MALVERN - Lorraine Purcell, a teacher at the Phoenixville Kindergarten Center, was surprised twice.

The first time was when she was told she had to go to a school assembly and then discovered she was the Phoenixville Area School District's nominee for this year's Citadel Heart of Learning Award.

The second time she was surprised was Tuesday night, when she was given one of the three Heart of Learning awards, during a banquet at the Desmond Hotel.

Other award winners during the third annual event were Steve Hanna, an American history teacher at the Fred S. Engle Middle School in the Avon Grove district, and Mary Rash, a math teacher at the Chester County Intermediate Unit's Center for Arts and Technology - Brandywine.

Purcell, who has been teaching for 26 years and has four children of her own, was beaming during her acceptance speech.

"I accept this for all of the Phoenixville Kindergarten Center staff and all of the early childhood and elementary teachers. It's a noble job and it's also a lot to realize the responsibility I have teaching these children. The most important thing is loving these children with all our hearts. ... Little children are so wonderful and a true treasure."

Hanna, who has been teaching for two years, was described on one of his nominating essays as someone, "who really puts his heart into everything he does here."

The eighth-grade teacher said, "The teachers in my life made such a difference. It's an honor to follow in my father's footsteps. Even though he became an administrator, he started as a teacher.

"My rewards come from the successes that the children have."

Rash, in her 22nd year of teaching, had trouble believing she had won her award.

"There were nine high school nominees and a couple of them have been teachers for a long time. I'm so honored.

"I was told that it's so important to love what you do. And I do love being a teacher.

"I wish I could thank my parents for signing for my student loan. If it wasn't for that, and for them, I might not be here tonight."

Nearly 400 nominations submitted by students, parents and administrators, were trimmed to 15 finalists - one from the 12 public school districts in Chester County plus Twin Valley, the Chester County Intermediate Unit and non-public schools. Each finalist received $500 for classroom use. The three winners were given an additional $1,500 for use in their classrooms, as well as hand-blown glass sculptures.

"We can never thank [teachers] enough for what they do, but we hope this award goes a little way toward achieving that goal," said Michael Schnably, Citadel's Vice President of Marketing and Training and co-chairman of the Heart of Learning program.

The awards were created by the Citadel Federal Credit Union and the Intermediate Unit to recognize area teachers while raising awareness about the difference their work and dedication make to students and the community.

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