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50 years after graduating from high school, Mary Neilan Stansfield can still name every teacher she had, growing up in Somerset. Stansfield has since retired from a successful business career that took her all over the globe. She attributes her success to the teachers she had in Somerset, and what she calls their commitment to excellence. Says Stansfield, “If you strive for excellence and you require excellence you will make a difference in a child’s life.”

Stansfield is making a big difference. She’s created a fund with the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies, which will award $1,000 each year to an outstanding Somerset Area High School teacher. This is in addition to years of scholarships she’s provided to Somerset High School seniors, which will also continue.

The award is called the Francis and Elizabeth Neilan Award for Teaching Excellence and Innovation, named for Mary’s parents. It celebrates someone who elevates the teaching profession, embraces community engagement, and encourages a classroom culture of diversity and inclusion. The money is to be split between professional development and teaching supplies.

Somerset Superintendent Krista Mathias says this puts a rare spotlight on a group of unsung heroes. “They don’t always look for recognition or get the recognition they deserve. We try to put the spotlight on students, and it’s very nice and well-deserved that someone is putting the spotlight on our teachers here in Somerset.”

Stansfield’s hope is that teachers will strive for new programs and tools they may otherwise have thought unreachable. It’s also, simply, her way of saying thank you to the teachers and other adults who took an interest in her upbringing, making her who she is today. “All that excellence helped me get the jobs I got, helped me to succeed at the jobs that I had, which makes it possible for me to do something like this award.”

Nominations for the award are open January 1st through March 31st. The first winner will be announced in May 2017. Click here: Teacher Award for application and details.


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