As our second annual 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. Our winning teachers received a check for $1,000 PLUS tickets to an upcoming Bucs game from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, matching grants from the Junior League of Tampa and a Weekend Excursion in a brand new Ford Mustang from Ford of Port Richey!
Mary Rivera knew that she wanted to be a teacher for as long as she can remember. Now in her 12th year of teaching, with 9 years spent at the middle school level and 3 years at the high school level, Mary also coaches Cross Country and Track & Field at Riverview High School, and was one of the few winners that were nominated by a former student. Coincidentally enough, the former student that nominated Coach Rivera is now pursuing an education degree of their own at the University of South Florida after serving as TA in Coach Rivera’s class.
Mary’s love for teaching/coaching is obvious to anyone that has had the pleasure of meeting her. Like most, she goes above and beyond for all of her students/athletes without hesitation or expectations, and most times (also like many) her efforts go unnoticed. That’s why it was so nice to hear that not only was Mary recognized through our Cheers to PUBlic Service initiative, but she was also the recipient of a second award thanks to a heartfelt nomination submitted by the parent of one of her autistic student athletes.
Coach Rivera shared how incredible it was to not only read about how this parent felt she had made such a positive impact on her son’s life, but to also then sit side-by-side with Jacob (her student) at the awards ceremony and hearing him yell, “That’s my Coach!” when she was chosen as this year’s winner amongst hundreds of other nominees. A truly amazing honor and a shining testament to the important role she is playing in the lives of these kids.
When asked what she planned to do with the $1,000 Cheers to PUBlic Service award, Mary told us that she is an avid crafter and spends much of her free time creating things for her students/athletes, so she plans to use the money to buy a heat press and silk screens to print t-shirts for the kids. Congratulations, Mary! Thank you for all that you do, and we wish you many more ‘amazing years’!
After first pursuing a career in business with his focus on climbing the corporate ladder and making a significant salary, it was Chris Wikfors’ substitute teaching gig that inspired him to change direction and instead focus on a life enriched by a career in education. Now in his sixth year teaching 7th and 8th grade Math, Mr. Wikfors’ favorite part about teaching is keeping in touch with his former students and watching them succeed long after they have left his class. Always willing to take the time to help tutor a current or former student, Mr. Wikfors spends countless hours at the local Starbucks giving these kids the ‘extra’ that they may not have otherwise.
They say ‘do good and good will come to you’ which has certainly proven true for Mr. Wikfors, who took home not just one, but TWO noteworthy awards this year, plus a matching grant of $1,000 for supplies and books from our friends and Pillar Partners at the Junior League of Tampa! In addition to the Cheers to PUBlic Service award, Chris was one of thirty to receive Norwegian Cruise Lines ‘Giving Joy’ award with the prize of a cruise to anywhere in the world. Chris and his wife share with us that they plan to go to Alaska on the cruise, and the $1,000 Cheers to PUBlic Service award will allow them the opportunity to bring their kids along on the trip.
Congratulations, Chris! Thank you for inspiring these kids and committing so much of your time to their success. Enjoy the cruise!
A mentor and force for good in the lives of students and colleagues alike, we are thrilled that not only did Ms. Snook win our $1,000 Cheers to PUBlic Service award, but also a weekend excursion in a brand new Ford Mustang from our friends and Pillar Partners at Ford of Port Richey! With sights set on visiting every baseball stadium in the United States, Trista plans to spend the award money on a trip with her Mom to visit stadiums in Seattle, San Francisco and Oakland. Congratulations, Trista! Thank you for committing your life to helping children achieve a brighter future despite what hurdles in life they have had to overcome. Enjoy your girls’ trip!
*Heather was unable to attend our Cheers to PUBlic Service awards ceremony due to a serious accident that left her with two broken ribs and a collapsed lung, but emailed over her responses to the four questions asked of our winning teachers. Thank you, Heather – So glad you are feeling better!*
- What inspired you to become a teacher?
As a person with disabilities myself, I understand the difficulties of appearing “normal” on the outside, yet struggling to retain and apply newly learned information cognitively. Because of my difficulties, I was motivated to find ways to share tips/tricks/support that I had been learning. I began teaching by using the knowledge and guidance of my more seasoned mentors, and as time has gone on, seeking out the amazing trainings that the district of Hillsborough County has offered us. This process has helped me to integrate many new instructional methodologies as well as creating personalized plans tailored to each student’s individual set of challenges and abilities. At Grady Elementary, I continue to learn new and effective techniques by collaborating with so many wonderful teachers on a regular basis. The administrative staff that I work with makes me feel continuously appreciated, important, respected, and inspired to do my best. Our principal once said to me “I would never ask another person to do something that I wouldn’t be willing to do myself.” This philosophy has stayed with me, and I always try apply the same perspective in my teaching and in my life. Another source of inspiration for me to become a teacher has been the support I experienced from some of my own teachers. Teachers whom I still think of fondly to this day. Teachers who let me know that they actually saw ME. Teachers who celebrated my strengths. Teachers that not only celebrated my success, but took the time to learn and show me special ways to integrate new information into my brain in ways that would help ME to learn, instead of just expecting me to succeed in the way the majority of students are able to learn. Though it is wonderful to be inspired, I believe it is equally important to become an inspiration for others. Inspiration is a gift that will always be the roots of anything that requires passion, and without roots, you rarely have long-lasting results.
- How long have you been teaching? What grades have you taught?
I have just completed my 20th year of teaching students with disabilities. I have taught students ranging from kindergarten all the way through 6th grade. I have also assisted students that work primarily in self-contained classroom settings throughout grades K-6.
- Is there one story from teaching that sticks out as a great representation of why you love teaching?
I can tell you one of my favorite stories because it has been progressing for the past two years! I have a student that came to me in Kindergarten knowing only the letter “a” and counting only to 8. I call this child my “Work Son,” because of how special and important this child’s success has become to me! This child came lacking many independent functioning, social, and academic skills that the “Average Child” comes in with proficiency. He was quiet, but so kind and caring that that once, I actually saw him squat down to said spider and whispered to it that he was sorry! We worked together using a combination of intensive and direct instruction as well as specialized instruction with his regular classroom teachers on a daily basis, throughout kindergarten and first grade (so far!). At this time, my “Work Son” is now able to read instructionally on his actual grade level, and his math skills aren’t far behind! The same has been true with him in areas such as social skills and independent functioning skills!! We also worked on things like initiating conversations independently with peers, asking for help when he needs it, learning strategies, and so much more. The blessing of seeing a child like this begin to flourish in all areas- academic, socially, independently… I’m not sure there is a word that can touch how amazing that feels. I truly think of these kids as the impact of the future, and to be able to even be a tiny part of this experience for them is beyond humbling.
- What do you plan to do with the $1,000?
I would love to have more student-friendly accommodations for my Exceptional Student population to utilize in their classrooms in order to feel more independent when they are not working in the general education classroom. These types of things include additional iPads, specialized slant/dry erase/magnet boards, wiggle seats, kick bands for student desks, colored overlays for reading materials, things like that. A portion of this money will also go to the hospital bills I will be receiving from my recent stay at St Josephs Hospital. Thank you all at Irish31again, for being such a blessing for all teachers. It is such an uplifting experience to know that education is being supported by businesses in our local areas.
Ms. Collins had to leave before we had the opportunity to interview her, but her passion for teaching and commitment to the children in her care is evident to anyone that has had the chance to meet her. Mrs. Collins embodies the I.R.I.S.H. qualities outlined in this program and puts KIDS FIRST plain and simple. In addition to the $1,000 Cheers to PUBlic Service award, Adriane also received a matching grant of $1,000 for supplies and books from our friends and Pillar Partners at the Junior League of Tampa! Congratulations, Adriane! Thank you for your compassion and commitment to the kids at Nelson Elementary School. We hope you have a fun-filled, relaxing summer!