PUNXSUTAWNEY â Thus far, Kerin Mesankoâs teaching career has consisted of two very what she calls âshockingâ moments.
The first was being named the valedictorian of her class at Penn State University in 2005. The second was Tuesday, when she was named the elementary âTeacher of the Yearâ in The Punxsutawney Spiritâs annual contest.
âI am so blessed to be here,â Mesanko said in front of her class of â14 amazing studentsâ in kindergarten at the Punxsutawney Christian School. âThis is such an awesome class, and itâs easy to teach when the kids are eager to learn.â
What people may not know about Mesanko is that she took a different path to college than most people. Instead of attending college after high school, she raised her family first, and then, after much encouragement from friends and family, she enrolled at Penn State.
âPeople had been encouraging me, because I always loved working in a school environment,â she said. âI had been a Sunday School teacher for so many years, and people said, âYouâre an excellent teacher.ââ
Even when she wasnât teaching, when her sons were young, Mesanko was active in their schools in a number of special groups and events.
Taking on the roll as a non-traditional student at Penn State had its challenges, but Mesanko met them all head-on, as was affirmed just before her 2005 graduation, when she learned she was her classâ valedictorian.
âI didnât know I could go through school, but I did, and graduated as the valedictorian in my class,â Mesanko said. âThis (Tuesday) was every bit of a shock as when in class at Penn State, and the administrators were coming to congratulate me. But I knew I worked hard, and I knew my grades were very high.
âI loved my college;â she said. âI really liked it, and so I just felt like it was time. In all seriousness, God was saying, âOK, Kerin, itâs your time now.ââ
After graduating from Penn State, Mesanko spent six years seeking full-time employment while working as a substitute and a TSS. She also had a book published in 2009 and earned her autism certification through Wilkes Barre University in 2011.
That was the same year, in February, she began teaching kindergarten at the Punxsutawney Christian School, which she had been drawn to for some time.
âEven after I graduated in 2005, I remember talking to some friends and my sister-in-law, and I said I felt like God was leading me to the Christian school,â Mesanko said. âI always felt drawn there ... then all of a sudden, you have to get to the place you know. I know I love teaching more than I love the income, and I need to be in a place where I can be instrumental.â
These days, Mesanko said she can literally saturate herself in her class and lesson plans. Administrator Tonya Woodel said there has been many a night when Mesanko has surfaced on the schoolâs surveillance video, since she stays after school son many hours, preparing for the days and weeks ahead.
The Mesankosâ son are now grown â Steve and wife are in California, while Ken and wife Erin are in Erie, and welcomed their first child, Arayah, who is now three months old â leaving Kerin and husband Dennis on their own at home.
âMy husband is a manager at County Market, and most of the time, he works until 9 p.m.,â she said. âSo Iâm here, and I can be creative. Iâm not rushing. Im literally wrapped up into this school.â
Right now, her students are embarking on a phonics-related treasure hunt, âand they love it, but it takes hours and evenings to prepare and hide things,â she said. âItâs the last week, and I want to make it fun for them.â
Long before she was teaching at PCS, Mesanko has taught third-, fourth- and fifth-grade Sunday School at the First Church of God, complete with her own room, which she calls âGodâs Garage,â because it is painted with images of cars, trucks, licenses plates and tires for students on which to sit.
And even before PCS and Sunday School, Mesanko learned to love teaching through a teacher.
âMiss Minteer,â she recalled. âI just thought she was the most amazing teacher. I couldnât tell one things that happened. All I know was I always went through school thinking I had never had a dedicated teacher like her. She so kind and patient and just treated me so well, like I was worthy of something.
âIâm someone who loves to learn, and thatâs why I love a classroom setting,â she added.
Some of her other favorite teachers are her colleagues at PCS.
âWe have so many dedicated teachers, and any one of them, I feel, is worthy of âTeacher of the Year,ââ Mesanko said. âPlus, I have parents who have really pulled for me.â
In addition to being shocked about her âTeacher of the Yearâ honors, Mesanko acknowledged that she thought something of a more serious nature was occurring as The Spirit staff was arriving at PCS.
âWell, I thought we were in crisis mode,â she said. âThey said, âWe need to bring your kids back into the room, and they need to be at their desks.â I thought, âShould I pull the binds or shut the windows?â I thought someone had entered the school.â
As it turns out, the staff just wanted Mesankoâs students present when she received the âTeacher of the Yearâ honors.
âI panicked a little bit, and I heard the knock on the door,â she said. âI saw the balloons and was just totally confused. I had no clue.â
âI still feel blessed, and I feel God called me at a perfect time and has given me a perfect position,â Mesanko said.