All three 2021 Pennsylvania Education Innovation Awards go to our regional schools
Photo: Jeanine Ging with her Pennsylvania Education Innovation Award. Photo courtesy of Freedom Area Middle School.
All three of the state-wide Pennsylvania Education Innovation Awards go to school districts in southwest Pennsylvania this year. That’s good news for our regional schools and our students.
Each year, the Pennsylvania School Board Association (PSBA) seeks to recognize pioneering leadership in public schools through three categories: teacher, school leader and school board. The awards come with a financial prize of $1,000 to the recipient or, in the case of the school board, to the school district’s education foundation.
We are happy to share the 2021 Pennsylvania Education Innovation Awards winners here:
Innovative Teacher Award: Jeanine Ging, Freedom Area Middle School, Beaver County
We frequently hear of teachers providing school supplies for their classroom. But providing the classroom itself? Jennifer Ging, a 6th-grade science teacher at Freedom Area Middle School, created an outdoor education space in what was once a grassy courtyard. Described as a star teacher who’s dedicated to nurturing her students, Ging sought out grants and donations to bring the outdoor classroom to life.
The courtyard now holds a greenhouse that was erected last summer by Ging, her husband and her son to keep costs down. There’s a chicken coop, three Monarch butterfly waystations, bat box, weather station and pumpkin patch. And a gazebo, built by Ging and another teacher, offers a covered space where students are protected from the elements while allowing safe, social distancing.
Kids don’t realize they’re learning because they are having fun, Ging explains. Her goal is to steer students who are passionate about science and learning along pathways toward careers in science.
Innovative School Leader Award: Dr. Chuck Herring, director of diversity, equity and inclusion, South Fayette School District, Allegheny County
Dr. Chuck Herring was challenged to transform South Fayette’s 5th-grade enrichment program to one that was more progress-based, giving kids real-life experience and acknowledging their capabilities.
The “Project Greenlight” series gave him the idea for his remarkable program. He broke the class into production company teams. Each production company had to come up with a name and logo. They were tasked with writing a story and turning it into a script. Next, they developed their idea into a sales pitch, using PowerPoint and Google slides to create a trailer to sell investors on financing their film.
Herring approached the folks at Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center and, with a bit of charm and doggedness, convinced them to meet with his fifth-graders. They taught the kids about story, scripting, scenes and processes from both a movie and a games perspective.
The kids utilized that knowledge and, with help from a media arts teacher and the media arts club, actually made four movies. The kids auditioned their actors, created and managed a budget, directed and edited. Overall, Herring’s project drew on and developed any number of skills for one outstanding – dare we say, innovative? – experience for his students.
Innovative School Board: Moniteau School Board, Butler County
When their schools closed due to the pandemic, the Moniteau School Board team of 10 rolled up their sleeves and jumped into action. They quickly developed partnerships with local businesses and agencies to meet the needs of their students. Within 11 days, students had computers in hand with internet access through a partnership with their local internet provider, Armstrong Cable. The board worked with Trails Public Library to offer additional hot spots. Plus, a $10,000 grant added more hot spots and computers for kids.
Other projects that grew from working together with the community included a grant from the Lions Club to build a school greenhouse to grow food to donate to the local food bank. Area farmers donated equipment to plant tomatoes and potatoes, a crop that was also donated to those in need. Another grant was earmarked for new playground equipment.
The board also worked with both Butler and Beaver community colleges on a drone program for high school students. The idea here is for students to not only learn to operate drones, but to potentially go into piloting or air traffic control through those partnerships.
As school board president Dr. Michael Panza put it: “We’re trying to prepare today’s kids for tomorrow.”
Want to learn more about education innovation in our region? Check out