As students went straight from their buses to start their school day Sept. 27 with an assembly in the gymnasium, Rose DeGregorio joined them.
The instructional support teacher at Abraham Lincoln Elementary School in Bethel Park stood with some of her colleagues near the back of the gym, listening as the youngsters were greeted by some guests. Two of them, Cindy Ollendyke and James Nagorski, were visiting on behalf of the National State Teachers of the Year’s Pennsylvania Chapter.
“We believe in encouraging quality education and quality teaching, and love to recognize the excellence and commitment of other professional educators,” Ollendyke said in announcing that one of the Lincoln teachers was about to receive a special honor.
When Nagorski revealed the name, DeGregorio issued an exclamation of pure surprise on learning she is the winner of the fourth annual Hilda M. Sundermann Award, which includes money for use in the classroom.
“I know that probably most people would be happy with the $500, and certainly that’s wonderful,” DeGregorio said when she reached the gymnasium’s front, following more than minute of sustained applause and chants of “Mrs. D!”
“But you know what the best part of this award is? I get to spend every day in a school that I love coming to every single day.”
The award is named for a Pittsburgh Public Schools elementary teacher who was a two-time Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year finalist and named 1974 Outstanding Elementary Teacher of America. Her family created the award in her memory following her death in 2015.
Potential recipients are nominated by Pennsylvania Chapter members, people who have won Teacher of the Year or who have been named as finalists, “and must have the same spirit and love of teaching elementary children that defined Hilda’s remarkable career,” Ollendyke explained.
Recommending DeGregorio was Katherine Meucci, who teaches fourth grade at Bethel Park’s Benjamin Franklin Elementary School and was a 2017 state finalist.
As an instructional support teacher, DeGregorio works with students in kindergarten through fourth grade to help improve their skills in mathematics and English/language arts. She is the first recipient of the Sundermann Award who teaches in that capacity.
“Because I’m working with kids sometimes who are struggling, I don’t always get to celebrate all the victories that classroom teachers get to celebrate. But it’s still such a joy to be with them for 40 minutes a day,” she said. “The other thing I love about my job is that I get to dip my fingers in all the different levels of curriculum. It’s not just, teach third grade all the time. It’s third-grade math, third-grade ELA.”
DeGregorio has been teaching for 22 years, the past 13 in Bethel Park. Her husband, Kyle, is a Baldwin-Whitehall School District guidance counselor who plans to retire at the end of the academic year.
“I can’t imagine retiring right now, because I’m not in a job where it’s: ‘Oh, my gosh, I hate my job,’” Rose said.
Along with teaching, she leads the Lincoln Loggers, a physical fitness program for students in conjunction with the Pittsburgh Marathon.
“They’ll train with me every Friday at lunchtime, starting in March. We run outside at recess time, and they have to accrue 25 miles outside of the marathon,” she said. “Then on the day of the marathon, it’s 1.2 miles. So 25 plus 1.2 makes a marathon. Then the kids say that they’ve run a marathon.”