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South Scranton Intermediate School Teacher Named State Teacher Of The Year Finalist

May 6, 2019

SCRANTON — The South Scranton Intermediate School eighth-graders gathered around a large table as Katona Miller demonstrated Newton’s three laws of motion. Wearing a “hat of science” — which she made out of two baseballs and a wire coat hanger — she showed her students that even through she spun around, the baseballs did not move. Miller placed a tablecloth from home on the table in front of her students. She pulled the fabric off the table without breaking the plate or mug placed on top. A curious student walking by stopped in the open doorway to watch. With each demonstration — using props like eggs, dice and ping pong balls — the meaning behind Newton’s laws became clear. “I’m a visual learner. When I see it, I get it,” said Maryeren Galvan, 14, a student in the eighth-grade physical science class. “I understand what she’s teaching.” With a hands-on approach and a passion on exposing her students to STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and math — Milller is a finalist for the Pennsylvania teacher of the year award, the state Department of Education announced today. Miller joins 11 other teachers from around the state to be named a finalist. “Teaching is more than a profession; it is a calling,” state Education Secretary Pedro A. Rivera said in a press release. “Teachers spend their lives educating and serving students, inspiring them to recognize their potential and to achieve their goals. The Department of Education applauds this year’s finalists, who represent the commitment and professionalism that so many Pennsylvania educators share.” Students, parents, peers and community members nominated teachers for the recognition program, which is cosponsored by the state department of education and the Pennsylvania chapter of the National State Teacher of the Year. The winner will be announced in December in Hershey. Pennsylvania’s 2019 Teacher of the Year is Abington Heights High School English teacher Marilyn Pryle. “I’m just thrilled,” said Miller, 31, a West Scranton High School graduate who started teaching in the district five years ago. In her second-floor classroom, sunlight streams in the tall windows, adorned with blue and yellow curtains made to look like minions. Students from her previous school, Berwick, gave her the first minion from the popular “Despicable Me” movies. Her collection continues to grow. A 3-D printer, obtained through a grant and other donations, hums in the front of the room while printing a tail for a dinosaur model. A bearded dragon sits on a branch in a terrarium. More than 150 cockroaches crawl in an adjacent container. Models of the first eight elements on the periodic table hang from the ceiling. In Scranton, Miller coordinates STEM programs, teaches a robotics camp and coaches students in the Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Science competition. A record number of Scranton students qualified for the state contest this year. She also is pursuing a coding certification. “I try to be as hands-on and relatable as possible, so they cannot only see it, but also do it on their own,” Miller said. “I hopefully inspire these kids. I just want them to question things. I want them to be problem solvers. I want them to be able to find ways to figure out the answer. Hopefully they question everything.” Former West Scranton High School science teachers Rose Sember, now Rose Minniti, superintendent of Valley View, and Robert Butka, now the principal of Northeast Intermediate School, helped give Miller a love of science. A zoology professor at Shippensburg University, after assigning Miller to teach a lesson on composting and earthworms to kindergarten students, encouraged her to become a teacher. “This recognition is so well-deserved,” Superintendent Alexis Kirijan, Ed.D., said. “Katona effortlessly engages her students in the classroom and in extracurricular learning projects. The Scranton School District is very fortunate to have such an outstanding teacher who is not only dedicated and committed but who goes the extra mile for her students.” Contact the writer: shofius@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9133; @hofiushallTT on Twitter The 2020 Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year finalists are: Matthew Binder, science, Hempfield Senior High School, Hempfield School District, Lancaster County Michele Bittner, fifth-grade English, West Penn Elementary School, Tamaqua Area School District, Schuylkill County Amanda Connell, food service production and management, Northern Tier Career Center, Bradford County Colleen Epler-Ruths, science, Shikellamy High School, Shikellamy School District, Northumberland County Javius Galan, sixth- through eighth-grade special education, Wilson West Elementary School, Wilson School District, Berks County Leanne Jarossy, math, Central Bucks High School, Central Bucks School District, Bucks County William Melvin, English, Central Bucks High School, Central Bucks School District, Bucks County Katona Miller, seventh- and eighth-grade science, South Scranton Intermediate School, Scranton School District, Lackawanna County Kristen Moose, eighth-grade science, Dallastown Area Middle School, Dallastown Area School District, York County Melissa Pierce, third-grade English, Pennypack Elementary School, Hatboro-Horsham School District, Montgomery County Paolo Tolomeo, fourth-grade all subjects, Haine Elementary School, Seneca Valley School District, Butler County Joseph Welch, middle school social studies, North Hills Middle School, North Hills School District, Allegheny County