National Liberty Museum honors 4 Bucks, Montco teachers

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National Liberty Museum honors 4 Bucks, Montco teachers

Educators from Bensalem, North Penn and Abington high schools received “Teacher as Hero” awards.

George Daka recalls sitting through “boring” government classes during his high school years in Philadelphia.

Years later when he joined the social studies department in the Bensalem Township School District and started teaching government, history and other classes, Daka remembered that earlier time and vowed to make his classes as interactive and engaging as possible.

He’s been successful in that endeavor, and it’s been noticed. Daka was one of four high school teachers from Bucks or Eastern Montgomery counties to recently receive “Teacher as Hero” awards from The National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia. Also recognized were Abington High School special education teachers Caroline Gimbel and Kathy Rafter and North Penn High School English teacher Sakita Tinsley.

They were among 13 Philadelphia area teachers to be honored from among 77 nominations received from fellow educators, administrators, students and residents in the contest sponsored by State Farm.

“I was really surprised by the honor, absolutely taken aback by it,” said Daka, who now teaches mostly Advanced Placement government but also AP history classes at Bensalem High School.

To make those subjects come alive for students, Daka makes frequent use of things like classroom visits from local and state government officials and field trips. The idea is to not just learn about government, but see it in action and hear about how it works from those who are part of it, he said.

Within the last year, visitors to Daka’s classes included lobbyists David Kralle and Sean Schafer and state Secretary of Labor and Industry Jerry Oleksiak.

“I think about what can excite students, what makes government meaningful?” Daka said. “It’s actually bringing in live people who have a real relationship with government, not just notes on a page. I want students to realize their world isn’t just the four walls of the classroom. We’re a 20-minute train ride from one of the largest cities in the U.S.”

Daka has spent his entire 20-year teaching career in Bensalem.

“I don’t even look at it as work,” he said. “I enjoy coming to school every day and thinking what else can I do to help my students. It’s about giving students as many opportunities as possible. These are our next leaders, and the next people who will be teaching our kids.”

Teacher as Hero awards recognize outstanding educators who represent best practices in teaching and serve as role models to their colleagues and students, a National Liberty Museum news release stated.

“George Daka is recognized as an innovator in the classroom, taking advantage of every resource and opportunity to better the learning environment for his students and, on his own time, arranging for weekend field trips and guest speakers,” it said.

Abington High School special education teachers Gimbel and Rafter started a program four years ago that teaches job and independent living skills to students ages 18 to 21. Through various means, the program strives to make the students active and productive members of their communities, the two teachers said.

Students in the program spend four days a week at jobs and the other day going to restaurants, grocery stores and other locations, the two teachers said. The trips are meant to increase financial literacy and other life skills, they added.

The program has been challenging but very rewarding, Gimbel and Rafter said.

“It’s about meeting them where they are and making the most of what skills they have,” Rafter said. “We want them to grow in their strengths and be able to adapt to different situations and reach their maximum potential. I’m so happy to come to work every day and work with these kind, hard working and wonderful young people.”

Watching the students celebrate their successes and learn from their mistakes has been gratifying, Gimbel added.

“Our mission is to make sure these students don’t end up sitting on a couch every day,” she said. “They need to have jobs, participate in community activities and have friends.”

In addition to her English classes, North Penn’s Tinsley is also advisor to the high school’s African American Advocacy Club and the Muslim Student Association, the museum news release said.

“Her personal connections and influence with each of her students continues well past their years in her classroom,” it said.

Unbridled joy is how Tinsley describes the experience she gets from her job.

“My students are a priority in my life,” she said. “Their academic and social needs are always at the forefront of my mind when I am planning lessons and considering ancillary materials that can be connected to the curriculum that I am responsible for teaching. I am positive that engaging in discourse with their peers will lead to a sense of empathy that can be the impetus of understanding someone that does not look like them or come from a similar place.

“I love that I get to be around kids every day. I love that we get to explore literature and have awesome discussions. I love to watch them mature and gain confidence in themselves that they simply didn’t have at the start of the year; and I love to seem them become the leaders that they were born to be.”

The 13 teachers will be honored during an awards ceremony at the National Liberty Museum at 321 Chestnut St. in Philadelphia on May 11. Their awards will become part of a museum exhibit for a year, and they will also receive a family museum membership, a guided tour for one of their classes and a glass trophy.

All 13 are also in the running for Exceptional Teacher, Caring Classroom and Good Neighbor awards of $500 each. Winners of those awards will be announced at the May 11 event.

Credit: Bucks County Courier Times/Intelligencer