At the beginning of Mercersburg Academy’s 2022–2023 academic year, Head of School Quentin McDowell P ’25 announced the recipients of two newly appointed endowed teaching chairs and this year’s recipients of the annual Ammerman Distinguished Teaching Award and Zern Excellence in Teaching Award.
David F. Chapman Chair
Michele Poacelli is the head of the English department and has served as director of the Writing Center since 2015. She is also a former adviser to Blue Review, the school’s literary-arts publication. She arrived at Mercersburg in 2007 when her husband, Todd McGuire, joined the English department faculty. Poacelli was the dormitory dean in Culbertson House for four years, and spent two summers as director of Mercersburg Summer Programs’ Young Writers Camp. Poacelli has worked with Mercersburg students as a tutor in English and history and has held instructional and leadership positions with Teach for America, The Dalton School, Summerbridge of Greater Philadelphia, and Hagerstown Community College. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University and a master’s degree from Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf School of English. Poacelli and her husband live off campus with their two children, Gabe '24 and Gaven '26.
The chair was established in honor of David Chapman, Mercersburg faculty member who served from 1919 to 1961.
Douglas Hale Teaching Chair
Nikki Walker has been a member of the Mercersburg faculty since 2006 and has lived on campus since 2003, when her husband, Dan, joined the faculty as a history teacher and the school’s then-head football coach. She became head of the physical education department in 2013 and head of the science department in 2019. While at the Academy, Walker has taught biology, anatomy, human development, physical education, and the Business of Sport and Open Topic (Springboard capstone courses); is head coach of outdoor track & field and has coached softball; and worked on the school’s Accreditation for Growth committee. Walker has also been an instructor and clinical coordinator for athletic training in the kinesiology department at Penn State University. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Frostburg State University and a master’s degree from California University of Pennsylvania, and is a certified athletic trainer and a certified strength and conditioning specialist. The Walkers have two children, Colby ’19 and Holden ’23.
The chair was established in 2013 by Deborah J. Simon ’74 to support the holder's compensation and professional development.
Ammerman Distinguished Teaching Award for Religious and Interdisciplinary Studies
Jo Wrzesinsky has worked at Mercersburg since 1999. A graduate of Blair Academy (one of Mercersburg’s Mid-Atlantic Prep League rivals), she was an assistant director of annual giving in the Office of Alumni and Development until joining the Office of Summer and External (Extended) Programs in 2002; she became director of Summer and External Programs in 2015 and was appointed associate dean of student life in 2017. In 2019, Wrzesinsky became the school’s first female dean of students. She has also served as director of Inbound, Mercersburg’s new-student orientation experience, for three years; spent five years as head girls’ lacrosse coach; and was the stats coordinator for the wrestling team for three years. Wrzesinsky earned a bachelor’s degree from Washington College and a master’s degree in educational leadership from the University of New England. She lived in Fowle Hall for 10 years before serving as the dormitory dean of Swank Hall from 2010 to 2018. Wrzesinsky and her husband, Jason Frey, live in Wyman House with their two children, including Hadley Frey ’26.
The award was established by Andrew Ammerman ’68 and his mother, the late Josephine Ammerman, to bring recognition to a member of the faculty who has demonstrated outstanding pedagogy in challenging Mercersburg students to address the spiritual, moral, ethical, and artistic dimensions of their lives, or to bring recognition to special religion scholars-in-residence who may be engaged from time to time to accomplish the same purpose.
Zern Excellence in Teaching Award
Grace Abel, originally from Taiwan, came to Mercersburg from Hastings College and Smith College, where she was an adjunct professor of Chinese language and culture. After receiving a master’s degree in education, she taught at Lakeside School in Seattle and established the Mandarin Chinese program for the University Liggett School in Grosse Pointe Woods, MI, and spent five years as the Mandarin instructor at Northfield Mount Hermon School in Massachusetts. She has served as an AP Chinese reader for the Educational Testing Service for many years. Abel and her husband, Andrew (who is managing editor of a local newspaper, the Mercersburg Journal), live in one of the faculty townhouses on campus. Their son, Nathan ’17, is a Mercersburg graduate.
The award was established by Judy and Allen Zern ’61 for annual presentation to a faculty member or members, with special consideration given to teachers in the math or science department.