PUNXSUTAWNEY — It’s always a plus when students have an administrator who admires their behavior, and that’s something that the students at Punxsutawney Christian School have going for them.
“I’m amazed by the behavior of the kids,” said Tonya Woodel, who has served as PCS’ new administrator since July 2011, succeeding Jolanda Tibbs. “They are self-motivated, and they take care of each other.”
That quite a change from her last school, in Lamar, S.C., where the poverty rate ranged from 85 to 90 percent, and the school experienced some gang-related violence.
Not that teaching in a rural environment is culture shock for Woodel; she’s a Brookville native, and a graduate of both Brookville Junior-Senior High School and Clarion University, from which she earned a degree in music education.
Woodel and her husband, Kenneth, have a one year-old son, and said it was family that brought them back to Jefferson County.
“We had a son, and wanted him to know his grandparents,” she said.
After she struggled finding music education jobs, she applied for and won the administrator position at PCS, which now enrolls 158 students in grades kindergarten through 12.
“I liked the idea of a Christ-centered education, and in grades K-12, there’s a lot more diversity than ever,” Woodel said.
She also said enrollment is holding steady, and despite the fact there may be only a handful of students in one grade, all grades are accounted for.
“If enrollment continues (to increase), we’ll have to find a place for two new classrooms,” Woodel said. “We’re cramped, but it’s a good thing, because it means we are doing something right, because people want to be here. If we had empty rooms, that would be a concern.”
The school — now housed completely in the former Punxsy junior high school building — has brought in a lot of new technology, including laptops for teachers, eight new desktop computers for the lab and three smart boards, Woodel said.
After teaching band for two years at both the middle and high schools in Lamar, the district restructured, and Woodel was assigned to teach band, choir and general music at the district’s Spaulding Middle School, where she grew the choir from five to more than 45 students.
Her 20-member band grew to more than 65 students, and almost all of Woodel’s students were involved with general music.
The rejuvenated band won ratings of “excellent” at concert festivals, and Woodel wrote several grants to provide musical instruments for students, despite the rampant poverty in the region.
While at Spaulding, Woodel served on a leadership team as a representative for elective classes and helped shape school policy for improved student achievement and safety.
While serving on the leadership team, Woodel learned many administrative skills, such as writing policy, as well as school law.
For PCS, Woodel looks to recreate that band, which is on hiatus due to a retirement, and expand the school’s presence in the community.
“If only they knew how incredibly uninteresting I am, but how awesome and ever-captivating my God is,” she said. “God is in control, and He has a plan for Punxsutawney Christian School, and I am just honored that He chose me to be a part of what He is doing.”