Do you know a Coach that deserves to win our Fall Cheers to PUB-lic Service award for embodying the I.R.I.S.H. that exists in our most impactful leaders? Check back Fall 2019 when we launch our next Cheers Awards cycle, and nominate them to Win $1000!
As our 2019 Cheers to PUBLic Service program comes to a close, we would like to take a moment to thank all 375 teachers that were nominated for these awards. Your stories are touching, encouraging, and honest representations of the heart and soul it takes to be a teacher. We are truly blessed to have so many legendary educators in our Hillsborough and Pasco County Schools – Thank you for all that you do for our youth, and the community!
Although incredibly difficult, alongside our Pillar Partners, we have selected twenty stand-out teachers that will receive $1000 each as winners of our second annual Cheers to PUBlic Service awards!
Congratulations, Winners! You truly embody the I.R.I.S.H. that we feel define the best of the best, and we hope you spend this prize on whatever brings you joy!
Irish 31 Hyde Park Village
CHECK PRESENTATION PARTY
Thursday, May 30th | 5-7pm
Grady Elementary School
As someone whose Mom died when she was young, Heather knows the importance of a strong woman role model for children. She has been working for 20 years as an educator for students with various disabilities, such as Specific Learning Disabilities, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Physical Impairments, and other health impairments (such as severe Attention Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder). Heather has been working with children since she was 13 years old, volunteering through the Red Cross organization. Heather has received awards such as the Ida S. Baker Award, which is a distinguished honor for her ability to create a sense of belonging for all of her students. Within her profession, Heather works daily with parents, teaching staffs, administration, and other peers such as the school guidance counselor, the school psychologist, as well as the school social worker. Within her team of peers, Heather collaborates to provide the most effective and specific educational plan possible for each of her students. She advocates for their needs by reaching out to organizations that provide platforms for her students to express their needs as well as their gratitude for these donations. Heather’s favorite part of her job is the ability to find unique ways to instruct children that have continuously struggled to succeed within the general education program. She utilizes all sorts of accommodations and she has had technology donated for her students to become more independent.
Madison Middle School
Trista has been working with children in some way for almost every job she has has since she began her working career when at fourteen she started as a camp counselor teaching soccer and tennis. For the past twenty one years Trista has been teaching at mostly Title I schools as a classroom teacher of Language Arts Drama and Intensive Reading. About twelve years ago Trista began focusing on becoming a reading coach so she could make an impact on the children who needed more assistance in developing the reading skills that would have the potential to help them improve their lives. Trista works directly with every one of 600 children in her school. Trista also plans and delivers in-services for and lessons with teachers of every subject area in her school allowing her to be a mentor to the the new and existing teachers. Trista has spoken at university conferences about the work she has done with her students. Trista has been nominated for multiple Teacher of the Year and Reading Coach of the Year awards through programs like Disney and Hillsborough County. If that is not enough to keep an individual busy Trista is also coaches track at Madison Middle School and heads up the Sunshine Committee. Trista is a teacher for the children first just as it should be. She is selfless and giving of her time and talents to the children who need just a little more break in life. When they stand proudly you will see Trista standing proudly somewhere in the shadows.
Nelson Elementary School
Mrs. Collins has been a wonderful teacher for my son! She has shown him compassion acceptance and grace at a time when my son truly needed it. 18 months ago my wife who had been homeschooling him experienced a medical catastrophe and after 5 months in the hospital her resulting condition leaves her severely disabled (unable to talk walk eat etc.). My son's world has been flipped upside-down. Instead of spending all day every day with her he now spends most of the day away from her at school. Mrs. Collins understands all this and makes sure that my son feels loved ( as much as a teacher can). The transition to public school has not been smooth. My son has had behavior issues but Mrs. Collins has refused to give up on him. I was fortunate enough to go on a field trip a few weeks ago. During the trip I witnessed firsthand how caring graceful and amazing Mrs. Collins truly was. She wasn't afraid to take on the role of parent disciplinarian friend teacher counselor etc. for my son and the rest of his classmates. Mrs. Collins absolutely embodies the I.R.I.S.H. qualities outlined in this program. She is more than deserving of this honor because she puts KIDS FIRST plain and simple.
Riverview High School
It was my senior year when I first met Mrs. Rivera aka Coach. She was the brand new cross country coach. At first I was upset to accept a new coach on a team that I was a veteran. However, my outlook changed. She changed the entire culture of the team. She brought our small team of only 20 athletes, and nearly tripled that. She also inspired a family like atmosphere and made every athlete feel welcome, and motivated. She spends so much of her time assuring that every athlete is ready, and she pushes us to go past our limits. She has also left her mark In the classroom. She goes above and beyond to assure that all students are on board, and she is extremely welcoming when ever students need someone to talk to. She always finds time for her students/athletes, even if it means sacrificing her own time. I remember nights after practice where she would stay forever just going over times, or just talking something out with a student/athlete. I also remember all the extra tutoring sessions, and workouts. Personally, I feel like she has had the most influence on me. I had no clue what to do after high school and the feeling of panic rushed in quick. At the time I was a TA in Coaches class. Seeing her teach every day and being given the opportunity to help in the class inspired me. It set me down the path towards my career. Coach inspired me to become a teacher. I hope that you will consider my Coach, and my inspiration for teaching for this award, because she truly deserves it.
Randall Middle School
After suffering a near-death traumatic brain injury as a freshman in college, Mr. Wikfors has defied all odds to become a dedicated honors mathematics teacher who shares his love and knowledge of math with young minds. Mr. Wikfors juggles his classroom, a large group of tutor students in the mornings and evenings, coaching, running student government, while still finding time for the loves of his life, his wife and two sons. Mr. Wikfors is “All In” and it shows in his students as they continue to excel. Mr. Wikfors is one of those teachers that cares so much and is so dedicated, that he leaves a forever mark on his students. He helped me through some tough times and I am so grateful. He is one of the most influential teachers I ever had.
Irish 31 Westchase
CHECK PRESENTATION PARTY
Tuesday, May 28th | 5-7pm
Citrus Park Elementary School
The best way to describe Mr. White is to envision a tall, elder man leaning over preschoolers and singing with them. Teaching is Mr. White’s second career. He used to be in television and volunteered at his children's school. Mr. White loved coming in so much that he ended up leaving his career to pursue a new one in education. Watching Mr. White teach, you can tell he is still passionate about teaching and truly loves what he does. I was fortunate enough to have my son in Mr. White’s preschool/VPK class for 2 years. Mr. White constantly brought in hands-on materials for the students to learn and engage with. Mr. White brought Young Athletes to our school, which is the younger version of Special Olympics. Every Friday he comes to work at least an hour early (around 6:00 am) to set up equipment and stations for students to practice their skills. Mr. White pairs the students up with a general education class, which not only gives his students role models, but teaches those students lifelong lessons as well. It is quite a sight to see! Mr. White has written several Donor Choose Grants to get balance bikes for not only for his class, but enough for several grades to use. Mr. White is an amazing role model not only for his students, but for the entire school. He helps at all the school carnivals, volunteers for the PTA events, organizes the school fundraising events, serves as a mentor for our emotionally behavior students, and is an all-around great teacher.
Claywell Elementary School
Mrs. Gries is a mom to 5 married to Chris Gries (also a teacher at Claywell) and my son Evan's ESE teacher at Claywell. You may know or certainly imagine how hard it is to trust the people that spend the majority of time with our children at school. Now imagine if your child was non-verbal (can't tell you if someone hit/bullied) not toilet trained and may use pinching/hair pulling to communicate not wanting to do a particular task. Well the child above is my beautiful son who was born with Trisomy 21(Down syndrome) and have to say our prayers have been beyond answered having Mrs. Gries. She has gone above and beyond and deserves this and SO much more! She is invested in all her students and demonstrates this by her communication sheets Shutterfly site-she posts pictures of students daily/weekly activities taking time on her weekend to support her students and their varying exceptionalities. She has attended 2 local Tampa Buddy Walks viewing of "Intelligent Lives" GiGi's Playhouse Fashion Show given "Acceptance" talks to school staff/students instrumental in recognizing and communicating facts for Autism Awareness & World DS Day! All this on her free time while still strategizing and implementing different ways to teach! Emails that start "I was thinking last night.." Isn't this what we all want for our children? Mrs. Gries is definitely an angel on this earth. We are so grateful for her dedication and all she does. We need MORE teachers like her and human beings.
Gaither High School
Mrs. Cleveland is the Chorus Director at Vivian Gaither High School located in the Northdale area of Hillsborough County. Ms. Cleveland received a Bachelor of Arts from the University of South Florida, as well as a Master’s in Education from the University of Tampa. Mrs. Cleveland has spent 33 years teaching as a choral director in the county. Now in her 21st year at Gaither High School, her school ensembles Showcase (show choir) Gaither Men's Chorus, Gaither Women's Chorus and Gaither Concert Chorus with have consistently received Superior and Excellent ratings during their annual music performance assessments. In particular, wIth this years music assessment, Gaither's Concert Chorus received straight superior ratings with the stage judge, Bill Renfoe stating the chorus was "Exquisite!" Mrs. Cleveland's students are afforded many opportunities to perform for the public allowing the students to earn service hours for use when applying for Bright Futures scholarships. The chorus auditions and performs annually at EPCOT’s Candlelight Processional and was selected to participate in the Saint Patrick’s Cathedral Concert Series in New York City. Her students perform at the Florida Music Education Association State Convention and individuals have also been selected to perform at All-County and All-State each year. During the 2018 school year, Mrs. Cleveland created a new mixed-voice barbershop chorus at Gaither known as the Hurricane of Harmony. The chorus consists of 70 of her top students that perform and compete at the international level. For their first performance the Hurricane of Harmony performed at the International Youth Barbershop Chorus Festival in Orange County, California. The students won the hearts of the sold-out audience with selections from the musical “Grease,” with impeccable singing, vivid costuming and high-energy choreography. The chorus was named Audience Favorite, earned a SUPERIOR rating, and won their category. On January 26th of this year, the Hurricane of Harmony performed selections from the musical “The Greatest Showman.” in the Next Generation Barbershop Junior Chorus Invitational at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville. Once again, the Hurricane of Harmony swept the competition taking home a SUPERIOR rating and Audience Favorite. In addition to her work in Hillsborough County, Mrs. Cleveland mentors and trains singers around the world, from barbershop groups to gospel choirs. She is an active guest faculty member at education workshops in over half of the regions in Sweet Adelines International (SAI), and is also a clinician for youth harmony camps across the country. In 2018, Mrs. Cleveland, received the Music Educator of The Year award from the Barbershop Harmony Society and the National Association for Music Education (NAfME). Eliza Stoney, Class of 2017. “Mrs. Cleveland has inspired me more than anyone else I’ve ever met. Her passion and drive is unmatched by anyone and she has always encouraged me to do my best in all I undertake. I would not be the musician I am today if it was not for her love and guidance.” Jennifer George, Chorus Parent. “Not only does Mrs. Cleveland lead an amazing choral program which consistently performs at a superior level, but every student who participates in her program leaves with a heightened level of appreciation for music not just as an entertainment medium but as a tool for bringing people together and enriching lives. Mrs. Cleveland has allowed my daughter to have many opportunities that she wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else.” Susan Raabe, Chorus Parent. “ I have had the privilege of participating as a volunteer with the Gaither High School Vocal Music Program under the direction of Debbie Cleveland for the past 8 years. All three of my children went through the program and were greatly enriched by the experience. They were given opportunities that most kids will never even dream of and as a result their passion for music and their ability to discover new applications of music has enabled them to be a part of enriching not only their own lives but making a positive impact in all areas of our community.” Bryce Padgett, Class of 2019. “In Mrs. Cleveland’s chorus experience, students are given opportunities in leadership, student conducting, leading vocal warm-ups & exercises, leading sectionals, choreographing and even writing their own arrangements of songs and performing them. All students are taught to respect each other and to encourage one another. She instills in all her students a love of music and a sense of respect and encouragement for all musicians. Mrs. Cleveland leads her students by example to always be positive and encourages all students to step outside their comfort zone to discover their potential. She even spends extra time after school and on weekends to help her students prepare for performances & competitions. She truly inspires a lifelong love of music and enables students to spread that gift to others making this world a better place for all!
Davidsen Middle School
Angels are real. I know one personally. She walks on clouds in her assigned little section of Heaven, otherwise known to us mere mortals as the special education corridors of Davidsen Middle School. Her students, by no fault of their own, experience everyday life with such challenges. We take for granted our motor skills, our ability speak, to see, to hear, to process information, to even go to the bathroom. In my eyes, she’s a miracle worker, gifted with unparalleled patience and passion for what she does. With her help and guidance, she provides a foundation where these kids can function, and live practical lives. She is so totally invested in these kids’ lives. Parents don’t hesitate to get her advice, at any hour. Regularly, she responds to parents inquiries, listens to their frustrations, and shares in their struggle to raise a severely disabled child. For her, school doesn’t end at the closing bell of 7th period. Throughout her 12 year career as a special education teacher, she’s been in service to low income students at Title 1 and Renaissance schools. These previous students, disabled and even more marginalized, compounded by the lack of resources, still reach out and want to see their Ms. Robertson. Why? She helped guide them; she helped them dream. Her kids are allowed to have their ‘heads in the clouds,’ for that’s where they will find their angel, Ms. Robertson.
Pizzo Elementary School
Let me first start by thanking you for the opportunity to nominate our son's special needs teacher. To teach children is an amazing calling and in the autism community a teacher is a second voice for our children. They witness first hand the moments that a subject they are covering reaches your child and not always in the tradition spoke terms but by a child's gestures excitement and expressions. They then guide them to explore more. Mrs. Bruno IS this teacher. In the first meeting we had covering my son's goals for his individual education plan Mrs. Bruno was just returning from maternity leave. I'm sure she was probably up a few hours that night before tending to her new baby while simultaneously preparing for our meeting the next day. But she never faltered. In a two hour meeting along with other teachers and support staff Mrs. Bruno made such an important impact on my son's goals interacting and careful taking care of each detail that would be a crucial part of his education. Not only can I reach her at anytime but she also stays in constant contact with me updating me on his progress or just to say how his day was. Mrs. Bruno is not only impacting my son's life but also the lives of 7 other children with special needs with her patience perseverance and her commitment to their future. My son has met many of his current goals and has also started writing his own books which she encourages.From late night feedings to teaching the next morning she is a superhero!
Irish 31 Westshore
CHECK PRESENTATION PARTY
Wednesday, May 29th | 5-7pm
Carter G. Woodson
A lesson to be taught, a mentor to most, a dad to a few who need one, and a friend to all, is how I would describe Mr. Ross Anderson. Hearing the silent cry for positive male mentorship from young men living in some of the roughest parts of Tampa Bay, Anderson decided to leave the lucrative lifestyle of a corporate executive to become a teacher and pour confidence, hope, integrity, and success into the lives of young males from the inner city. One year into his tenure as a teacher, he started a mentorship program called Men of Vision to further help the cause. Under Mr. Anderson’s direction, Men of Vision has been commissioned to recognize and develop constructive leadership along with emphasizing acceptance of individual responsibility as the basis of personal success, community improvement, and group achievement. Mr. Anderson selflessly gives of his time, talent, and if need be his treasures to improve the lives of inner-city youth many of whom who would graduate high school without his constant encouragement, demand for excellence, and support. On any giving day, you can find Mr. Anderson sitting in on parent-teacher conferences, filling-in for parents who can't make it to school, tutoring young for the ACT/SAT, providing a clothes closet students in need of clothing and shoes, or chasing down an inactive parent on behalf of a student. Mr. Anderson is a counselor, teacher, mentor, dad, and friend to 175 young male members of Men of Vision.
Robinson High School
Susan DiFederico is currently an International Baccalaureate English teacher at Robinson High School in South Tampa. Our professional relationship began decades ago when she interned with me at Chamberlain High School but the rest of her career has been devoted to Robinson High School: "Once a Knight Always a Knight."Susan has taught all levels of English during her 35+ years. She was eligible to retire over five years ago; instead she has continued her career in public education. Susan is highly regarded by her students (and their parents) as a teacher who leads them to success on high school benchmarks as well as college entrance and diploma completion. She has spent many evenings and weekends thoroughly grading the voluminous work of her IB students. In addition Susan's peers have selected her as a Teacher-of-the-Year for her dedication to Robinson students.Most telling is the decision Susan made two years ago to return to teaching after a semester break for her cancer treatment. She could have retired at her diagnosis. She could have retired after that break. Instead she returned the next school year and did not take off a single day for her continuing treatment. To me that shows true dedication to a profession Susan loves. Our school district is lucky to have a career educator like Susan DiFederico. I gratefully nominate this exceptional teacher--and my forever friend--for this award. Merrill Connor
Stewart Middle Magnet School
Mr. Price teaches 6th, 7th, and 8th grade robotics and coaches the boys’ soccer team at Stewart, my son’s middle school. Stewart is a STEM-focused public magnet school with about 1,100 students. More than 75% of our student body qualifies for free or reduced lunch. Teaching middle school is incredibly challenging under the best of circumstances, but the racial, economic, and cultural diversity of Stewart’s student population makes it even more difficult. Mr. Price makes it look easy. He is intelligent, well spoken, and has a wonderful sense of humor. He manages his classroom strictly, but fairly, and holds students to a high standard. He recognizes not only his students’ achievements, but also the quality of their effort. My son, Quinn, wanted to build an innovative robot for his STEM Fair project this year. Although Mr. Price is not a science teacher, he agreed to mentor my son in his free time. He offered the use of his robotics lab, as well as seemingly endless advice and encouragement, simply because Quinn asked. Quinn’s project earned second place at the Hillsborough County regional STEM Fair. As Stewart’s soccer coach, Mr. Price spent countless hours after school patiently conditioning and training his players. Quinn didn’t have much experience playing soccer, but grew tremendously as an athlete thanks to Mr. Price. It is rare to have a teacher who is a role model both personally and professionally, and my son is fortunate to have found that combination in Mr. Price.
Wimauma Elementary School
Mrs.Spano is an outstanding teacher. She has been inspiring students at Wimauma Elementary (Renaissance/Title I School) for 5 years. She is so passionate for education and loves to watch the students explore and grow as people. This is her first year as a Kindergarten teacher and she has really helped the students blossom. She gets involved in everything they do and is really there for her students. They can rely on her to be their teacher and their friend. She is such a warm and loving teacher and her students definitely feel it. I have witnessed her students love for her as they each give her morning hugs. As we all know teachers are one of the most underpaid professions. Teachers are paid with the love and smiles on their students faces. And for Mrs.Spano that is enough. However I have seen her provide so many resources for her students using her own money and I would love to be able to give back to her. She deserves it. She is selfless and compassionate and will do whatever it takes to help her students succeed.
Jennings Middle School
Jason has been teaching Physical Education for 15 years. He is truly dedicated to improving what students know about their health but more importantly what they know about themselves. You see Jennings Middle School is a school where over 95% of students receive free or reduced lunch. Many come from homelessness grade retention and a vicious cycle of low socioeconomic backgrounds. Jason has become a beacon of light for many of our students through his basketball program. He has mentored students during their middle school years and throughout their high school career. His students know that if they call he will be there; for games award ceremonies graduations and even recently a college commitment signing. Students who have never played on an organized team have gone on to play varsity for their high school teams because Jason did not let a student's circumstance keep them from joining the brotherhood of the team. He has given countless rides home purchased shoes and warm up shirts for players and turned some practices into study hall sessions to maintain academic eligibility. He does not give up and he does not give in. He has been awarded the Coach of the Year for Hillsborough County Ida S. Baker Teacher of the Year and won the Girls High School Basketball District Championship. He is a teacher that wants to see all of his students succeed and that to me is priceless...but $1000 is a good start :)
Irish 31 Wiregrass
CHECK PRESENTATION PARTY
Monday, June 3rd | 5-7pm
Wendell Krinn Tech High School
Eric is a dedicated teacher of 17 years. He transitioned to teaching after suffering combat injuries in the Marines. He has lead his students to national and international awards for humanitarian work in hurricanes Katrina Irma and Florence emergency relief in Haiti earthquakes and community outreach in his local school community. He has gone back to earn a Masters in US History so that he can teach dual enrollment US History AP Human Geography and US History Honors at Wendell Krinn Technical High School. In addition he teaches the online Social Studies courses to help marginalized adult students go back to school and earn their diplomas in virtual Adult Education programs. As the Student Government sponsor he works with a team of students to organize school/community events and fundraisers. He is a mentor to new teachers and is the Social Studies Department Head working tirelessly with his team to ensure the highest expectations for the students. In addition to the time and energy spent during the school day Eric organizes and leads students on field trips to New York City Mount Vernon Washington DC Hawaii London and Paris. Throughout his teaching career Eric provides a world class education for his students and colleagues both in and outside the classroom. He has served on several state level committees and two educational advisory boards for two different governors of Florida. He has been recognized as a Lightning Community Hero for his charitable work.
Ben Hill Middle School
Annastasia serves as the Media Specialist at Ben Hill Middle. As a former Science teacher she has incorporated her experience in the classroom along with her love of literature to transform Hill's Media Center into the most popular classroom in the school. She has worked diligently to identify student interests in order to refresh the media collection. She sponsors many different clubs throughout the school day to promote literacy through student interests. One example of this would be her Harry Potter club. Students read the books and meet with her on a regular schedule to identify themes plot lines character traits etc. This helps build the skills students need to be successful on state exams. She maintains student engagement by bringing the reading to life! There have been many weekends spent in our household designing constructing and painting quidditch fields butter beer recipes and many more. She has worked to support all subject areas through her club activities and in turn students flock to the Media Center in droves. She is truly a transformational teacher that builds lasting relationships with students. I am proud when I hear her recount stories of students that explain how she reinvigorated their love of reading and wish they could spend the day in the Media Center. Annastasia is truly an exceptional teacher and she deserves to be recognized for her hard work dedication to students and transformational approach to 21st century learners!
Burnett Middle School
Ms. Wilks uses American Sign Language to teach her middle school deaf and hard of hearing students. She goes above and beyond for her students every single day! This year she spent time before and after hours working with her deaf students to prepare them for a Math Bowl held in Rochester NY. Many of these students had never been on an airplane before or had even left the Tampa Bay area.The students were able to use their expanded skills taught by their teacher of the deaf to independently navigate security the flights baggage claim etc. While in NY she also took them to see Niagara Falls something they had only ever seen in pictures. After competing their hearts out the Tampa Deaf/HH math team scored 15th out of 45 teams! One student ranked 26th out of 200 students and another ranked 30th! Six Hillsborough County students ranked in the top 50th percentile. Ms. Wilks has devoted her life to children with hearing loss. She builds strong relationships with their families enough so that they trust her to take their children across the country on a trip of a lifetime! Ms. Wilks truly has and will continue to have an undeniable impact on our youth! She is the most influential reliable impassioned selfless and humble person I know! I proudly nominate Ashley Wilks as an Irish 31 standout teacher who uses her position as a force for good in the lives of deaf children across Tampa Bay every single day.
PACE Center for Girls Pasco
Rebecca has been a dedicated teacher for Pace Center for Girls Pasco for over a decade. Her dedication to our students never wavers regardless of what may be going on in her personal life. She holds EVERY student's well being and education as her top priority. Rebecca teaches Social Studies to students 6th - 12th grades and has blended classes. This means that on a daily basis she teaches mixed classes Social Studies World History Economics etc. This is a challenge within its self yet Rebecca rises to the occasion as she always does and last year EVERY one of her students that took the EOC PASSED!!!!! Rebecca teaches from the heart and it shows daily through her heart-work!!!
Clark Elementary School
Chris is a wonderful special education teach. From the time I met him he wanted to help our youth succeed. He has a passion for those who are under-privileged and that transcends into his daily work. Chris started out at Shaw Elementary where he spent 5 years teaching kids who didn't have the support at home to be successful and relied on him to be their role model. Through all the fights at school being kicked bitten having to get a tetanus shot multiple lockdowns and war wounds Chris never lost site of the goal.... the children. During this time Chris and his partner decided to adopt a child out of the foster system adding to Chris' nurturing gift. When an opportunity arose Chris transferred to another school closer to his home where he continues to promote learning. He is currently the lead special education teacher at Clark elementary where he allows his kids the best environment to learn. Just recently Chris re-did his classroom to help his kids with Autism and ADHD focus. He purchased standing desk sensory items and even desks with swinging footrest. He is passionate about his kids and all kids getting the education they desire. I cannot think of anyone more deserving than Chris for this award.