If you ask Barbara Penrod what she liked most about teaching, she’ll tell you it was the students and the fact that they were always challenging her.
“No two students are the same, so you can’t approach education the same. It’s ever-changing,” the 70-year-old Stonycreek Township resident said. “It was always exciting for me.”
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in education from Indiana State College, now IUP, in 1964, Penrod began working in the Greater Johnstown School District. She was in the Oakland, Coopersdale, Dibert and Cypress elementary schools until eventually settling into Meadowvale, which is now East Side Elementary School.
“I started in second grade and then fourth, fifth and sixth grade language arts,” she said.
While teaching, she earned her master’s degree in education in 1967 from IUP.
In 1977, Penrod was instrumental in setting up a gifted students program in the district. It became affiliated with the Pennsylvania Association for Gifted Education, which is the only organization in the state to unite parents, teachers and administrators in the interest of education for gifted children.
“We started off with less than 40 students and we had very few materials to work with,” she said.
As the years went by, the program grew to include more students and evolved to meet educational standards of the times.
“We became a school within a school and administration gave us the leeway to do what we wanted,” Penrod said. “We were able to do creative things.”
One of the activities included a poetry contest for CamTran with pupils’ winning entries displayed on the outside of the bus.
“We did animated films and this was before computers, so we worked on a mainframe,” Penrod said. “We’re talking the dark ages before computer literacy.”
Under her guidance, pupils in the gifted program began holding dinner theaters for parents.
“It was always fun for students, but they were still taught the basics like critical thinking and problem solving,” Penrod said.
In 1986, Penrod received PAGE’s Gifted Teacher of the Year Award and was the organizations first honoree.
Teaching also allowed her to travel abroad in 1991 with the People to People program. She met with other educators in Russia, Hungary and Nova Scotia, where they shared ideas and teaching methods.
But in 1997, Penrod decided it was time to step away from the chalkboard and retire.
She didn’t leave the education field completely and continued to actively work with PAGE, serving as treasurer for 14 years.
She left that position in June 2012.
And much to her surprise, Penrod was this year’s recipient of the Neuber-Pregler Award, which is given annually by the PAGE board to individuals in recognition of the far-reaching work and effort they have had on gifted education across the state.
“I was shocked and never expected it,” she said. “I looked at previous year’s winners and didn’t feel I was worthy. I was overwhelmed.”
In fact, Penrod’s husband, Wally, who also taught in the Greater Johnstown School District, and son, Joshua, had to reassure her she was a deserving recipient of the award.
“Shocked is the best way to describe her reaction, but she is very worthy of it,” Wally Penrod said.
She received the award at a special presentation that was held April 19 at Robert Morris College.
Looking back over her career, Penrod said what she misses the most about teaching is the creative aspect of it. She enjoyed presenting material to pupils and then watching them develop it and make it their own.
And she’s seen how much teaching has changed over the years, especially with the introduction of technologies in the classroom.
“It was the right time for me to go when I did; let the younger teachers who know all about technology take over,” Penrod said with a laugh.
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