Home Langhorne-Levittown Times For the Unsung Heroes

For the Unsung Heroes

Two Lower Bucks support professionals compete for $2,000 school grant in online campaign

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

The pride of Bucks: Jacqui Owens (L), a 14-year social worker with the Bensalem Township School District, connects families with resources such as food and housing and mental health concerns. Katie Engelhardt (R), a nurse at Bucks County Technical High School, said if she wins the $2,000 grand prize grant, she will expand grief, anger management and addiction support groups for teens. Source: Susan Phy & Council for the Advancement of Public Schools

Teacher Appreciation Week may be right around the corner on May 6–10, but this year, different types of school employees are being celebrated.

The Council for the Advancement of Public Schools and the Pennsylvania State Education Association/Mideastern Region are sponsoring an “Unsung Heroes” campaign to spotlight the key roles played by support professionals who work in the public schools of Bucks and Montgomery counties.

Four individuals were nominated by their colleagues, representing the thousands working to ensure every child in a public school is set up to succeed. The “Unsung Heroes” are Katie Engelhardt, a nurse at Bucks County Technical High School in Fairless Hills; Jacqui Owens, a social worker in the Bensalem Township School District; Jeff Klein, a school counselor at Tamanend Middle School in Warrington; and Ellen Zschunke, a librarian/media specialist at Pine Road Elementary School in Lower Moreland.

Each will be awarded a grant of $1,000, with the grand prize winner receiving a $2,000 grant for a school project of their choice. The public chooses the winner in an online voting contest, which is open through April 30.

“We want to bring attention to and thank these valuable professionals who are so critical to the success of our students, and who are often not as visible to the general public as our classroom teachers,” said Alan M. Malachowski, president of PSEA/MER.

In the midst of the competition, The Times caught up with Engelhardt and Owens, who discussed their passions for their respective jobs, and what they would use the grant funding for.

For Engelhardt, a 2001 graduate of Council Rock High School, the road to becoming a school nurse wasn’t always clear cut. After earning her bachelor’s of science in nursing degree from La Salle University, she struggled to find a job at a hospital. So, she took a different route and subbed at Council Rock and Bucks County Technical High School.

“The first day I subbed, I just knew I needed to work in a school,” she said, adding how she immediately enrolled in a school nurse certificate program at La Salle.

Eventually, Engelhardt was offered a full-time position at the Technical High School, and is currently celebrating the end of her third year. On a typical day, Engelhardt treats anything and everything, including migraines, burns from culinary accidents, and mental health/anxiety disorders. Sometimes, students willingly head to the nurse’s office for a much-needed break.

“We are a calming space for some kids,” she said. “For many, we are just a safe space.”

Engelhardt’s office has also become a haven for low-income students. Recently, Engelhardt created a Comfort Closet, which is entirely operated through donations and is stocked with soap, shampoo, deodorant and other necessities to help meet basic needs. As of January, the closet impacted the lives of 18 students.

“It’s really just about trying to help the students not have that ever be a barrier to them socializing with peers, feeling uncomfortable and lacking that self-esteem that is so vital to academic success,” she said.

With the guaranteed $1,000 grant, Engelhardt will expand the closet to offer more male-specific products. She also plans to improve school safety by replacing an older model automated external defibrillator (AED) with a new model geared specifically for use by nonmedical personnel. If Engelhardt is named the grand prize winner, she wants to upgrade services within the Student Assistance Program and offer grief, anger management, and addiction support groups for teens.

As for Owens, her interest in social work began when she got involved with prevention services at the YWCA of Bucks County. Owens helped organize after-school and teen programs in Bensalem, and pursued a master’s in social work from the University of Pennsylvania, which followed her Temple University undergraduate degree in education. Owens is currently celebrating her 14th year with the Bensalem Township School District.

“My primary role is to be the link between the school, the home and the community,” she said. “Anything that would be a barrier to the students learning, or prevent them from coming to school and being able to fully access the curriculum, would fall under something I could get involved in.”

Oftentimes, students and families come to Owens through referral by vigilant teachers, administrators and bus drivers who notice that something is wrong. For example, if a student is coming to school without a coat in the middle of winter, they’ll let Owens know.

Owens, who is on the executive board of Building A Better Bensalem Together, connects these students and families with resources, aiding with everything from food, utilities and housing to mental health concerns.

“Taking that first step to ask for assistance can be difficult,” she said. “We respect that and understand that, and we certainly try to meet them where they’re at and provide the support that’s going to help them continue to move forward.”

If Owens was to win the grand prize of $2,000, she would use the funds to expand mindfulness resources in each school library, which teachers can utilize whenever needed.

“Mindfulness is being in the moment. It’s meditation. It’s a way to be able to step back and just be mindful about your decisions,” she said. “There’s a lot of research that indicates that mindfulness, and teaching mindfulness to children, is extremely beneficial to their physical health, their mental health and their cognitive abilities.”

Both Engelhardt and Owens expressed an overwhelming sense of gratitude and humbleness regarding the honor of being named “Unsung Heroes.” They stressed that their success wouldn’t be possible without the support of their school communities. ••

Vote online at friendsofpubliced.org/unsung-heroes-of-bucks-and-montgomery-county-schools

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com

Exit mobile version