Westshore Cheers Check Presentation

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!

Please read on to learn a little more about our 2019 Westshore winners:
MIRANDA SPANO – WIMAUMA ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

Ms. Spano has always been surrounded by top-notch educators.  Miranda initially explored other career paths but quickly discovered that ‘all roads lead to teaching’ and embraced her destiny.  Coming from a family of teachers, Miranda’s mother still serves as Assistant Principal just one mile down the road from where Ms. Spano now prepares to enter her 6th year of teaching  – her second year at Wimauma Elementary School.  Wimauma Elementary is a Title 1 Renaissance School, which means that it is one of the fifty in Hillsborough County that have a high population of children living in poverty.  However, despite whatever troubles may exist at home, Ms. Spano’s classroom is a safe haven where her kids feel loved and the sky is the limit.

Miranda is surrounded by little ones 24 hours a day – from the kiddos in her class to her own two under 2yrs at home – and truly relishes every moment.  She admits that it can be stressful at times, but it’s all worthwhile when she has the privilege to witness that moment when a concept ‘clicks’ for a struggling student, and they understand something for the first time.   In Ms. Spano’s nomination, one parent shared that Miranda’s selflessness and compassion not only put smiles on the students’ faces but resources in their classroom – consistently out of her own pocket – giving them the opportunity to blossom as individuals and develop the self-esteem necessary to succeed in a challenging world.

When asked how Ms. Spano plans to spend this well-deserved $1,000 Cheers to PUBlic Service award, she excitedly shared that she is off for the summer and planning to use the money for a number of family outings.  Congratulations, Miranda!  Thank you for giving your all to these kids – you are truly a force for good in the lives of so many.  Enjoy your summer with the family!

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ERIC PRICE – STEWARD MIDDLE MAGNET SCHOOL

Inspiration can come in many forms, and in Eric Price’s case, the drive to become a teacher evolved out of frustration for his own inadequate education.  Upon entering college, Mr. Price quickly realized that in order to succeed at the college-level he would need to relearn math the ‘correct way’, and in doing so committed his future to making sure other students are properly prepared for what coursework lies ahead.

Mr. Price has worked with 6th-8th graders at Stewart Middle Magnet School for the last three years, and speaks to the joy of seeing one student step up and help another student (without encouragement or hope of recognition) as just one of the many reasons he is passionate about his chosen career.  Make that standout student one that previously struggled, or is usually withdrawn, and the gesture becomes all that much more meaningful, and Mr. Price’s work that much more rewarding.

Mr. Price was nominated by his student Quinn, who also attended the awards celebration in support of his teacher.  Not only did Mr. Price help Quinn conceptualize and develop his winning science fair project – innovative robots and the analysis of variations of motion – you could tell by their candor and the way that Quinn’s mother spoke Mr. Price, that there was a friendship and mutual respect between them that is found in the most impactful student-teacher dynamics.

Eric loves to spend his ‘fun money’ living life, so his plan for the $1,000 Cheers to PUBlic Service award includes Rowdies games, Lightning tickets, a new guitar and maybe a concert or two.  Congratulations, Eric!  ‘Kids shouldn’t feel behind the curve before they even get the opportunity to sink their teeth into the coursework.’ – A simple belief that launched a legendary career.  Thank you for making your challenge a catalyst for change.  Enjoy your summer!

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SUSAN DiFEDERICO – ROBINSON HIGH SCHOOL
Susan DiFederico is a lifelong educator whose passion for the English language is second only to her love for her students.  Coincidentally enough, our Cheers to PUBlic Service awards celebration fell on the same day as Robinson High School’s graduation, and Susan was brimming with pride as she recounted the speeches and professionalism her students displayed.

Inspired by her own public speaking professor, Mrs. DiFederico pursued her teaching degree at the University of South Florida and found herself teaching the same class as her mentor immediately after graduating in 1982.  Robinson High School has been Mrs. DiFederico’s home for the last 38 years, and in that time she has inspired thousands of students at all grade levels and through multiple subject matters.  Presently, Mrs. DiFederico teaches IB English at Robinson High, which encompasses both the study of literature as well as the practice of presentation/oral skills.  While her love for literature is palpable, Mrs. DiFederico recognizes the importance of teaching her 11th graders how to present their own ideas in a persuasive way, with supporting facts and displaying confidence, not only to succeed at the college-level, but also in life.

With professors’ expectations at an all time high, and an increased focus on oral presentations and public speaking at the college-level, Mrs. DiFederico’s students continuously earn some of the highest marks in their college courses because of their experience in her class.  A firm believer in the power of personal expression, Mrs. DiFederico is passionate about giving her kids the tools and support necessary to succeed, and we have no doubt she will continue to do so for many years to come.

We challenged Mrs. DiFederico to share just one story from her fruitful career that represents why she loves what she does, and the story she told stemmed from an encounter she had just one week prior.  She told us that she ran into a former student at the gym, and as they got to chatting, he said that even 10 years later he still remembered a contest from her class.  Since there is no word formally appointed to a collection of butterflies, Mrs. DiFederico proposed a contest to come up with the best word/phrase.  The winning phrase was ‘a flutter of butterflies’ and although this former student had not won the contest, he remembered the book, and some of the teachings of her class after 10 years, and to Susan that’s what it’s all about.  She tells her students, “I know that your life is probably not going to be based on analyzing literature, or rhetoric, but everybody has to read – and they have to understand what they are reading.  Don’t always take things at face value.”

When asked how she planned to spend the well-deserved $1,000 Cheers to PUBlic Service award, Mrs. DiFederico smiled ear-to-ear and shared that they have two family vacations planned – one destined for Captiva Island and the other spent enjoying Longboat Key.

Congratulations, Susan!  Thank you for dedicating your life to the kids of Robinson High.  Whether their take-away from their time with you is a love of literature or a flair for personal expression, we are certain that a ‘flutter’ of grateful students will continue to cross your path and brighten your days.  Have a wonderful summer!

WSH_Susan

JASON HERRING – JENNINGS MIDDLE SCHOOL
After having been blessed with a caring, supportive mentor throughout his formidable middle school years, Jason Herring knew that his purpose in life was to be the shining light – the positivity – that is missing from so many children’s lives.  A firm believer in giving back and helping others, Jason is passionate about giving his kids the guidance and support necessary to become successful adults, while also committing numerous hours to ‘paying it forward’ at his church and in his community.

When asked to tell us an impactful story from his 15 year teaching career, Coach Herring told us about a student that walked onto his basketball court just when it seemed he had lost his world.  This young man had endured the loss of his mother, and subsequent hard times, before landing at Jennings Middle and meeting Coach Herring.  Much like many of his student athletes, Coach Herring recognized that this young man may need a male figure in his life – a mentor that could give him the guidance and support that kids need at this pivotal age – and put in the extra time and effort necessary to not only show this young man that he cared about him, but also give him the opportunity to join the basketball team by providing something as simple as a ride home from practice.  Needless to say, although Coach Herring would never tell you that it was his commitment to this student that helped him become the man and successful high school athlete that he is today, there is no doubt that if Coach Herring hadn’t stepped up when the world had stepped out, a much different future may have been in store.

Coach Herring’s love for his kids is second only to his love for his wife who also teaches at Jennings Middle School.  Equally compassionate and selfless, together they have taken in countless kids over the years, and given them the love and support they need to succeed.  Emotional, Jason tells us, “It’s just amazing to see when they feel that love, and they feel that you care about them; when they know that we want [them] to be successful.”  That’s the good stuff.

In addition to the $1,000 Cheers to PUBlic Service award, which Jason and his wife plan to use over the summer break on a much-needed ‘recharge vacation’, thanks to our friends and Pillar Partners at the Junior League of Tampa, Coach Herring also received a second $1,000 check that will go to Jennings Middle towards whatever is needed for the coming school year!

Congratulations, Coach Herring!  We cannot thank you and your wife enough for the huge hearts that you both share with the students of Jennings Middle.  At this critical time in their lives, you two are not just a shining light, you are a beacon of hope and an incredible force for good.  Wishing you a relaxing summer and a fully recharged return in the fall!

WSH_Jason
ROSS ANDERSON – CARTER G. WOODSON
Compassionate, joyful, inspirational, impactful, intellectual, unparalleled and unstoppable are just a few of the adjectives that we would use to describe the extraordinary Mr. Ross Anderson.  Pressed and polished, Mr. Anderson and a handful of the young men that he mentors as part of his ‘Men of Vision’ passion project, arrived 15 minutes early for our Cheers to PUBlic Service award ceremony with a professionalism and maturity rarely seen in high school students.  Mr. Anderson’s positive influence on these young men is evident, and their mutual respect for their friend and mentor is palpable.

Embracing a teaching career later in life, Mr. Anderson realized his true calling thanks to his experience as a mentor for The Boys & Girls Club of America.  Through his involvement with the organization, Mr. Anderson recognized the life-changing impact a male mentor could have on young adults, as well as the dismal lack of positive male role models in the lives of adolescent men of color.  As a direct result of these two staggering realizations, Mr. Anderson founded ‘Men of Vision’ in 2006, and soon thereafter, Mr. Anderson left corporate America and committed his life to educating and uplifting young men.

When asked to share a story that could serve as a representation of why he loves his life’s work, Mr. Anderson told us about ‘peeling back the onion’ for one special student, and how it changed the trajectory of both of their lives.  This student was presented to Mr. Anderson as a young man in need of mentorship and at that time considered one of the three worst students at his high school.  As Mr. Anderson delved further into this young man’s history, he learned that he had gone from an above-average student at an IB school to a troubled adolescent and failing student at a traditional high school.  Rather than just chalking it up to laziness or fate like so many others in this boy’s life, Mr. Anderson felt that there must have been something that served as a catalyst towards this sudden change in performance and personality, and took the time to visit his Grandmother (legal guardian) in search of answers.  The story he heard broke his heart, as this 68-year-old woman revealed that the young man’s father was killed during a drug deal while his son waited in the car.  There were tears as he they ‘peeled back the onion’ together and acknowledged that witnessing this tragedy was the turning point in this young man’s life, and up until this point the schools had dismissed every red flag.  Mr. Anderson immediately went back to the high school, orchestrated a transfer so the young man could ‘start fresh’, and has mentored him through his ‘Men of Vision’ initiative ever since.  This ‘troublesome’ kid ‘destined to fail’ is now in 10th grade earning high honor roll every nine weeks, has a 3.0 GPA, just won a 2-year prepaid scholarship from the Hillsborough Education Foundation, and was recognized by Coke Florida as a future leader and model member of our community.

As Mr. Anderson was recognized for his incredible dedication the extraordinary impact his organization has on the young men of our community, his ‘Men of Vision’ stood proud, showing immense gratitude and respect for their mentor and friend.  As fate would have it, as the group laughed and joked about Mr. Anderson using the $1,000 Cheers to PUBlic Service award on a trip to Disney World, Mr. Anderson was also selected as the winner of a weekend excursion in a brand new 2019 Ford Mustang from our friends and Pillar Partners at Ford of Port Richey!  Beaming from ear-to-ear, Mr. Anderson told us that he was going to take the kids’ advice and ‘let his dreads down and just drive’ – We hope you do just that!  Congratulations, Mr. Anderson – Thank you for inspiring not just your ‘Men of Vision’ but all of us.  Send us a pic with Mickey!

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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!