The new secondary school principal in Annville-Cleona will be inducted later this month into the Lebanon County Commission for Women Hall of Fame for her contributions to the county as executive director of the Lebanon campus of Harrisburg Area Community College (HACC).
Laurie Bowersox, who was named principal of the Annville-Cleona High and Middle schools earlier this year, was chosen as one of the county’s “hidden heroes” for her work in education.
“I nominated Laurie because she is a very wonderful, caring lady and so deserving of the recognition this award brings her,” David Edwards, director of facilities at HACC, said in an email. “Laurie is the last to seek any type of recognition and this is my way of ensuring that she knows how important and rare she truly is. She is a quick thinker and immediately impacts any situation or group she is involved with. She is an impressive woman.”
According to the commission website, the Women’s Hall of Fame “annually honors women who have made significant contributions to Lebanon County through their profession and/or volunteerism while serving as role models.”
Nominees for the honor must live or work in Lebanon County or have played an integral part in the implementation of a project or projects that have benefited the Lebanon Valley.
“Laurie is an outstanding role model for women not only in Lebanon County, but for the women she interacts with wherever she goes,” Edwards said. “She is truly an outstanding role model and leader for those who lives she touches.”
Her “contributions and involvement in her profession of education have paid dividends to the many students’ lives that she has touched. These contributions don’t stop at the classroom door. I personally know of Laurie helping single mothers with food, resources for a place to live and even to help find employment. She is an excellent educator and an even better human,” he said.
“She always places others before herself,” he added. “I spent 29 years in the Army and she is one of the top three leaders that I have ever worked with. That is some very rare company.”
Bowersox, who was nominated in January, found out in March that she’d been chosen for the Hall of Fame.
“It’s such an honor. I’m so thrilled,” she said. “And I’m thrilled to be able to take those same caring hearts that I was entrenched with in downtown Lebanon and bring that out to Annville.”
She added: “I love people, I love helping people. To be told that someone saw how much my passion shines through … it’s heartwarming. Humbling. It makes me know that what I do means a lot to people behind the scenes. I’m really proud that I’ve been able to make a difference. I hope to keep that going.”
Bowersox said her nomination focused on “the work I did at HACC to promote students and inspire them to keep going despite barriers.”
She was executive director of the Lebanon campus for six years.
“For me, it was always about being student-centered,” Bowersox explained. “I wanted to support students, to take down any barrier that a student might face, and ensure that a student can achieve success and feel success.”
Much of what she did came at little cost to the school, she noted.
For instance, she raised funds to create a textbook library at HACC that provided access to textbooks, which students who could not afford to purchase the books could use onsite.
“If you think about the cost of college textbooks — you’re potentially a mom to several children, you’re excited to be going back to college to earn your degree, and suddenly there’s $400 of textbooks that you didn’t budget for,” Bowersox said. “They couldn’t take the books home, but they could utilize them throughout the school day.”
The library, she said, was used heavily.
“Our library got maybe 30 visits a month, but the minute we implemented that textbook library, our library usage tripled and in some cases quadrupled,” she said.
She also worked with local food pantries, donors and churches to create a regular supply of food and other necessities for students in need.
“The student pantry was available to all, no questions asked,” Bowersox said. “Students could take what they needed.”
College students “often don’t benefit from food stamps or support, they get forgotten or just don’t have the time” to eat proper meals, she said. The pantry at HACC offered cereal, snacks, meat and beverages, including milk, as well as basic hygiene supplies such as toothpaste and toothbrushes.
“We had enough groceries [that] they could go home and make a meal,” she said. “We’d sometimes see 200 to 300 students a month taking advantage of that pantry,” she said.
HACC president and CEO John J. “Ski” Sygielski said the library and pantry programs will continue on the Lebanon campus — as well as others instituted by Bowersox, such as Community Connections/Employment Opportunities, which helped place students in jobs and internships, and the S.T.E.P. Academy with Annville-Cleona, Lebanon and Cornwall Lebanon high schools.
“Students felt very comfortable in reaching out to her and knew that she would always be there to listen, guide and support them,” he said. “I believe the community partners will still be supportive of our Lebanon Campus students and continue to provide wonderful opportunities for employment and internships for many years to come.”
However, with recent changes at HACC, Sygielski said the executive director’s position formerly held by Bowersox has been eliminated.
“A new position, regional executive of the Lancaster and Lebanon campuses, was created,” he said. “The job duties are not the same as Laurie’s former job duties.”
The new position is currently on hold, Sygielski said, due to COVID-19 closures.
Bowersox said she hopes to bring similar outreach programs to Annville-Cleona, where she started in her new position in June.
“While the age of my students is a bit younger now, the support and care they deserve hasn’t changed,” she said. “There are a lot more parallels than there are differences.”
“There are a lot of high-need students who might need a barrier taken down for them. It might just be a friendly face to talk to, it might be something they need,” she added. “My hope is to make additional community partnerships. It’s really important that our community is supporting us.”
She hasn’t had a chance to meet the students yet, Bowersox said, but she’s about to start a video campaign featuring “little snippets, school tours and other fun things — I’m goofy — to introduce people to me.” She’ll also be answering questions about social distancing and the way school will function when it reopens this year.
“Annville-Cleona is doing great, and I’m blessed to be here,” she said.
Annville-Cleona district superintendent Krista M. Antonis said in an email that the district “feels very fortunate” to have Bowersox as the new secondary school principal.
“She has a reputation for being a dynamic, hardworking educator and, coming into A-C during this pandemic, has shown that her reputation is certainly warranted,” she said. “From her first day at A-C, she has demonstrated her depth of knowledge with scheduling and has started building relationships with staff and families through her communication.”
Even before Bowersox came to work at the district, Antonis said, she was “instrumental in assisting A-C students to work through their HACC dual enrollment process. With her previous experience as an elementary administrator and her experience with higher education and workforce development, Ms. Bowersox brings a wealth of knowledge to A-C.”
County Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz, an ex-officio member of the LCCW board, noted Bowersox was the youngest principal in the ELCO School District before before taking her post at the Lebanon campus of HACC.
“As an educator, she is highly respected in her field,” Litz said. “Laurie is a firm believer in lifting others to attain their potential. She is a wonderful mentor to women in leadership positions. Colleagues have witnessed her develop other females into productive leaders in their areas of responsibility.”
Bowersox is a member of the United Way of Lebanon County Board, Lebanon Valley Chamber of Commerce, Leadership Lebanon Valley Board, Workforce Alliance and City of Lebanon Association, Litz noted. She is president of the Rotary Club of Lebanon.
“She is an outstanding role model to the women with whom she interacts, wherever she goes,” she said. “Laurie’s actions show other women that no matter your gender, you can lead and impact people in a positive manner and make a difference in their lives.”
Other 2020 inductees into the Lebanon County Commission for Women Hall of Fame, according to Litz, are Meghan Winslow (arts), Cheryl Batdorf and Janice Buckingham (community), Christina Davis (education), Stephanie Andreozzi (healthcare), Judith Jo Clark (leadership), Joana Guldin-Noll (military), Jennifer DyReyes (science) and Norma Iris Gonzalez and Jenny Murpy-Shifflet (trailblazer).
The induction was scheduled in March but was postponed due to the pandemic. Now, according to Bowersox, the event will be held virtually in late August.
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