Mary Siejak, right, works with students in her Individualized Instruction classroom at Good Shepherd Academy in Kingston on Oct. 28, 2022. Siejak has been named ‘2022 Educator of the Year’ by Wilkes University. (Photo/Eric Deabill)

KINGSTON – One minute, Mary Siejak is helping a group of students learn to say colors in Spanish. The next, the Good Shepherd Academy educator is across the room helping others cut-and-paste the words of the Hail Mary onto a piece of paper.

Siejak’s classroom is a constant source of activity and empowerment – and there is nothing that she would change.

On Nov. 15, 2022, Siejak’s hard work and dedication paid off as Wilkes University named her its ‘2022 Educator of the Year.’ The award celebrates excellence by a caring and ethical educator who has dedication to all students in his/her learning community.

“It was a complete surprise,” Siejak said upon learning she won the award.

After working throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Siejak admitted she is honored by the designation.

“For someone to say, what you did and what you’re doing is really great and we’d like to celebrate you and the children and your school community, that really does mean a lot,” she explained.

For the last seven years, Siejak has been an Individualized Instruction teacher at Good Shepherd Academy. She excels at helping students with exceptionalities become the best person they can be and to exposing them to life outside a special education classroom.

“They are the reason why I get up in the morning. If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know where I would be. They have changed my life so much,” Siejak said. “Their journey may not be a typical one but they can still accomplish their goals, they can still be active, engaged participants, not only in a school community but society at large.”

Siejak is a product of the Diocese of Scranton Catholic School System itself, having attended Pope John Paul II School in Nanticoke. She was also part of the first graduating class of Holy Redeemer High School. Siejak says she fell in love with special education after helping a friend’s daughter who was visually impaired.

“Mary is the best of the best. There are a lot of moving parts in the Individualized Instruction classroom,” Jim Jones, Good Shepherd Academy principal, said. “We are blessed with these children that God has entrusted to us. Their parents believe in us and we have an obligation to teach them in the Catholic faith.”

After observing Siejak in her classroom for only a few minutes, Jones says her love for her students becomes clear.

“She doesn’t stop from the minute she walks in until the minute she leaves,” Jones added. “She eats with her children. She doesn’t take any breaks.

She is in specials with them. Wherever they are, she is there and that is nice to know. It’s a comfort for families to know their children are not only safe but entrusted with teachers who love them.”

Jennie Kopka started last year as an aide in Siejak’s Individualized Instruction classroom.

“She is kind and gentle and safe. I think all the children feel safe with Ms. S. and know that she always has their best interests in mind,” Kopka said.

Directly outside the door of her Individualized Instruction classroom, Good Shepherd Academy has a bulletin board highlighting how Miss Siejak makes a difference every day. While describing her tremendous talent, strength and grace, the words of her extraordinary students speak the loudest.

“Miss S. is fun and takes us outside to get fresh air,” one student wrote.

“She’s beautiful, lovely, and very kind,” another said.

“Miss S. is awesome, what more could I say,” a third wrote.

As she celebrates receiving the ‘2022 Educator of the Year’ award from Wilkes University, Siejak says it is those words that truly matter.

“You can’t help but get emotional because they speak the truth, especially students of this population. They wear their heart on their sleeve, so to hear that, coming from them about me, tells me that I’m doing something right and I need to continue to do that for them because it makes them better people,” she said.