PMHS’s Maria Vita named Teacher of Year semifinalist

Penn Manor High School psychology teacher Maria Vita has been named a semifinalist for Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year for 2019.

Vita, who has taught at Penn Manor since 2003, was nominated for the award by Superintendent Mike Leichliter and his wife, Mary Edith, whose three children all had Maria for class.

“We could not have asked for a more caring and capable teacher for our children,” they wrote in their letter. “She is truly extraordinary.”

Vita said she is “both honored and humbled to be considered” for the award.

“When Dr. Leichliter nominated me, I felt very grateful of his praise and the opportunity to apply. He called me the moment he learned I made the semifinals, and I was both surprised and delighted,” she said.

Maria, who teaches Advanced Placement Psychology, recently was named chair of the American Psychological Association Committee of Teachers of Psychology in Secondary Schools.

She helped establish an Aevidum student club at Penn Manor that seeks to create an atmosphere in which all students feel accepted, appreciated, acknowledged and cared for. Aevidum also works to increase awareness of depression and prevent teen suicides.

The Teacher of the Year finalists for 2019 are expected to be named at the end of March.

Congrats to a deserving teacher!


PMHS students earn academic, writing awards

Two Penn Manor High School students have received recognition for academics and writing.

Senior Kevin Ward has been named a National Merit Scholarship Finalist – one of only 15,000 students (out of 1.5 million) from across the United States to earn the award.

Junior Peyton Cassel has earned three Scholastic Writing Awards in poetry, personal narrative and “flash fiction.”

Kevin qualified as a National Merit Finalist based on his academic record, PSAT and SAT scores, activities, leadership qualities, a personal essay, and a principal’s recommendation.

“It’s pretty amazing to be a semifinalist and then to advance as a finalist,” said Kevin, who hopes to major in robotics, computer science or mechanical engineering in college.

He is hoping the national recognition of being named a finalist “paints a good picture” of him in the eyes of college admissions officials. About half of all finalists go on to receive National Merit college scholarships.

Kevin is the first Penn Manor student to be named a Finalist since 2014.

Peyton won a Scholastic Gold Key, the highest award, in flash fiction (under 1,000 words) for her story “The Apology,” which has now been entered into consideration for a national award.

She also won a Silver Key for a collection of five poems and an Honorable Mention for her personal narrative “The Hatching,” about watching sea turtles hatch along the coast of North Carolina.

“I’m honored and thrilled to have received these awards,” Peyton said. “Scholastic provides young writers with so many incredible opportunities.”

She credits her parents, both elementary school teachers, with instilling in her a love of writing. “In fourth grade, I was introduced to poetry, and it just took off from there,” said Peyton, who received her first writing award in fifth grade.

Peyton plans to major in English or communications in college and pursue a career in broadcast journalism.

Congratulations to both these talented students!

Peyton Cassel and Kevin Ward
Peyton Cassel and Kevin Ward







22 Penn Manor seniors commit to college athletics

Family and friends gathered Thursday in the Penn Manor High School library to honor 22 seniors who will participate in collegiate sports at 19 different colleges and universities next year.

The National Signing Day ceremony featured students who participate in 11 different sports. Four students plan to play field hockey or football, three will play soccer, two will participate in track & field, lacrosse or softball and one each will participate in gymnastics, cross-country, basketball, volleyball and baseball.

Five students will attend Division I schools, five are headed for Division II, and 12 will attend Division III colleges and universities.

According to Penn Manor athletic director Jeff Roth, the student athletes excelled in the classroom as well as on the playing field, earning a median grade-point average of 3.7.

Four of the five Division I athletes participated in two sports at Penn Manor, and the group includes four members of the Comets’ undefeated state and national championship field hockey team. Eleven students were part of a League, District or State Championship team at Penn Manor.

Congratulations and best wishes to these outstanding student athletes:

Division I 

Taraje Whitfield – Princeton University, track & field
Brittany Hook – University of South Florida, softball
Hannah Brown – James Madison University, field hockey
Casey McCollum – Lafayette College, football
Mischa Kolibas – Longwood University, lacrosse

Division II 

Mia Clancy – Kutztown University, field hockey
Autumn Gager – West Chester University, field hockey
Jared Harvey – Millersville University, soccer
Thorean McElheny – Seton Hill University, track & field
Brianna Reitnauer – West Virginia Wesleyan College, gymnastics

Division III 

Brooke Spezialetti – Alvernia University, field hockey
Brianna Ulaky – Eastern University, cross-country
Conlin Groft – Cabrinia College, soccer
Susan Porambo – Stockton University, soccer
Nasheyla Greggs – Alvernia University, basketball
Sydney Duplissey – Salisbury University, softball
Allison Hege – Lebanon Valley College, lacrosse
Ben Wright – Franklin & Marshall College, football
Mikiah Sangrey – Lebanon Valley College, volleyball
Paisun Harris – Delaware Valley University, football
Dylan Crook – Elizabethtown College, baseball
Cole Heckaman – Franklin & Marshall College, football

Group photo caption: Back row, from left: Paisun Harris, Ben Wright, Cole HeckamanTheoren McElhenyTaraje Whitfield, Brittany Hook, Mikiah Sangry, Casey McCollumConlin Groft, Dylan Crook and Jared Harvey.
Front row, from left: Susan Porambo, Brianna UlakyNesheyla Griggs, Sydney Duplissey, Allison Hege, Hannah Brown, Brooke Spezialetti, Mia Clancy, Brianne Reitnauer and Autumn Gager. (Missing: Mischa Kolibas)

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Penn Manor school board adds two new directors

Two new members — both alumni of Penn Manor High School — have recently joined the Penn Manor board of school directors.

Mitchell Sweigart, a 2014 Penn Manor graduate, was sworn in February 5 to fill the unexpired term of former member Jeff Lyon, who stepped down last month. Sweigart will serve until December 2019.

In December, Nickole Nafziger, a 2000 Penn Manor graduate, was sworn in to a four-year term, following her election to the seat formerly held by Johnna Friedman. Nicki will serve until December 2021.

Nafziger is president of Agape Care Inc., which provides in-home care services for senior citizens, people with disabilities, and those recovering from injury or illness. She is active in several community organizations. She and her husband, Jeremy, have two children attending Penn Manor schools.

Sweigart, who played football at Penn Manor and at Princeton University, will graduate from Princeton in May with an economics degree. He plans to work for BeneFix, a software company in Lancaster, after graduation. He also has interned with the PMF Group financial advisors in Harrisburg.

Welcome, Nicki and Mitchell, and thank you for dedicating your time to the all-volunteer board of directors!

Nickole Nafziger and Mitchell Sweigart.
Nickole Nafziger and Mitchell Sweigart.


PMHS singers qualify for District, Regional honors

Congratulations to Penn Manor High School singers Sierra Echavarria and Diane Imboden, who qualified to participate in the Pennsylvania Music Educators’ District 7 Jazz Festival in April.

In addition, Penn Manor senior Alison Murphy qualified for Region V Chorus after auditioning at the PMEA District 7 Chorus Festival at Susquehannock High School Jan. 25-27.

Sierra, a senior, and Diane, a junior, auditioned along with students from several high schools in Lancaster and surrounding counties earlier this month and qualified as vocal jazz sopranos.

The vocal jazz festival ensemble consists of just 16 students, with four on each voice part. “The fact that we had two sopranos from Penn Manor qualify for two of the four soprano spots is huge,” said the students’ vocal teacher, Lauren Ciemiewicz.

Sierra and Diane will participate and perform at the Pennsylvania Music Educators District 7 Jazz Festival April 6-7 at ELCO High School. Alison is not able to participate in the Region V Chorus Festival due to a conflict with the high school musical.

Nice work, ladies!

Diane Imboden and Sierra Echavarria.
Diane Imboden, left, and Sierra Echavarria.
Alison Murphy
Alison Murphy




Emma DeBerdine, Matt Soto named Player, Coach of Year

Add two more honors to Penn Manor’s outstanding 2017-2018 field hockey team — it boasts the national coach and player of the year!

Max Field Hockey this week named Penn Manor junior Emma DeBerdine the National Player of the Year and the Pennsylvania/New Jersey Region Player of the Year.

It also named Penn Manor coach Matt Soto the National Coach of the Year and the PA/NJ Region and Pennsylvania State Coach of the Year.

Coach Soto led the Comets, the top-ranked team in the nation, to a perfect season in the toughest high school field hockey conference in the country, according to Max Field Hockey.

The Comets finished the season 28-0 as the PIAA AAA State Champions, District 3 Champions and Lancaster-Lebanon League Champions. It was the third state title in program history and the first time the team went undefeated.  The state title win over No. 3 Downingtown West was one of six victories by the Comets over teams that ranked in the Final National Top 25 Rankings.

Emma DeBerdine, a first team All-American and PennLive Player of the Year, contributed 27 goals and 30 assists for Penn Manor this fall.

“I believe Emma is the very best player in the country, and a complete player,” Soto said. “She recovers and plays defense with the same passion and urgency as any player I have ever seen or coached in 33 years.  She also is a great goal scorer.”

“Emma could have easily scored many more goals in our games, but she has such a keen awareness of developing the entire team, she often passed when she could have gone to goal,” Soto said.  “She scored when she needed to, and she distributed when she needed to. This really helped with our overall success.”

Emma’s speed and quickness are “unmatched,” he said. “Her recovery speed helped break down the opposing teams’ best players, which allowed our defenders more time and space to make defensive plays.  Emma is the consummate team player/leader.”

Soto pointed out that the Comets did not give up a goal in the district or state playoffs and allowed only three shots in their last seven games.  “Emma is a key part of that,” he said.

Congratulations to two deserving members of one amazing team!

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2018-2019 kindergarten registration now open

Online registration is now under way for all new students entering kindergarten for the 2018-2019 school year. A child is eligible to attend if he/she will be 5 years old on or before September 1, 2018.

Registration for new students in upper grades will open in June.

Please note that a child’s kindergarten school placement is based on both physical address and class size. You will be notified if your child’s assigned building changes after registration.

To begin the kindergarten registration process, please click here.

PM schools now in session 2/16, 3/29 and 4/3

Because of recent school cancelations, Penn Manor schools will now be in session on the following days:

  • Friday, February 16;
  • Thursday, March 29;
  • Tuesday, April 3.

Please make a note of the changes. We will post any additional schedule changes as they occur.

Three Penn Manor musicians named to District Orchestra, Band

Congratulations to Penn Manor High School students Madeline Claus, Elise Thyrum and Shannon Peachey, who were named to District 7 Band and Orchestra.

Elise (French horn) and Shannon (trumpet) were named to District Band and will participate in the District 7 Lower Band Festival Jan. 12 and 13 at Kennard-Dale High School and perform in concert at 7 p.m. Jan. 13.

Elise and Shannon also were named to District Orchestra, along with Madeline (violin). They will participate in the District 7 Orchestra Festival Feb. 9 and 10 at Cedar Cliff High School and perform in concert at 7 p.m. Feb. 13.

The students were selected to participate based on auditions that included other students from Lancaster, Lebanon, Adams, Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin, Perry and York County schools.

Best wishes to these three outstanding musicians!


District Band and Orchestra musicians
From left, Shannon Peachey, Elise Thyrum and Madeline Claus, who were named to District Band and Orchestra.

Penn Manor hosts Kindergarten/Preschool Information Night February 6

On Tuesday, February 6, Penn Manor School District will sponsor a Kindergarten Information Night and Preschool Expo at Hambright Elementary School, 3000 Charlestown Road, Lancaster 17603.  The snow date is February 7.

   Preschool Expo:  Beginning at 6:15 p.m., Penn Manor families will have the opportunity to network with representatives of local preschools to learn about pre-K options in our area. Enrolling your child in a pre-K program helps build a solid foundation for learning and eases the transition to kindergarten.

    Kindergarten Information Night:  At 7 p.m., our Penn Manor kindergarten teachers will provide an overview of our curriculum and explain how you can help ensure that your child is ready to attend kindergarten. If you have a child who will be 5 years old on or before September 1, 2018, he/she is eligible to enroll in kindergarten.

Please join us for these important events. Child care will not be provided, and registration is not required.

Applicants sought to fill school board vacancy

Applications are being accepted through January 19, 2018, to fill a vacancy on the Penn Manor school board resulting from the resignation of Jeff Lyon on January 8. A replacement school board member will be appointed to fill out his term, which expires in December 2019.

Applicants should submit a cover letter, application (at, resume and references to Cindy Rhoades, school board secretary, P.O. Box 1001, Millersville, PA 17551. Applications must be received by 4 p.m. Friday, January 19. The school board intends to appoint the new member at its February 5 meeting.


Lunch & Learn program for preschoolers begins Jan. 17

Penn Manor is again offering the Lunch & Learn program from January through April to help preschoolers and their parents transition to kindergarten.

Held at all seven Penn Manor elementary schools, Lunch & Learn includes a story and craft time, library visit and lunch for participants ages 3 and older. The program runs from Jan. 17 through April 30. Starting times vary by school, and activities run for about an hour. Pre-registration is required.

Children must be accompanied by an adult, and siblings are welcome.

Click here for  a printable schedule with all the details, including dates for each school through April 2018.

Lunch & Learn is offered through Tiny Comets, a program for parents of children who are less than 5 years old on or before Sept. 1 of the school year.

You can find out more about Tiny Comets here.


Nominate an outstanding Penn Manor teacher, employee for recognition

Do you know of a Penn Manor teacher or staff member who goes above and beyond in performing his or her duties? If so, please consider submitting a nomination to the Outstanding Educator/Employee Awards program.

The school district will present the awards later this year to two teachers and two staff members.  Nominations are being accepted until February 23, 2018, from parents/guardians, students and colleagues of Penn Manor staff members.

Last year’s honorees were Alex Lagunas, technology support analyst; Erik Polaski, Pequea Elementary second-grade teacher; and Karen Hallett, Penn Manor High School English teacher.

The Outstanding Educator Awards should be based on a teacher’s ability to promote academic growth in his/her students and for outstanding pupil-teacher relationships.  A person may nominate one elementary teacher, one secondary teacher or one teacher on each level.  The nominee must currently be employed by Penn Manor School District.

Nominations for the Outstanding Employee Awards should be based on the staff member’s ability to support the educational program and the quality of his/her relationships with staff and students.  A person may nominate one elementary staff member, one secondary staff member or one employee on each level.  The nominee must currently be employed by Penn Manor.

Please click here to submit a nomination. Use one form for each nominee.

Below are an explanation of the awards, guidelines and a list of previous recipients.

Letter from Superintendent
Guidelines for Outstanding Educator, Employee Awards
Previous award recipients

Happy holidays from Penn Manor School District!

The entire Penn Manor staff would like to wish our students, staff members, parents and community members a safe and happy holiday season!

Penn Manor schools are closed beginning December 24 until classes resume on January 2, 2018. The district office will be open December 26-29, with limited hours and staffing. Please call (717) 872-9500 for more information.

Thank you for a great year!

Conestoga Elementary pilots student-run food composting program

Conestoga Elementary School students and staff are participating in a pilot food composting program that is designed to cut cafeteria waste while creating compost for the school’s garden.

Students in December began diverting their biodegradable fruit and vegetable scraps from the trash during lunch and depositing them in composting buckets. The waste is weighed and then pulled by wagon to compost bins in the school’s garden.

The “Kids Can Compost!” project is a pilot undertaken by the Edible Classroom with assistance from the Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority.

The week of Dec. 3, Beth Horst of The Edible Classroom taught lessons to grades 1 through 6 designed to introduce the concept of composting and its benefits. In a compost bin, foods like carrots and banana peels can decompose in a few months, unlike food buried in a landfill, which may not decompose for many years due to lack of oxygen to support decomposers.

Students and parent volunteers began the program the week of Dec. 10 under the direction of Horst with help from Manor FFA members from the high school. Over five days, students diverted 145 pounds of food scraps from the waste stream into the three-bin composter, built by Penn Manor High School junior Matt Julian for an Eagle Scout project.

After the first week, a group of students will oversee and run the program. Once the students are comfortable with their responsibilities, Edible Classroom staff will check in monthly to ensure the program is running smoothly. The Edible Classroom is seeking additional sponsors so it can offer the program to other schools in Lancaster County.

Horst said the project isn’t just designed to cut waste – she hopes it motivates students and their families to practice good environmental stewardship.

“I hope students are inspired to know that even they can take part in reducing waste and transforming it into something useful, like compost,” she said. “We want students to share what they’ve learned at home to open up the conversation about rethinking waste as a resource.”

If there is enough interest from the school and Conestoga parents, the Edible Classroom will offer a free home composting workshop at the school’s end-of-year picnic.

More information on the composting program is available by contacting Horst at or at the website

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