It's been a privilege to represent Penn Manor School District in the running for Pennsylvania’s Teacher of the Year, Maria Vita said.

“The whole experience has been a celebration of what we do,” the high school psychology teacher said.

On Monday, Vita and 11 other finalists took part in a luncheon at Hershey Lodge & Convention Center, held in the course of the SAS Institute, the Department of Education’s annual professional development conference.

Each of the 12 was introduced by a present or former student. There were some “tear-jerking moments” that underscored the power teachers have in students’ lives, Vita said.

Vita was introduced by Grace Rhine, Penn Manor Class of 2017. Now a sophomore studying psychology and special education at Millersville University, Rhine called Vita her “hero” and recounted some of the many ways she goes above and beyond in her work.

An English teacher from Lackawanna County, Marilyn Pryle, was ultimately named state Teacher of the Year for 2019.

Pryle, who teaches at Abington Heights High School, will travel the state over the next year and will represent Pennsylvania in the National Teacher of the Year competition.

Vita, 44, teaches Advanced Placement courses in 11th and 12th grade. Now in her 16th year at Penn Manor, she previously taught in New York City and on an Indian reservation in New Mexico.

She chairs the Teachers of Psychology in Secondary Schools Committee, part of the American Psychological Association, and is a co-adviser of Penn Manor’s Aevidum club, which raises awareness for depression and suicide.

Penn Manor Superintendent Mike Leichliter called Vita “amazing” and “truly extraordinary.”

“I say that as a superintendent but more importantly as a dad,” he said. His three children all took her class, he wrote the Department of Education in his letter nominating Vita, and “we could not have asked for a more caring and capable teacher.”