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Ms. Elizabeth Raff of Lancaster County was named the 2021/22 Pennslyvania Teacher of the year. Four finalists from the northcentral Pa. region were (top left) Mr. Gerald Kaplan, Loyalsock Twp.; Debra Barrick, Selinsgrove; (bottom left) Andrea Baney, Danville; and Jessica Fellin, Penns Valley.

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The National Teacher of the Year Program through the Pa. Dept. of Education announced this year's Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year on Monday.

Ms. Elizabeth Raff, a sixth grade ELA/Social Studies teacher at Pequea Elementary School took the honor. Raff has been teaching for eight years who "really enjoys helping her students see outside the four walls of the classroom and creates projects to help them think about their college and career goals," according to her nomination.

Raff received her Master's from Penn State University. In addition to teaching, Raff also coaches for Girls on the Run.

The finalists were nominated on the basis of "exemplary teaching and classroom practices across the Commonwealth, according to the website. "TOY annually recognizes a professional who inspires students of all backgrounds and abilities to learn; who has the respect and admiration of students, parents, and colleagues; and who plays an active and useful role in both school and community."

Four teachers in central and northcentral Pa. were named to the list of 12 finalists for Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year, including Gerry Kaplan of Loyalsock Township School District, Andrea Baney of Danville Area School District, Debra Barrick of Selinsgrove Area School District, and Jessica Fellin of Penns Valley Area School District.

Nominations for the Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year were submitted by students, parents, peers, and members of the community wishing to honor and recognize educator achievements both inside and outside the classroom.

Students introduced and paid tribute to their teacher nominees during the Keystone Awards of Excellence program on Tuesday. Following are the nominations for area teachers.

Gerald Kaplan, Grades 9-12 Visual Arts, Loyalsock Twp. School District

"Mr. Kaplan is no stranger to helping his students develop and understand the importance of creativity not only in art, but also for their futures. The open-minded environment he brings to his classroom is a space for all to learn, develop their artistic skills, and grow in many ways. Gerald incorporates creative-thinking and problem-solving lessons into his courses because he understands the importance of those skills in more than just his content. He brings in real-world topics and allows students to be free to express themselves.

"Not only is Mr. Kaplan an advocate for his students, he is also a member of the following professional organizations: National Council on Education for the Ceramics Arts, National Art Education Association, Pennsylvania State Education Association, Loyalsock Township Education Association.

"He is also the advisor of the National Art Honor Society. He has been teaching for 16 years and continues to be an asset to education and the community."

Andrea Baney, Grade 4 math and science teacher, at Liberty Valley Intermediate School, Danville Area School district

"Creating a classroom that is safe, encourages curiosity, and promotes passionate and reflective learners is a main goal for Mrs. Baney each school year," according to her nomination.

"Andrea has been teaching Mathematics for 12 years at Liberty Valley Intermediate School. During this time, she has created a foundation for learning basic math skills that will carry over into her students' futures.

"One way she does this is with a culminating project which is completed at the end of the year. This project focuses on how math is used in various careers that students are interested in. Mrs. Baney teaches students to create goals for themselves and teaches them how to track their progress while identifying their own strengths and weaknesses while working on achieving their goals. She encourages communication among her students and takes time to get to know each of them.

"Andrea is also involved in many school and community organizations where she volunteers her time often. She is a mentor and cooperating teacher for Elementary Education majors at Bloomsburg University. She is a great asset to her own students as well as future teachers."

Debra Barrick, K-2 Librarian, Selinsgrove Elementary School, Selinsgrove Area School District

Ms. Barrick has been a teacher for 33 years.

"She is involved in local, state, and national organizations including the American Library Association, National Education Association, and an instructor for the Reading Education Assistance Dogs Program. She has received multiple grants for increasing literacy and technology use in her school. She uses these resources in her lessons and focuses on creating a foundation for career or collegiate readiness skills.

"Not only do her students benefit from her lessons, but so do the teachers in her district. She is an excellent resource and ensures the library is filled with resources, books, and activities for all interests.

"She strives to have an open door policy for everyone. Students can visit any time of day to check out books, do research, or read with a book buddy. It’s her mission to get to know each student’s personal interests and match them with the perfect books. She enjoys helping students see the importance of literacy and STEM skills and how they will benefit them no matter what career path they choose."

Jessica Fellin, high school biology, Penns Valley Area Junior/Senior High School, Penns Valley Area School District

"Whether it’s college or career bound, Mrs. Fellin focuses on growth mindset and harnessing the power of learning from mistakes to help students grow habits of success that will help them in their futures.

"Mrs. Fellin has been teaching in the science field for seven years and is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in Educational Leadership from Penn State University. She is a member of the National Science Teachers Association and has been nominated for numerous awards for her excellence in teaching.

"Jessica encourages her students to take ownership of their learning and understand how they learn best for all of their classes. She is passionate about ensuring her students have the skills to set them apart from their peers by inviting college professors into classes to discuss the expectations of the next level science courses as well as having discussions with them about what to expect.

"Mrs. Fellin enjoys getting to know her students and is able to design her courses based on their interests. Her courses allow her students to have 'small wins' as they begin to grow and develop their skills in science and progress throughout the year.

"There is power in mistakes and Mrs. Fellin’s classroom shows students that it’s not only OK to make mistakes, but it’s essential to overall growth."

Other state finalists included:

·       Nicole Darroch - Ambridge Area School District (Beaver County)

·       Kathleen Dickensheets - Hampton Township School District (Allegheny    County)

·       Caitlin Keiper - New Hope-Solebury School District (Bucks County)

·       Denise Leigh - McGuffey School District (Washington County)

·       Kerri Lynn Markert - Easton Area School District (Northampton County)

·       Katie Wisnosky - Tunkhannock Area School District (Wyoming County)

·       Hollie Woodard - Council Rock School District (Bucks County)

 Congratulations Ms. Raff, and all 12 finalists for this year's award!

This article originally ran on northcentralpa.com.

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