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PA Teacher of the Year Semifinalist

Teacher Andy CunninghamColleagues and students have long known that Park Forest Middle School teacher Andy Cunningham is a standout educator. Now, they have further proof.

 

Cunningham, who teaches the eighth-grade academic literacy course, was a semifinalist for the 2025 PA Teacher of the Year award, among the 34 teachers advancing to that stage.

 

In his application, Cunningham answered questions about his initiatives to promote college and career readiness, use data effectively, foster personalized learning, commit to his school community through service-oriented activities, establish a culture of learning, support diverse and at-risk learners, and contribute to his professional learning community.

 

A second-round interview asked him to reflect upon a lesson featuring student engagement, discuss using data to differentiate instruction, and explain his approaches to making lessons relevant to students through real-life connections. In addition, he shared strategies for developing students’ self-management skills, building relationships with them, and improving their ability to solve problems.

 

“The whole process was a good reflection activity for me,” he said. “I've always known that hard work is how to get better at just about anything in life. Teaching is no exception. I also know that some of the other roles I serve in school and the community have helped me become a better teacher. Coaching Little League, youth basketball, and Nittany Valley Track and Field Cross Country. Serving as an advisor for the school newspaper. Volunteering and serving the community in these capacities have helped me get to know many of the youth in our community, which pays huge dividends at school and in the classroom.”

 

Teacher Andy CunninghamPark Forest Middle School Principal Karen Wiser nominated Cunningham, who’s known for his colorful blackboard word wall” where students can add interesting vocabulary from their readings.

 

“Andy is hands down one of the most talented, dedicated and compassionate teachers I have ever had the privilege of working with,” Wiser wrote in her letter of recommendation. “I have been (his) principal for over a decade and I have seen him grow and develop over the years to become the outstanding teacher he is. He is one of the most genuine and humble educators I know.”

 

Colleague Mike Harper also contributed a recommendation.

 

“Andy is truly a model for what good teachers should be,” Harper wrote. “First, and most importantly, he is student-centered and responsive to student needs in his approach to planning and executing instruction. I've collaborated with Andy for nine years for our academic literacy course, and he always plans from a student needs-based approach. He consistently looks for ways to engage his students and is constantly tweaking his materials to best meet the needs of his students. He also possesses a fantastic sense of humor and energy that makes his classrooms feel alive, and that enthusiasm spreads to his students' learning. Andy's PSSA scores are among the highest in the state in terms of performance against similar-band schools, and there are numerous times during the week I hear, ‘Mr. Cunningham is awesome!’ from his students.”

 

By Chris Rosenblum

Photos by Nabil K. Mark

Published May 23, 2024