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World traveler in the running for statewide prestige

KATELYN HIBBARD/Sun-Gazette Social studies teacher Jennifer Wahl, center, poses in her classroom with a group of students she is teaching or has taught at Loyalsock Township High School after learning that she has been named a finalist for Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year. From left are Stephanie Shuman, Makayla Steele, Madelynn Moodie, Wahl, Tawseefah Fields, Adriana Barone and Tiana Gair.

There are 500 school districts in Pennsylvania, with hundreds of teachers per district. With so many competitors, for a teacher to be named one of only 12 finalists for Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year “is so exciting,” said Jennifer Wahl, a social studies teacher at Loyalsock Township High School.

Wahl, who was nominated by principal Matthew Reitz, found out Saturday she is a finalist and now is completing the final stages of the process.

Wahl must create a series of videos in which she discusses the community in which she lives and teaches, explain a lesson that embodies her daily classroom and speak to current college students in education fields about why they should continue to pursue their intended degrees.

Once that process is complete, a committee will review the video packages submitted by all 12 finalists throughout the summer and early fall, and a winner will be selected at a special banquet in December in Hershey.

While simply being a finalist can lead to sponsorships, textbook awards and more for those teachers’ schools and classrooms, the winner of the title spends the next year traveling the country to meet and network with education leaders and other standout figures.

“If I had the opportunity, which would be an honor, it’s more for me about being a voice on behalf of public education, and my colleagues across the state and here in the community,” Wahl said.

She also greatly looks forward to the opportunity to speak with her peers across the country and potentially bring home new ideas and techniques to teach her students.

“It’s hard to explain to people who don’t spend eight hours a day teaching teenagers, but being able to bring information and techniques back and see those kids understand … It’s a great feeling.”

Reitz, who won the title of Assistant Principal of the Year in 2005, nominated Wahl based on her ability to engage her students and the life lessons she teaches as opposed to merely following a textbook.

“Jen definitely fit the bill,” Reitz said. “She’s a world traveler. She has first-person perspective and she literally brings it back with her,” Reitz said, motioning around Wahl’s classroom, which is full of knick knacks and educational tools she has collected around the world.

Wahl has visited over 40 countries and nearly all 50 states. During the school year, she works as a teacher at the high school, teaches evening classes at Pennsylvania College of Technology, proctors SAT exams and grades advanced placement exams. During the summer, she travels as far and as for as long as she can.

“Jennifer is truly dedicated to her profession,” said Gerald McLaughlin, district superintendent. “She uses her work experiences, as well as her diverse background, that includes traveling to many foreign countries, to provide enrichment experiences for her students. She is truly a shining example of all the great teachers we have here at Loyalsock Township School District.”

But no matter how far she goes, she always returns in time for the first day of school.

“I’ve known since I was 16 that I wanted to teach high-schoolers,” Wahl said. “I wanted to teach and I wanted to travel. And that’s exactly what I did.”

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