teacher Bernie Secrist wasn't expecting to be named a finalist in the annual Citadel "Heart of Learning" award ceremony. In fact, she almost didn't go.
"I had some paperwork that was supposed to be done this afternoon, and I was still working on it," Secrist said. "I was not going to come down, I was going to work for the last few minutes I could squeak out."
It's a good thing she did attend the April 20 ceremony in the school's gymnasium that afternoon, along with the rest of the faculty and student body. After being nominated by peers, students and even superintendent Alan Lonoconus, Secrist was announced as one of 15 finalists for the award. She gave high fives to students as she headed to the front of the gym, where she found her mother, daughter and sister in the front row to congratulate her.
See the crowd's reaction to the announcement in the attached video.
Secrist has been at Great Valley Middle School for 13 years—her longest time ever teaching one place. The wife of an engineer, Secrist moved 21 times before arriving at Great Valley.
"I taught all over the country, special ed from kindergarten through high school—emotionally disturbed through autistic, everything," she said. "When I got this job... I died and went to heaven here. I am thrilled with Great Valley Middle School's special ed program."
The award organization receives about 2,000 nominations each year, and chooses one teacher from each of the county's 13 school districts, plus one from the Chester County Intermediate Unit and one from a charter or other non-public school. On May 8, Secrist will represent the district at the countywide awards banquet at the . One high school, one middle school and one elementary school teacher will each be named the winners.
Full list of Citadel Heart of Learning Awards finalists:
- Avon Grove School District: Timothy C. Rector, Jr., Fred S. Engle Middle School
- Coatesville Area School District: David Sheller, Coatesville Area High School
- Downingtown Area School District: Kelly Colquitt, Lionville Elementary School
- Great Valley School District: Bernadette Secrist, Great Valley Middle School
- Kennett Consolidated School District: Tamara Fellows, Kennett Middle School
- Octorara Area School District: Kristen Winner, Octorara High School
- Owen J. Roberts School District: Dr. Delbert Ferster, Owen J. Roberts High School
- Oxford Area School District: LeAnn R. Gogel, Penn’s Grove Middle School
- Phoenixville Area School District: Andrew Chiofolo, Phoenixville Area High School
- Tredyffrin/Easttown School District: Dave Hyett, Devon Elementary School
- Twin Valley School District: Jennifer Moyer, Twin Valley Middle School
- Unionville-Chadds Ford School District: Farah Lawrence, Hillendale Elementary School
- West Chester Area School District: Suzanne Wethey, Westtown-Thornbury Elementary School
- Chester County Intermediate Unit: Kelly M. Ahlefeld
- Non-Public: Maureen Christie McKenna, Pope John Paul II Regional Catholic Elementary School