 18, 2011 Leave a comment

Caption: Tom Gabrielson and Bill van den Berg during a windsurfing lesson at Sayers Lake on Friday, August 12, 2011. CDT/Christopher Weddle 

PUBLISHED IN THE CENTRE DAILY TIMES

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, 2011

BY ED MAHON

HOWARD — Standing up to his waist in Sayers Lake, Bill van den Berg watched Tom Gabrielson clamber onto the windsurfing board.

Both were bearded men with doctorates — van den Berg in biophysics, Gabrielson in acoustics.

But one of them was new to the sport. “I want you to get on the board and just walk around a little bit,” van den Berg told him. “Just get a feel — whoa.”

Gabrielson had slipped over and splashed into the water.

“All right,” said a laughing Gabrielson. “Got to get the first one out of the way.”

Van den Berg, 65, is a retired high school physics teacher, an amateur photographer and a budding windsurfing instructor. He first took up the sport 1996. In 2007, he retired from State College Area High School, bought a house about 500 yards from Sayers Lake and got certified by U.S. Sailing as a windsurfing instructor.

In lieu of a fee, he asks clients to make a donation of between $60 and $100 to Centre Volunteers in Medicine, the American Red Cross, or about 20 other nonprofits.

Windsurfing on Sayers Lake is not like windsurfing in North Carolina, Hawaii or the Caribbean. The surrounding mountains can make the wind erratic. But van den Berg said light breezes can be good for beginners.

Read more: Retired teacher trades windsurfing lessons for charity.

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