Pocopson Elementary ‘heart and soul’ honored

Dave Lichter poses with his fifth-grade class at Pocopson Elementary.

The fifth-grade class at Pocopson Elementary had to stifle smiles when their teacher told them about a last-minute school event on March 20, 2019. The students, enlisted as co-conspirators, knew that their teacher had been deliberately misinformed.

Most of the student body at Pocopson Elementary waits for what they think will be a theater assembly.

A fake assembly featuring actors from the Walnut Street Theater represented a ruse to gather the student body for a special announcement: the district’s recipient of the 2019 Citadel Heart of Learning Award.

The only drama that day would be the announcement of the winner by representatives from Citadel and the Chester County Intermediate Unit, which developed the annual award to recognize outstanding teachers.

Minutes later, Dave Lichter’s students got their cue: The recipient was a fifth-grade teacher. Did the students have any idea who it might be?  “Mr. Lichter,” the excited fifth-graders yelled in unison as their stunned teacher shook his head in disbelief.

Dave Lichter gets a hug from Sean Haug, one of his fifth-graders, after the award announcement.

As Lichter made his way from the back to the front of the room, he got high-fives from all of the students he passed. The audience, which had secretly included his wife, Marcy Dea-Lichter, and two of his three stepsons, learned that he had garnered more than 20 nominations from parents, students, and colleagues.

One parent called him “the heart and soul of Pocopson Elementary.” A colleague referenced his ability to provide a nurturing haven for all students while another suggested that “he stops at nothing in order to ‘reach’ a student.”

One student who sat in his classroom more than a decade ago credited him with helping her achieve numerous academic honors. She said she retains “many specific details about what we studied during the year – a testament to the endurance of his lessons and his ability to captivate students.”

District officials said the timing of this recognition could not have been more fitting. A month before the award ceremony, Lichter had announced his plans to retire at the conclusion of this school year.

Students who spent time in his care recalled an energetic sequence of interactive, educational experiences. One minute he’d use apples from Barnard’s Orchard to teach math skills – sneaking in a nutritional lesson in the process – and the next minute he’d move outside, sloshing through a creek with his students so that they could release the fingerlings they’d been nurturing in classroom tanks. Not bad for someone who initially rejected a teaching career.

Dave Lichter poses with some of his former students, who attended the assembly in his honor.

Lichter, whose uncle taught fifth grade in New York City, attended Indiana University of Pennsylvania as an elementary education major but said he concluded that “teaching wasn’t for me” after his freshman year. He switched to a major in psychology and a minor in Spanish. He said a nearly decade-long series of post-graduation jobs – ranging from a YMCA camp director to a house parent for abused or neglected teens removed from their homes – gave him perspective and prompted him to shift gears again.

“I decided I did want to teach,” he recalled, enrolling at West Chester University around age 28. He student-taught at Unionville Elementary School in Ray McKay’s classroom and also at The Vanguard School, a private school for special-education students.

Lichter got hired at Hillendale Elementary School the following fall, the school’s first year. “The rest is history,” he said, explaining that he moved to Pocopson Elementary School when it opened after the district was reconfigured.

Dave Lichter (second from right) is shown with his family: Brian Dea (from left), Marcy Dea-Lichter and Connor Dea.

During his nearly 30-year career with the district, Lichter has touched many lives. Recently, he has even taught the children of a former student. But not all of his connections have occurred in the classroom.

Ever since he started teaching, Lichter has been a fixture at the Unionville Community Fair, a family-friendly, iconic event that annually pays tribute to the region’s agricultural roots. He remembered being asked by Curt Barr, a fourth-grade teacher and volunteer for the fair, if he would help with the setup. That request mushroomed into 28 years of volunteering and countless hours of commitment. He now sits on the board and currently serves as the director of craft vendors and class trips.

In addition to his work with the Community Fair, Lichter coached for 16 years with the Unionville ice hockey program at both the high school and varsity level. He was the assistant coach for the varsity team in 1998 when it won the Flyers Cup, an annual high school ice hockey tournament held by the Philadelphia Flyers. This year, he is involved in organizing an alumni game at the Chester County Skating Club for anyone who’s ever participated in the Unionville ice hockey program.

Pocopson Elementary teacher Dave Lichter chats with some of his fifth-grade students after the award announcement.

Lichter credits his late parents, especially his father, with inspiring his work ethic. “We were always told to give it our all,” Lichter said. His father, “who had a real passion for life … worked six days a week, 12 hours a day, so I thought that was normal,” Lichter explained. Now he realizes that he couldn’t have continued to follow his father’s lead without his own family’s willingness to accept his unbounded energy and long working hours.

Retirement isn’t likely to slow him down. He’s already making plans to ramp up his photography expertise. In fact, he will be the “artist of the month” at worKS gallery in Kennett Square, representing “the first time I have ever shown my framed black-and-white photos at an actual gallery.”  He is exploring some other photo opportunities and also plans to showcase his photos at this year’s Art and Garden Celebration, a popular, annual fundraiser at Pocopson Elementary.

Lichter said he hopes to have more time for another longtime passion that frequently surfaces in his classroom. “I am giving serious consideration to conducting some cooking classes for kids,” he said, recalling students’ positive reactions to a host of creations, ranging from beef jerky to Brussels sprouts recipes.  “Kids and cooking go together for sure.”

Dave Lichter (left) stands with Pocopson Elementary Principal Clif Beaver after the ceremony.

And if that lineup doesn’t fill his waking hours, he would like to volunteer at the Kennett Area Food Cupboard, substitute teach, and learn how to make pottery.

Lichter said he was humbled and gratified to receive an award for doing something he truly loves. “For me, teaching is all about connecting with your students and making it as real and relevant as possible,” he said. “It’s all about developing a positive attitude.”

Besides the Heart of Learning award, Lichter received $500 that can be used to purchase supplies and other items needed for his classroom, as well as an invitation to the Citadel banquet on May 7, 2019.

The day after the award was announced, he said his students delivered a barrage of ideas for spending the money, and he has several of his own. Figuring that out “is definitely a good problem to have,” he concluded

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About Kathleen Brady Shea

Kathleen Brady Shea, a nearly lifelong area resident, has been reporting on local news for several decades, including 19 years at the Philadelphia Inquirer. She believes that journalists provide a vital watchdog service in the community, and she embraces that commitment. In addition to unearthing news, she also enjoys digging up dirt in her garden, a hobby that frequently fosters Longwood Gardens envy. Along with her husband, Pete, she lives in a historic residence near the Brandywine Battlefield, a property that is also home to a sheep, a goat, and a passel of fish.

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One Response to “Pocopson Elementary ‘heart and soul’ honored”

  1. George Pellegrino says:

    Great teacher. Still remember the cow milking contest he and my son did at the fair.

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