About Us | teacher spotlight
Each quarter (March, June, September, and December), an educator is selected to be in the “Teacher Spotlight.” The PA Alliance believes that exceptional geography teaching across the state at all levels supports our mission of fostering geographic literacy and spatial thinking in classrooms, as well as in other educational settings across Pennsylvania. The Teacher Spotlight is one way the PA Alliance wishes to recognize extraordinary efforts to promote geoliteracy.
To be considered, teachers need to integrate geography into their teaching…but need not be known as a geography teacher! (For example, teachers of science, elementary levels, modern languages, language arts, mathematics, art and music all can focus on themes and regions of geography.) Additionally, the PA Alliance encourages teachers who use a variety of geographic tools and technology and who have inspired their students to learn more about the world in which they live to consider applying for this recognition. Each teacher selected will receive a PA Alliance Teacher Spotlight Certificate.
To submit recommendations for future teacher spotlights, please fill out and submit the form below.
Jun 08 | Nicole Ross
Congratulations to Red Mill Elementary teacher, Nicole Ross, for being selected as the June Teacher Spotlight. She was nominated by the alliance coordinator for her active learning style as she engages her students to learn about the world through a geographic lens. The Alliance celebrated Earth Day with Nicole and her class by BioBlitzing, and great fun was had by all.
Nicole Ross teaches Emotional Support K-3 students at Red Mill Elementary in Etters, PA. Prior to teaching at the elementary level, she taught Emotional Support and Alternative Education for seven years at the middle school level. Additionally, she served as an Academic Bowl advisor, as well as the Year Book Advisor.
In teaching her students, Nicole ties lessons into how her students and their communities are effected by events all over the world. “I think it is important for my students to understand that what they do impacts everyone around them. I want them to take away that they need to be good Global Citizens as well as being good people in their communities.”
Outside of school, Nicole enjoys photography, fishing and golfing with her husband, and hanging out with her dog, Gracie.
Dec 01 | Luke Strawser
Luke Strawser, the featured teacher for the December Spotlight, was nominated by several teachers in the Alliance who participated with him at a Multi-Alliance Geography Leadership Conference this summer at the University of North Alabama. They were impressed with Luke’s passion for teaching geography and his advocacy for the discipline.
Luke is in his second year of teaching 7th grade World Geography at Mount Union Area Junior High School in Mount Union, PA. In addition to teaching, Luke serves as an assistant track coach for Mount Union Area High School and is a Team Leader for the 7th grade. This year, Luke is coordinating his school’s first National Geographic GeoBee, and he is currently piloting the development of an AP Human Geography course to be taught in his district next year. Luke’s mission as a teacher is to help his students grow into culturally competent, curious, critical thinking citizens of the 21st century world.
Outside of school, Luke enjoys spending time with his family, bicycling, playing tennis, reading, playing drums, and outdoor activities like hunting and fishing.
Sep 22 | Nicole Meckes
Nicole Meckes teaches 7th and 8th grade Modern World Studies I and II, at Freeland Middle School in the Hazleton Area School District. In addition to Modern World Studies, she has taught World History, US History I and II, Geography, and US Government. Nicole originally wanted to pursue a career in Cultural Resources Management and Historic Preservation and graduated from Bloomsburg University with a B.S. in History. She soon discovered she had a passion for teaching and returned to Bloomsburg to complete her M.S. in education.
Along with her teaching duties, Nicole has served as the SADD advisor, the Anime advisor, Co-Math Counts advisor, participated in the Literacy Design Collaborative funded by the Gates foundation where her work was submitted and published by PDE, received the Certificate of Merit from the HASD in the 2012-2013 school year for exemplary service to her students and again in 2013-2014 for her dedication to local veterans. She was a member of both the middle states and Title IX committees, currently is serving as an Act 48 committee member, middle school union representative, and organizes the annual Veteran’s Day education program within her school community. Nicole also helped revise her district’s social studies curriculum, where she advocated for geographic education to be integrated within all grade levels.
In her free time she loves spending time with her husband, David, and her three young children, Noah, Ian, and Zoe. She enjoys running, golfing, reading, softball, bowling, fishing, baking, yard sales, and traveling.
Jun 01 | Mary Jo Pronio
Mary Jo Pronio, the June Teacher Spotlight, was nominated for promoting cultural literacy in her classroom and incorporating space and time into her social studies lessons. She earned her B.S. from Saint Francis University and her M.Ed. from Penn State University and has been teaching for 25 years. She currently serves as the 5th and 6th grade social studies and 6th grade religion teacher at Saint Margaret Mary School in Harrisburg. In addition to her teaching duties, Pronio coaches the Quiz Bowl team, works with the after-school program, and has facilitated student work on the school newspaper. For the past several years, she has run a week-long summer day camp that prepares students for National History Day by teaching them how to research and execute a mock project. In 2013, she was a recipient of the Diocese of Harrisburg’s Golden Apple Award for her professional excellence, leadership, and commitment to Catholic education.
Pronio enjoys teaching geography as it encompasses all the disciplines of education. From reading and analyzing road maps from around the world, to creating their own personal maps from home to school, to mapping ancient civilizations and their trade routes, her students use reading, writing, science, math, and technology to learn geography. Being able to discuss global issues allows students the opportunity for critical thinking and problem solving and broadens their knowledge of cultures. Teaching students to think globally keeps them connected to economics, climate change, cultural diversity, and more. Geography is a student’s passport to the world.
No stranger to passports herself, Pronio thoroughly enjoys geography outside the classroom as well. She has spent summers hiking and exploring our country’s national parks and has traveled to France, Spain, and Italy. As you read this, she will be hiking and exploring the cliffs and fjords in Iceland on another adventure that will provide even more authentic experience to enrich her students’ learning.
Photo: Standing inside a lava cast in the Lava Cast Forest in Oregon where lava flow made casts of ancient trees 6000 years ago.
Mar 31 | Joe Bartley
Joe Bartley, the March Teacher Spotlight, was nominated by his colleagues for promoting geo-literacy in his classroom. He has been teaching seventh grade social studies in the Titusville Middle School since 2002. He earned a B.A. in history from Eastern Oregon University in 2001, graduating Magna Cum Laude. He continued his education at Eastern Oregon University, earning a Master’s degree in Teacher Education in 2002. In 2005, Mr. Bartley earned his administrative certification from Gannon University of Pennsylvania. Joe has taught geography and history for his thirteen years in education. Along with his teaching duties, Mr. Bartley has filled many different roles for the Titusville Area School District. He acted as the Middle School wrestling coach from 2002-2010, earning the Pennsylvania District 10 Jr. High Coach of the Year Award in 2007 and 2010. Mr. Bartley also works as a member of the Student Assistance Program and as the seventh grade team facilitator.
In his free time, Joe enjoys being outdoors. He is an avid hunter and enjoys spending time with his family camping, fishing, and boating. He spends much of his summer in the Pacific Northwest, where he is originally from.
Nov 13 | Daniel Holler
Dan Holler, the Teacher Spotlight for November, has been teaching for eleven years and currently teaches German at Pequea Valley High School in Lancaster County. He has taught all levels of German to include International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement German. In addition to his teaching responsibilities, Dan is also a member of the College Board’s Exam Development Committee for the AP German exam. As a 2007 Max Kade Fellow at the Center for German and European Studies at the University of Minnesota, Dan traveled to Germany to study “East German” culture after the fall of the Berlin Wall and Germany’s progress into the 21st century. He has also worked with the Goethe Institut’s Transatlantic Outreach Program to develop lessons with colleagues that integrate German products, practices, and perspectives into social studies classes.
In his free time, Dan enjoys being outdoors and traveling, especially places where he can bring his chocolate lab, Vinny. He has taught English in China, studied in Germany, and vacationed in South Africa to name a few of his favorite experiences. Dan’s absolute favorite experiences are traveling with students. He has led several student trips to Germany, including running the Lancaster-Kaiserslautern Youth Exchange to maintain youth relations between Lancaster County and its sister county Kaiserslautern in Germany. “I love seeing the excitement on the kids’ faces when they experience a culture different from their own and they realize that there’s an entire world out there to explore,” says Holler.
Sep 03 | Toni Martindell
Toni Martindell, the September Teacher Spotlight, has been an educator for eight years. Currently, she serves as the instructional coach at Hershey Middle School where she works with teachers to support student learning. Prior to being an instructional coach, Toni taught an array of history courses at Manheim Township High School including AP US History, International Baccalaureate 20th Century Global Issues, World Religions and Modern World History. She earned her Bachelors degree from Millersville University in 2006 and her Masters degree in education from Cabrini College in 2010. Toni lives in Eprhata with her husband, Jon, two sons, Warner and Everett and dogs, Lucy and McDuff.
Toni enjoys scrapbooking, reading and traveling. In 2010, she drove across the country visiting many national landmarks; in 2009 she traveled to China and Vietnam through the National Consortium of Teaching About Asia. While in Asia she visited iconic attractions such as The Great Wall of China, The Forbidden City, Victoria’s Peak and The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.
Jun 02 | Cindy Diffendall
Cindy Diffendall, the June Teacher Spotlight, teaches at E.N. Peirce Middle School in West Chester.
She teaches 7th grade United States Geography and Early American History. She enjoys coaching intermural coed soccer for 6th grade and has coordinated the National Geographic Bee for the past 10 years. She is also a team leader for 7th grade and is a member of our Equity Committee. Additionally, she is a member of WCU Program Advisory Committee for the Early Grades and Middle Grades Preparation Programs and is also part of the Social Studies Curriculum Review Team.
Outside of school, she enjoys reading and spending time with her young adult children! She is active at Olivet United Methodist Church. She is also the primary leader of Chester County middle school for People to People Ambassador Program which enables the wonderful opportunity to travel abroad.
May 01 | Matthew Smith
Matthew Smith, the May Teacher Spotlight, teachs AP Human Geography and middle school Humanities for 6th and 7th graders. In the past, he has also taught AP World History, AP U.S. History, AP European History, and a 5th grade Humanities course at the Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School.
Prior to working for the charter school, he spent a year in Hungary as a Fulbright teaching assistant where he taught conversational English and American Culture courses. His biggest hobby is traveling and planning trips, as evidenced by his “soon-expiring” passport that required extra pages. He also enjoys skiing, camping, and canoeing. Matt serves on the Steering Committee for the PA Alliance for Geography Education, and is also a board member of the Greater Philadelphia – Delaware Valley Fulbright Association. He is also affiliated with the PA Council for Social Studies. He is married to his best travel companion, Erica. Together, they have a little black cat who sometimes acts like a dog.
Mar 09 | Justin Neideigh
Justin Neideigh, the March Teacher Spotlight and member of the PA Alliance, is from Mount Joy, located in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. A 2012 graduate of Millersville University’s Honors College Program, he is a Social Studies teacher at Donegal High School. Having previously taught Early American History, World Cultural Geography, Civics and Government, Psychology, AP United States History, Global Perspectives, and mid-level English classes at both the middle and high school levels since 2012, he currently teaches Modern United States History and Human Geography courses.
Justin spent two summers (2011 and 2012) in Bermuda studying, traveling, and serving as a research intern with the National Museum of Bermuda. While in Bermuda, he researched the history of Bermuda-built ships that served the British Empire all over the world in the Royal Navy. He has traveled throughout the United States and Europe, including Austria, France, Germany, and Switzerland. He is a strong advocate for the importance of geographic education and geo-literacy inside and outside the classroom. He enjoys reading, spending time outdoors, hiking, traveling, and visiting national historic sites.
Feb 04 | David Fyfe
Dr. David Fyfe, the February Teacher Spotlight, is from Jefferson, New York, a small town in the northern Catskills of central New York. He served in the 82nd Airborne division of the US Army for three and a half years before entering college. During that time he spent six months in Egypt on the Sinai Peninsula as part of the Multinational Force & Observers upholding the Camp David Accords of 1978. After the military he backpacked Europe for three and a half months before entering college. It was at this time that he “found” geography and earned his B.S.(2002) in history and geography from the State University of New York College at Oneonta. He then received my Master’s (2004) and Ph.D. (2008) at The Pennsylvania State University.
He currently teaches at York College of Pennsylvania where his courses in geography and Geographic Information Systems include, World Regional Geography, Historical Geography, Geographic Perspectives on Sustainability, Intro to GIS, Advanced GIS, and two courses that take students abroad International Service-Learning and Cultures and Environments Field Series.
David loves to travel and incorporates his experiences from around the world into his classes at York College. In addition to visiting nearly 100 countries on his own, he has also led many study abroad classes that take students to many destinations including, Peru, Egypt, Panama, Turkey and Greece, China, Kenya and Tanzania, and India.
His research interests include historical geography, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), tourism, and service-learning. His dissertation examined patterns of connectivity in small-town America around the turn of the twentieth century. He has utilized GIS to map and analyze historic hotel guest registers, local newspapers, business invoices, as well as diaries. Other research topics include: service-learning pedagogy, small-town heritage tourism, and the impact of transportation and communication technologies on rural America.
The photo is taken at the Darvaza Gas Crater in Turkmenistan.
Dec 03 | Lisa Draper
Lisa Draper, the December Teacher Spotlight, has been teaching for 22 years. She taught middle level Geography for 13 of those years while implementing Geography into History courses which she taught the other years. As a History major, Lisa always thought that Geography was a weak area for herself; however, when she had to teach it she learned along with her students of how important Geography is in daily life. With each year, she became more involved with Geography and tried to captivate her students as well! Lisa is proud to have coached 6 students to the state level Geography Bee in which one took 2nd Place, one took 3rd Place, and my first female state qualifier placed 7th! She started the first Geography Club at her school and established a Family Geography Night for our 7th Graders each year that drew over 200 people!
Nov 06 | Nicole Ernst
Nicole Ernst, the November Teacher Spotlight, teaches multiple geography and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) courses at Harrisburg Area Community College, including Intro to GIS, Cartography, Remote Sensing, Advanced GIS, and Professional Issues in GIS. Nicole is actively involved in GIS community and even serves on the board of the Pennsylvania Mapping and Geographic Information Consortium (PAMAGIC) and is editor of PAMAGIC Matters, the monthly newsletter. Nicole also serves on the Steering Committee for the Pennsylvania Alliance for Geographic Education.
In addition, Nicole is co-chair for Central PA GIS Day which is an event done in coordination with the Commonwealth of PA. This year’s event is on November 20, 2013 at HACC Midtown. She is also active in community and serves on the board for Historic Harrisburg Association. In her free time, she enjoys the outdoors, traveling, crafting, and trying to turn her nieces and nephew into future geographers.
Oct 01 | Kristy Snider
Kristy Snider, the October Teacher Spotlight, is in her 16th year teaching at Pocono Mountain School District. She currently teaches World Geography classes to seventh graders, but has also had the opportunity to teach American History and Geography college level courses. Before that, Kristy taught at an alternative school in Lancaster County for a year. Kristy currently lives in the Poconos with her two sons and husband.
Kristy enjoys hiking, museum trips, scouting adventures, international cooking, blogging, and traveling. She received a Distinguished Teaching Award from NCGE in 2011 and serves on the board for the Pennsylvania Council for the Social Studies and on the steering committee with the Pennsylvania Alliance for Geographic Education. She practices hands-on adventures with her students including archaeology and guerilla geography, while also building their skills to become citizens of the future.
Sep 03 | Sara Jones
Sara Jones, the September Teacher Spotlight, is beginning her 19th year teaching in the Titusville Area School District this September. The last three years have been spent at Titusville High School teaching 10th grade American Cultures and 11th grade U.S. and the World; before that she spent 16 years teaching 7th grade Geography/Ancient World Cultures at Titusville Middle School. Sara, her husband George, and their dog Jack live 45 miles south of Lake Erie in Titusville, PA.
Sara is an avid reader, and enjoys Zumba, keeping up with world affairs, and traveling, this past summer visiting the Grand Canyon. She earned her bachelor’s degree in social studies education from Shippensburg University and her master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from Gannon University. In addition, Sara received a Distinguished Teaching Award from NCGE in 2000, mentors the Titusville Model UN team, and is a member of the PA Alliance Steering Committee. Finally, Sara believes that by encouraging students to ask why and look at all sides of an issue, and giving students opportunities to increase and demonstrate their knowledge she learns as much from them as they do from her class.
Jun 03 | Jerome Staniszewski
Jerome “Mr. Stan” Staniszewski is the June Teacher Spotlight and is entering his eighth year as a Geography & World Cultures teacher at James Buchanan Middle School (Mercersburg). Jerome is the father of two children, Justine, 18, and Nick, 14, with both having had their dad as their geography teacher.
Jerome is a veteran of the U.S. Army Intelligence Corps, and lived in Europe for a total of seven years of his adult life. He considers himself well-traveled, having toured all fifty states and nearly 60 different countries on six continents. Jerome integrates his world travels into his lessons and this was instrumental in him receiving the Distinguished Teaching Award from NCGE in 2010. His hobbies include photography, sports, and running. Jerome is also a proud member of the PA Alliance Steering Committee. Finally, Jerome believes that building sincere and honest rapport with his students is paramount to a quality educational environment.