Last year, Chelsea Root found her educational calling as instructor of special education at Bensalem High School. Her passion for her day-to-day work — which includes equipping students with vocational and independent living skills — is evident to her peers, who recently recognized Root as Teacher of the Year for the 2022-23 academic year.
This honor was announced earlier in March during a pep rally, which saw Root surrounded by her students, who couldn’t have been more excited for her.
“They came out onto the floor to congratulate me and join me for the pictures, which was really sweet,” said Root. “They are really the ones who make me look good. They’re the ones who are actually doing the work. I’m proud of them for being able to come out and join me in the celebration.”
The teacher-led initiative launched last year as a way to shine the spotlight on outstanding educators. Col. John Church, head of leadership studies for Bensalem’s Marine Corps JROTC, earned the inaugural award in 2021-22.
Each of the five building administrators nominates two teachers, with three finalists chosen in a voting process by students and teachers. Following the vote, these three names are submitted to the BHS administrative team, who as a group, choose the winner.
The Teacher of the Year is officially defined as: “A dedicated educator who demonstrates commitment and passion for their craft. Earning the admiration of the faculty, administration and students, this teacher challenges and engages students and is committed to their success, demonstrating a passion and joy of teaching that inspires the school community.”
This year, the three finalists were Root, Christine Elberson and Elena Toselli.
Though Root has been with the Bensalem Township School District for eight years, she truly discovered her passion last year, when she accepted the position of transition special education teacher.
“I work with students with special needs that are 18 to 21 years old. They have decided to defer their diploma in order to gain more time for vocational skills, independent living skills. Our day is really centered around what they need to be successful once they are out of our building after they turn 21,” said Root. “A lot of our programming does focus on vocational training, but then we also spend time making sure that we talk about personal care, hygiene, kitchen skills, home skills, how to do laundry and things like that. It’s really a unique program and it covers a lot of different skills.”
All of these students, said Root, make her job a pleasure to attend everyday. She stressed that her Teacher of the Year award also belongs to them, as well as the other teachers and paraprofessionals who work in the transition program.
“These young adults are just so willing to come in and really just make our school community a better place. It really is inspiring,” said Root. “They’re very flexible. They’re willing to give anything a shot. It’s fun to create different programs and projects to see where their real strengths lie. It’s really motivating to work with these kids because it’s hard to figure out what they like and dislike because (of) limited communication. But once you really find something that they like, it’s really fun to see and watch.”
For Root, it’s a bittersweet feeling to see her students turn 21 and go off into the world. But she’s confident that they’ll thrive.
“Knowing that we’ve done our best to prepare them for whatever comes, it’s nice because they really do have to use the skills and put into practice what we’ve taught them,” she said. “And because our team works so well with these kids, you don’t have many doubts that they’ll be able to live a fulfilled life.”
Many times, students’ families are stunned over the quick progress made in Root’s classroom.
“It’s so cool to hear the parents say, ‘Oh my gosh, they just unloaded the dishwasher by themselves.’ Yep, they’ve been doing it all week,” said Root. “To see that transfer of skills that the parents can also benefit from is awesome.”
Root, a native of Warminster and William Tennent alum, began her tenure in Bensalem in a learning support position. Prior to this, she earned criminology and accounting degrees from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, but soon realized these fields were not for her. She went back to school at Chestnut Hill College, where she obtained a graduate degree in education.
Her golden Teacher of the Year plaque now sits proudly next to Church’s, waiting for more outstanding individuals to join the display, located at the main entrance of Bensalem High School.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org