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Friday Photo: What’s in a Name?

Crayola Factory, 2012

2012 Elementary school trip, Crayola Factory, Easton, PA

I have been Miss Grove for three years now — well, officially.  I suppose I have technically been Miss Grove since the date of my birth, but the first time a student entered my classroom in 2009 and said, “Good morning, Miss Grove.  My name’s Amber; I’m a junior.  It’s nice to meet you,” I found it so charming that I emailed my mom. (“A student called me MISS. GROVE. Isn’t that cute?”)

I have been many names in my life, each with a different flavor.  Sylly G was my name in middle school, coined by my friend Marie when I was trying to have some kind of an attitude. Seel-via, silk-laden and elegant, was my host mom’s pronunciation of my name in 2005 when I spent a semester in Avignon, France.  My students in Talange, France, in 2007 called me Madame (or l’américaine” because they could never remember my first name) which made me sound snobby, or so I thought, but it was also a distinct gesture of respect.  So Miss Grove has been.

A name can be a reason for camaraderie, and a title can be a mark of distinction, but I also noticed that a name can also make or break intimacy.  During my first years of teaching, I used to hesitate to call myself by my first name whenever I was telling a story because saying “Sylvia” out loud in a room of people who call me “Miss Grove” required the merging of my worlds, my perceptions of myself.  Sylvia does cartwheels while jogging by the Susquehanna River, but Miss Grove, in high heels and a serious skirt, would not.

However, it seems that the first step to being a good teacher is showing your humanity, your normalness. One difficulty with being a teacher was realizing that there is a distinct line between the students’ perceptions of my life and theirs, and I wanted to show them that the difference was very small. (I too know what Rock Band is, have favorite rides at Hersheypark, have opinions on pizza toppings, and have read The Hunger Games.) The best advice I ever received about teaching was that it is a reciprocal experience — I learn from the students as much as they learn from me — and that education never ends.  Therefore, I became Sylvia in the classroom whenever I was telling a story about my first interviews for The Patriot-News or when explaining my musical background; I was Sylvia as I talked about tutoring at the Central PA Literacy Council or learning to talk to the homeless woman named Denise at my laundromat on Calder Street.  I am Sylvia because I want to prove that education is not just isolated to Miss Grove and the classroom.

Today, I announced that I am resigning from high school teaching to pursue higher education in the fall, and I realized that Miss Grove, as I know her, will be gone.  But what I learned from her during these three years of sharing her existence—how to expose myself to students, to laugh, to be vulnerable, to think creativity, to be challenged even by those younger than me, and to listen—shall carry me through for the rest of my life.

After I stepped down from the lunchroom stage at the high school, clutching a Kleenex and trying to tell the students they had made a difference in my life, a junior named Derrick approached me and said, “Thanks for the stories.”  What I hope he meant was, “Thank you for being Sylvia.”

Friday Photo: Ice cream man reopens with new flavors, locations

Allan Johnson, the ice cream man, taste-tests his product at MoMo’s BBQ and Grill, Harrisburg, where his vintage ice cream tricycle is stored

If you haven’t met Allan Johnson already, you’ve surely seen him.

Maybe he’s been standing next to a peach-colored ice cream cart during the lunch hours of downtown Harrisburg, digging into the cart’s storage compartment to hand out half-pints of homemade ice cream.

Maybe you’ve seen him pedaling down Front Street or juggling bowling pins while surrounded by a crowd of patrons digging into their soft treats with plastic spoons.

Wearing all white except for a black bow tie, ice cream man Allan Johnson is unmistakable—and he’s back for the 2012 summer season.

“An ice cream cart is an American tradition,” says Johnson.

Opened in 2011, Johnson’s company, CreamCycles, is now selling 15 flavors of homemade ice cream made by Bootlleg Creamery in Blain, PA.

“Bootlleg Creamery: it’s so good it should be illegal,” says Johnson, and he’s right.  The ice cream’s velvety texture is coat-your-mouth creamy while not being too heavy, which allows the ice cream to be both full-bodied and refreshing.  Creator Jeff Trout doesn’t skimp on the flavor, either; the Orange Pineapple is bright with citrus and laden with crushed pineapple, and the Peanut Butter—Johnson’s favorite—is so rich that no chocolate swirls are necessary.

New flavors this season include Gangster Grapenut, Sweetheart Cherry, and Coffee Brickle.

Johnson sells half pints of ice cream—which are small enough to eat solo or big enough to share—one for $3 or two for $5.

In addition to his downtown sales, Johnson is also available this season for at block parties, birthday parties, picnics, and fundraisers.  During his off-hours, his vintage ice cream tricycle is stored at MoMo’s BBQ & Grill on 307 Market Street, which also serves Bootlleg’s chocolate and raspberry ice creams on the premises.

“I’m hoping for more exposure this season,” Johnson says.

More exposure may even mean more ice cream carts, he says.  Currently, Johnson is brainstorming about owning a fleet of carts made by local craftsmen and leasing them to individual owners, expanding his business into different markets, including the West Shore.  A second cart on the streets may be seen as early as this summer.

HOURS: 11am-2pm, 4pm-8pm Monday through Friday, downtown Harrisburg.  Weekend hours vary according to local events and the weather. Text Johnson your location for ice cream delivery at 603.801.2420.

This article was first published in The Patriot-News on Wednesday, May 16.

Two-Decade Dream: Grantville Volunteer Fire Company’s new building becomes a reality

Fire company president Wayne Isett

This article was first published on April 28, 2012, in The Patriot-News.

EAST HANOVER TWP — At the April 14 groundbreaking for Grantville Volunteer Fire Company’s new 15,000-square-foot building, the excitement in the air was as tangible as the dry spring heat that wafted over the gravel ground

No wonder — the dream to build a firehouse for the 200-member volunteer fire company has been nearly 20 years in the making.

“It’s been said that perseverance is not just running one long race, but many short races one after the other,” East Hanover Twp. supervisor George Rish said. “This fire company is an example of that.”

Consultant Paul McNamee of Paul McNamee Consultants agreed.

“You have a hard-working fire company. They’re one of the hardest-working clients I’ve ever had,” McNamee said.

Standing to the side of the crowd, fire company president Wayne Isett smiled calmly, introducing speakers and acknowledging guests. A 30-year member of the fire company, Isett and other senior members identified the company’s need for a new building back in the 1990s when they began outgrowing the current location on Jonestown Road, which had been constructed in 1973.

Read the complete article at

Local band Colebrook Road aims to ‘draw people’

Colebrook Road (left to right): Joe McAnuty of Harrisburg, fiddle and vocals; Marcus Weaver of Elizabethtown, banjo and vocals; Wade Yankey of Harrisburg, mandolin; Jesse Eisebise of Lower Swatara Twp., guitar; and Mike Vitale of Millersville, bass and vocals.

The name Colebrook Road is both a bluegrass band — and a place. As a band, it’s a five-member musical powerhouse based in Harrisburg who has written Pennsylvania-inspired songs like “Dry Ground Blues” and “Delta Skunk” and has performed in various venues, including many across the mid-state. As a street, Colebrook Road runs across Central Pennsylvania through Dauphin, Lebanon, and Lancaster counties, and represents many members’ childhood, connection to the land, and life philosophy. I spoke to the band Colebrook Road in October about their connection to community in an article recently published in The Patriot-News.

Part 2, Local Literacy: Students meet reading project goal

Harrisburg, August 2011

Harrisburg, August 2011

In July, about 60 students at the Hansel and Gretel Early Development Center in Susquehanna Township were offered a challenge that sounded like a training schedule: read a collective 50,000 minutes in six weeks and win.

The students, ages 4-12, weren’t daunted. They faced the summer reading project head on and overwhelmed the goal, reading 56,169 minutes — in 900 collective hours, a total that was revealed the week of Aug. 19.

“There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that they could do it,” said Katie Weaver of West Hanover Twp., who helped organize the program with her mother, Cathy Hutchins, and her stepfather, Hutch.

The project was a joint effort among parents, teachers and students, designed to …

A version of this article first appeared in The Patriot-News on Friday, September 9.  Click here to read more.

Part 1, Local Literacy: Council seeks to unite, inspire adult learners

Lemoyne, August 2011

It’s mid-afternoon on a Friday, and a group is gathered at a pavilion at the Memorial Park, Lemoyne. One young man flips burgers by a grill.  A woman arrives with her husband, carrying a bowl of macaroni salad.  A third man begins reading the clues of a crossword puzzle out loud, and the members of the pavilion chime in with potential answers. This is not a family gathering, however—at least, not really.

This is the Central Pennsylvania Literacy Council’s Annual Corn Fest, held this year on August 12.

“We’re like a family,” says board president, MaryAnna Borke of Rutherford.

The literacy council, a collaborative partner of the Tri-County OIC Adult Learning Center based in Harrisburg, is an organization that provides individualized instruction in reading and math for adult learners.  Presently, the CPLC hosts 34 volunteers and tutors and 28 learners who study at the council between 1-8 hours a week.  About half of the adult learners hail from countries outside the U.S.  The remaining half are learners who may have simply struggled in school as teenagers and are now redefining their education. But all of them are bound together by the rule that defines the Lemoyne-based center—say hello to everyone, no exceptions, each time you enter—as well as the desire to better their lives.

The Corn Fest, a summer picnic featuring corn-on-the-cob, is one of two annual CPLC gatherings for volunteers, learners, and families.  The Council was founded in the 1970s as a response to census data, which had been released by county for the first time.  With these numbers, “we saw there was a huge number of people within our area who didn’t know how to read,” explains Carole Sawchuck, director. “We realized it was just normal people who needed reading skills.  It was the neighbor down the street.”

Running on the slogan, “individualized instruction for all,” the CPLC advertises itself as being open 24/7 and designed for learners whose needs can’t be met in a traditional classroom.  “People who work odd hours aren’t able to show up for a class three days a week,” says Borke. The CPLC maintains an “open entrance, open exit” policy, meaning the learner’s experience will last as long as he or she is available.  Each learner also receives a battery of placement exams and is paired directly with a personal tutor.

In addition to providing tutoring in reading and math, the CPLC also offers help in other disciplines, such as word attack skills, phonetics, writing, keyboarding, computer usage, preparation for citizenship exams, practice in written driver’s license exams, and prep for the GED.

Occasionally, a learner just needs help negotiating a job application, a medical bill, or a car insurance claim.

Sawchuck explains that as little as 12% of people who are eligible for state services receive them, a fact which depends partially on an individual’s lack of reading skills.  “If you can’t read, you can’t understand your society: the rules that govern you, and the rules that don’t,” she says.  “People can tell you anything, but you have to read in order to confirm.  That’s what we’re here for.”

Working with the CPLC also can increase a learner’s verbal communication skills, as was the case for Patrick Scott of Susquehanna township.  Scott remembers the first time he answered the phone at the CPLC—an act most volunteers are required to do to build telephone skills—as a milestone.  “I was nervous and I stumbled over my words,” Scott says. “The person on the other end asked, ‘Is this your first time?’ and then told me it was okay.”  Scott has since volunteered with the CPLC for almost 14 years.

Ralph Owens of Penbrook explains that the CPLC, combined with his faith, has given him a new outlook on his life. “My whole character changed.  I got a lot of encouragement, got to be around a lot of different people, and now, I’m no longer afraid,” Owens says.  At age 56, Owens has been working with the CPLC for five years and is now a member of the board of directors.  He is working toward his GED and hopes to work with the elderly and the mentally disabled.

Operating at an annual budget of $12,000 is a challenge, admits Sawchuck, as is the constant need for volunteers.  The CPLC is currently seeking tutors with specialized skills in reading, math, and phonetic awareness, and who have a solid grasp of the English language, good communication skills, and the willingness to be patient.

“Often the learners come without dreams, and they don’t see themselves as moving ahead,” says Borke.  “But we want to help learners realize their own potential.”


225 Bosler Avenue (rear)
Lemoyne, PA
(717) 763-7522

A version of this article first appeared in The Patriot-News on Friday, September 9, 2011.

Foodie Goodie: Grilled Caesar Showcases Surprising Star, Susquehanna Twp.

While dressing up a Caesar salad is usually synonymous with adding something grilled, such as shrimp or chicken, celebrate the end of this grilling season with a grilled Caesar salad at Gabriella’s Italian Ristorante in Susquehanna Twp.

In this salad, what’s grilled is the lettuce.

If you’re imagining a plateful of wilted lettuce leaves, hold on. Grilling lettuce is a technique that combines that flame of summer with the rich flavors of fall, produced by “ kissing” the lettuce with just enough fire to coat it (think seconds) with the same char that so complements asparagus or string beans.

Top the toasted leaves with fresh Caesar dressing and thick slices of aurrichio (provolone) cheese, and you have Gabriella’s Caesar.

“I tried a similar salad for the first time at a restaurant about two years ago,” owner Pietro Carcioppolo says. “I said to my wife, ‘ I can do that.'”

This article was first published on page B4 in The Patriot-News on Wednesday, August 31.  Read the complete version here.

A salad of contrasts: crunchy, cool, and creamy

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