● Published by J. Chambless
Gallery: Heart of Learning finalist [4 Images] Click any image to expand.
On Monday morning, the staff of the Avon Grove Nazarene Academy proved they can really keep a secret. So did hundreds of parents and children who turned out to see teacher Ann Marie Spencer get her award as a finalist for the Citadel Heart of Learning Award.
The awards, sponsored by Citadel Federal Credit Union and the Chester County Intermediate Unit, recognize 15 educators from Chester County for their outstanding service. Three grand prizes will be awarded from among the finalists at a ceremony in May.
But on Monday, just after 8 a.m., families packed the sanctuary at the Avon Grove Church of the Nazarene in West Grove as Spencer wondered what was going on. With her family members in the pews behind her, and her students and grandchildren packed in tightly all around her, Spencer thought that the assembly was a special family devotions event.
School director Kathy St. John said she learned five months ago that Spencer was a finalist, but managed to keep the big reveal under wraps, informing every parent and Spencer's family members, and even filming a video tribute without Spencer knowing. This is the first time the school has had a finalist for the awards.
"I want you to know this morning that you have been chosen to be one of the 15 recipients of the Citadel Heart of Learning Award," St. John told Spencer. "I just want you to look at the faces of the people who are here, who love you, not only for for what you've taught, but for who you are."
Gwen Smoker of Citadel said, "This award was developed 14 years ago to recognize and reward, but mostly to thank, the outstanding teachers we have here in Chester County. We receive thousands of heartfelt nominations for many deserving teachers, and this year, we got nearly 2,700. We narrow that down to 15 finalists from each of the school districts. Our finalist today will get a $500 award, to be given at our banquet in May, that she can use to purchase supplies for the classroom."
Smoker read from several comments from the nominations that Spencer received. "'My boys had the privilege of having her as a teacher many years ago. Still, at the ages of 14 and 16, they love to go and visit her. She truly has a gift,'" Smoker said. "'She has the ability to make stories come alive for her students. When she speaks, even the youngest children sit still, mesmerized, and intently listening to everything that she's saying. She is loved by children and adults alike for her loving and caring nature.'"
Spencer, who has been teaching at the Nazarene Academy for 33 years, accepted the glass heart trophy given by Citadel and thanked the crowd. "Actually, I should be thanking you," she told the audience, her voice shaking. "Each of you has contributed to who I am, and I want to thank you for trusting your children to us. They are a joy to work with every day. I love my job, but I'm really mad at my fellow teachers," she added with a smile as the crowd laughed.
Citadel Bank then gave the school a "Schools With Heart" award, based on the percentage of nominations from the student body. There are 182 children enrolled at the school, and 30 percent of the families voted to nominate Spencer for the award. The school got second place, and was presented a check for $750.
To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.