Westchase Cheers Check Presentation

As our Inaugural Cheers to PUBLic Service program comes to a close, we would like to take a moment to thank all 307 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 first annual Cheers to PUBlic Service awards.  Our second check presentation took place Tuesday, May 22nd at our Irish 31 Westchase location, where we recognized five more ROCKSTAR Westchase area teachers, and rewarded them with $1,000 each PLUS tickets to an upcoming Bucs game from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and a Weekend Excursion in a brand new Cadillac Escalade from Ed Morse Cadillac of Brandon!

Please read on to learn a little more about our 2018 Westchase winners:
JENNIFER SMITH – Mendenhall Elementary School
Jennifer has been teaching for 2 years (in the U.S.), and has taught both Kindergarten and 1st grade at Mendenhall Elementary (a Title 1 school).  As an undergrad, Jennifer studied Psychology, and worked with troubled youth placed in juvenile delinquency programs, but it was her position in an afterschool Kindergarten program that altered her trajectory, and inspired her to become a teacher.  Her studies took her abroad, where she taught English in Spain and evolved as an educator.  When she returned to the states, she followed her heart, and began teaching English to students that knew very little of the language.  Her personal experience as a self-conscious foreigner while in Spain helps her relate to her struggling bilingual students, and gives her the compassion and patience necessary to help kids not only learn a second language, but also find the confidence to adopt English as their primary language.  Jennifer shared the story of a student that she had last year, that had just moved to Florida from Cuba, and knew very little English.  The student was very hesitant to speak, and lacked the confidence of those more fluent with the language.  Throughout the course of the year, Jennifer worked with this student, and now, just one year later, not only do they have a renewed confidence, but they are also reading and writing at the highest level!  When we asked Jennifer what she planned to do with the $1000, she told us that she will use part of the money to travel to Paris over the summer, and the rest will be invested back in the classroom, specifically towards purchasing books abroad to bring back for her students.  Last year, she brought a book back from Japan and taught her class how to ‘read by pictures’ – teaching not only the lesson of zero limitations, but also creativity, and the magic of exploring the world through the pages of a book.  Jennifer, we think you are pretty magical yourself – Have an incredible time in Paris this summer!  Thank you for bridging the divide through the universal love of literature.
TIM GAINSBORG – Kenly Elementary School
Tim is only in his first year of teaching 3rd grade at Kenly Elementary, but he has a lifetime of experience caring for someone with a disability.  Tim’s brother has cerebral palsy, and helping him with both his mental as well as physical education, has given Tim the compassion, patience, and strength necessary to educate students with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders (EBD).  Tim also cites his Mother, a passionate New Jersey educator for 40 years, as an inspiration for entering the teaching profession.  When we asked Tim for one story that stuck out as a great representation of why he loves what he does, we weren’t surprised when he wound up telling us two, because despite having only one year under his belt we could tell that he was bubbling over with pride in his students’ accomplishments.  The first story was that of one of his EBD students that struggled with outbursts and other typical behavioral challenges at the beginning of the year.  Recognizing her potential, and refusing to turn a blind eye, Tim spent six months working tirelessly to get her to the point where she could begin transitioning to a gen-ed classroom.  Initially, he would have someone sit in with her as she attended regular classes part-time.  Then, once her anger had lessened and the number of outbursts she had in class had significantly decreased, Tim allowed her to begin attending classes on her own.  After just 6 months, this student not only attended gen-ed classes full-time (without assistance), she flourished, and is now performing at the highest level scoring all A’s and B’s last quarter!  As if this story wasn’t enough of a testament to Tim’s talent as an EBD teacher, watching his heart swell when he told us the story about a student dressing in military attire for Halloween and telling people he was Mr. Gainsborg, showed the mutual adoration found in the most successful teacher/student relationships (Tim is an Officer in the National Guard).  Tim plans to spend his $1000 on rent and bills, but we hope once those are paid, it frees up some money for a nice night out on the town with his fabulous wife (maybe in that sweeeeeet Cadillac Escalade from Ed Morse Cadillac of Brandon!)  Thank you for all that you do, Tim!!  Keep up the great work!
DAVID MATTINGLY – Pepin Academies (Pasco)
David has been teaching for 1.5 years, and has taught U.S. History and Civics to grades six through twelve.  David’s love for working with kids, especially pre-teens at the Middle School level, inspired him to not only become a teacher, but a teacher at Pepin Academies – a public charter schools that serves students with specific learning and learning related disabilities.  We were impressed with the wide array of activities and programs David has implemented over his short tenure to engage his students and create a fun, constructive learning environment.  One of our favorite examples is his ‘Camp Read-A-Lot’ program for elementary students, where he introduced fishing for bookmarks, guessing pages in a book, solving a riddle, using a snack recipe, reading with family around a real campfire, and taking a camping selfie.  When asked why he loves what he does, David told us about an awards ceremony that happened just that morning.  This year, he had a student that refused to participate in class, engage in activities, or even speak during discussions.  Alongside other teachers, he worked tirelessly to try to bring her out of her shell, and encourage her to participate.  After some time, compassion, and a lot of love, this student began to flourish and is now performing at a much higher level than at the beginning of the year.  So much so, the morning of our Cheers Check Presentation Mr. Mattingly watched this student receive the Turnaround Award for her incredible progress.  When asked how he planned to use his $1000 award, without hesitation David said, “Some will go back to the classroom, and the rest will go towards a trip to Universal Studios.”  Sounds like the perfect way to celebrate one incredibly successful year!  Thank you for not only teaching these special kids their history, but also brightening their future.
NADINE GRAVES – Mary Bryant Elementary School
Nadine Graves has been a teacher for 27 years, and although she has taught 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 5th grade reading, eighteen of those 27 years have been committed to teaching the 5th grade.  Two great forces inspired Nadine’s passion for education – Her love for teaching people new things, and the incredible teachers that she had growing up.  Although it was difficult for Nadine to pinpoint just one story that represents why she loves her profession, the all-encompassing facet that she cherishes most of all are the relationships that she develops with her students, and the joy that she experiences when she sees their accomplishments over the years.  With a tenure of nearly 30 years, Nadine has watched her students graduate from high school, college, and graduate school.  She has seen them get married, have children, and flourish in careers of their own.  The sense of pride and genuine delight that comes from watching her students find happiness and success after leaving her classroom is the true representation of why Nadine loves being an educator, and the lifelong connection that she has with her students shows the mutual esteem those students have for Nadine.  When asked what she plans to do with her $1000 award, Nadine told us she is currently renovating her house, and the money will help her give new life to a home that we’re certain welcomes many former students through it’s doors.  Thank you, Nadine!  Your passion for education, and personal commitment to these kids is what makes you truly special!
SAM HARMON – Hudson High School
Sam Harmon received the most nominations of all of our Cheers nominees, and after meeting him, we certainly understand why.  Master Sergeant Sam Harmon served in the military for many years before becoming a teacher, and has now served as a JROTC teacher for 9 years, seven of those years at Hudson High School.  Sam became an educator, specifically at the high school level, because he wanted to use the leadership, world-view, and life experience that he garnered in the military to help kids realize their potential during such a critical life stage, and ultimately find their path.  He shared one student’s life-altering change in trajectory as the perfect representation of why he loves what he has chosen as his profession.  Not too long ago, one of his current students approached him for a favor.  He asked him to talk to a friend of his that had failed every single one of his Freshman classes, and now intended to drop out after his Sophomore year and get a ‘real job’.  This kid had a terrible home life, with zero support or encouragement from his family, but from day one, Sam saw his potential and somehow convinced him to stick it out and join JROTC.  After many one-on-one talks, and a lot of perseverance, this student went from a 0% GPA (yes, that says zero) to a 3.25% GPA as a Senior, and now attends college at the University of South Florida – Go Bulls!  Sam stuck by this student and showed him his untapped potential just in time, and we have a feeling this student wasn’t the first…and most certainly won’t be the last.  Sam’s just that kind of person – Heart of gold.  When asked what he planned to do with his $1000 award, with a big smile Sam said, “First, I am going to throw a huge pizza party for all of my students, and then, I am going to take my wife on a 7-day cruise to the Western Caribbean to celebrate our 25th wedding Anniversary!”  This will be their first cruise, and we think it’s fitting that they will celebrate Sam’s innate ability to lead his students through uncharted waters, by exploring new and exciting destinations of their own.  Bon Voyage, Sam – Have a blast!  
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!