Spring-Ford special education teacher Mandy Leslie was in for a huge surprise when she came to the cafeteria on Wednesday for a meeting of her Ram Buddies group.
Waiting for Leslie were all her kids, some of their parents, and other Spring-Ford staff, along with two representatives of Pediatric Therapeutic Services, a Conshohocken-based organization that serves special needs students in schools all over Eastern Pennsylvania.
What Leslie didn't know was that Pam Hackett and Diana Fongheiser were there to tell her she'd been named PTS' Teacher of the Year.
A teary-eyed Leslie also accepted a check for $5,000 from PTS that will go towards expanding and improving the SF Ram Buddies program.
Leslie started a peer mentoring group at Spring-Ford last year called SF Ram Buddies. Student volunteers are paired up with special education students and twice a month, they meet to play sports or games and to socialize with each other.
Dr. Jeanmarie Mason, the Special Education supervisor, said that the program was Leslie's idea.
"It provides peer relationships for these kids and promotes disability awareness," Mason said. "It also facilitates friendships among the students."
Fongheiser and Hackett said that last year's winner had teachers from all over the state visiting her school to look at her programs, and they expect things will be the same for Leslie.
Leslie will also be invited to present her program at a special education teachers' conference.
"I couldn't do it without the students," Leslie said.
Leslie recently formed a student-led planning committee and will be letting the students do much of the organizing for SF Ram Buddies.
"They'll be excited to sit down and see what we can do with this [$5,000]!" Leslie said.
The biggest thing the students learn, Mason said, is equality.
"They see we're all more alike than we are different," Mason said.