Westshore 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 third check presentation took place Wednesday, May 23rd at our Irish 31 Westshore location, where we recognized five more ROCKSTAR Westshore 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 Westshore winners:
PATRICIA DEPAGTER – Madison Middle School
Patricia DePagter is one of those special people that were born to be a force for good in this world.  Her compassionate approach to teaching and genuine love for her students is at times overwhelming as she shares stories from her classroom and inspiration from her past.  In another life, Patricia worked as an accountant as well as in the Attorney General’s office, but luckily, at 30 she had her ‘Aha’ moment.  With kids of her own ranging in age from 8-30yrs old, she realized that she wanted to spend more time with her own children, while also making a difference in the lives of others, and thought what better way to do that than by becoming a teacher.  She started her new career working with ESE kids at Madison Middle School, and after 15yrs has taught ESE (Exceptional Student Education), ‘traditional’ kids, and now works with gifted students in Madison’s aerospace engineering STEM program.  Patricia’s position in the STEM program allows her the privilege of working with students three years in a row, so many times she will have an eighth grade student whose younger sibling is in her sixth grade class.  This offers her the opportunity to truly bond with the kids and get to know the parents.  When asked if there was one story from teaching that sticks out as a great representation of why she loves what she does, Patricia’s eyes brimmed as she shared a perfect example that happened just that morning.  The mother of two of her students – siblings in different grades – sent her a thank you card simply saying how grateful she was for all that Patricia has done for her kids over the past five years, and how her passion and commitment does not go unnoticed.  This meant the world to Patricia.  Since day one, all she has wanted to do is have a positive impact on children, while inspiring them to embrace their inner greatness, and teach them to love learning.  This one mother’s letter (who happens to also be a fellow educator) not only recognized her efforts but validated that she is in fact having a positive impact on her kids, and the affirmation moves Patricia to tears.  We asked Patricia what she planned to do with the $1000 – prefacing with the fact that she is allowed to be ‘selfish’ with this money – and she said that she was in fact going to be ‘selfish’ and use the money to fly her oldest daughter and her grand-babies to Florida so they can spend some time together over the summer.  It makes us smile that she thinks this is a ‘selfish’ use of the money, but the fact that she feels that way only shows Patricia’s true selflessness and as long as this will bring her joy, we are good with that.  This was your calling, Patricia – Thank you for everything you are to these kids, your school, and our community.  Have a great time with your daughter and those precious grand-babies!
BRUCE YOUNG – Roland Park
Bruce is our second Westshore nominee that happens to be an accountant-turned-teacher, and boy are our kids lucky he too had that ‘Aha’ moment!  Bruce had always been extremely involved in the lives of his five kids, despite an accounting career, and coached their math bowl teams, various sports, as well as wherever else he could take part in their education.  Other teachers/coaches would frequently tell him that he should leave Corporate America and become a teacher because his passion and commitment to all kids, not just his own, is the ‘secret sauce’ that only the greatest educators posses.  When his wife Cindy reiterated the sentiment of so many others, and encouraged him to embrace his true calling, Bruce left accounting and got his teaching certification.  With one year at Gaither High School and four years at Roland Park under his belt, he has already had an incredible impact as a highly effective and influential math teacher, as well as a beloved and respected soccer, football and math coach.  Mr. Young is one of our special nominees that was actually nominated by one of his students.  You could almost see her adoration pouring onto the page as she shared the ways Mr. Young relates his lessons to the real world and elicits a deeper level of understanding than any textbook explanation could provide.  Bruce has the innate ability of  being able to engage students that would otherwise show little interest, and actually make the subject matter stick.  When asked why he loves teaching, Bruce smiled ear-to-ear and told us a story about a little ditty called, “Meet me in the Median”.  Mr. Young teaches math…he also has Dance Party Fridays…so it only seems natural that he would teach his students about medians (midpoints) by singing the song “The Middle” and then telling them that the original title was “Meet me in the Median” but the producer made the artists change it.  His students laughed, some rolled their eyes, others scoffed with a smile, but one student said, “Mr. Young, you always have a great story to help us understand” – and, guaranteed they all had that tune in their head as they aced their Final Exams.  When asked what he planned to do with the $1000, Bruce beamed as he introduced his son who graduates from Hillsborough High this Friday with plans to attend FSU in the fall.  He shared that the money will be spent on a big bash for his son to celebrate his graduation, and pizza parties for all of his students.  Mr. Young, we think you’re “24K Magic” – Keep doing what you do!
ANITA RUPPEL – Jennings Middle School
Anita is a lifelong educator and a true blessing for our kids.  Twenty-nine years ago, Anita was just starting out in Michigan, and had the dream of being an art teacher.  Unfortunately, Michigan schools were overloaded with teachers at the time, and there was no room for an art teacher, so she started her career teaching Elementary school and has since taught all grades from K-7th.  Anita earned her Masters in Reading, and upon moving to Florida, began work as the Intensive Reading teacher at Jennings Middle School.  Her students struggle – some 6th graders reading at a 2nd grade level – but, Anita is patient, kind, and compassionate and works tirelessly to help them all make small gains daily.  When asked if there was a story from teaching that sticks out as a great representation of why she loves what she does, Anita shared her memory of a special student from her days teaching in Michigan.  She had been working as this child’s reading tutor for four years (K-3rd), but despite unwavering encouragement and endless one-on-one time, there was little progress.  However, Anita would not be discouraged, and refused to give up on this child.  Then, one day in the 3rd grade something just clicked.  This same student that struggled for so many years became an avid reader and embraced the written word.  He excelled in school, and eventually went on to win a national social sciences contest where he was flown to Washington D.C. to present his project and receive recognition for his work.  This relentless pursuit of excellence is one of Anita’s defining characteristics – not just as it relates to her students, but also in her commitment to lifelong learning in the hopes of using any new training/techniques to help her students succeed.  When asked what she plans to do with the $1000, she smiled, glanced over at her daughter Jenny, and told us that the two of them were going on a four-week beach vacation before she starts Project Prevent – a summer work camp to help 5th graders  transition to the 6th grade.  Anita – Thank you for all that you do for your students, your school, and our community.  Enjoy your fun in the sun with Jenny, and make sure you put those windows down when you cruise the town in that sweeeeet Cadillac Escalade from Ed Morse Cadillac of Brandon!  
ELIZABETH BALDWIN – Westshore Elementary School
As the oldest of four children, Elizabeth attributes her teaching career to having always been a caretaker/educator of younger siblings, and enjoying her role as tutor, coach, and Sunday school teacher.  As an undergrad, Elizabeth studied Criminology and worked in the Juvenile Probation office.  She had hoped this career path would allow her the opportunity to help troubled youth, but it turned out to be more paperwork than impactful interactions, so she reevaluated and began working towards a teaching degree.  Elizabeth has taught 4th and 5th grade at Westshore Elementary for the past eight years, and loves working with underprivileged kids in a Title 1 school.  When asked why she has so much love for what she does, she shared a story from just this month.  After teaching force and inertia in class, Elizabeth brainstormed ways she could show her kids this concept in a real-world setting.  Her immediate thought was what better than a roller coaster to exemplify both, but knowing her students’ family situations and financial challenges, a field trip to Busch Gardens probably wasn’t in the cards…or, so other less ambitious teachers would have thought.  Luckily, Elizabeth is not deterred by hard work and seemingly insurmountable tasks, so she put her mind to it, and began raising money to take all of her kids to Busch Gardens.  After a lot of hard work and a never-say-die attitude, Elizabeth achieved her goal and raised enough money to bring all 30+ kids to Busch Gardens for the day.  Most of these kids had never been to a theme park before, certainly never on a roller coaster of the caliber you find at Busch Gardens, and they were all beyond elated and had the time of their lives.  As fulfilling as that must have been – to give these kids a once in a lifetime experience without their families having to pay a dime – Elizabeth’s greatest source of pride was the moment after the kids rode the roller coaster and made the undeniable connection between that ride, and her lesson on force and inertia.  Incredible – Well done, Elizabeth!  When asked how she plans to spend her $1000, it was no surprise that Elizabeth had Kindles and Robotics Kits for the classroom first and second on her list, but we were glad to hear that once those items have been purchased, the remainder will go towards some downtime and summer travel.  Elizabeth, YOU are a true force, and we can’t thank you enough for going above and beyond for these kids.  Enjoy your summer!
ALEX-ANN FOTI – Clair-Mel Elementary School
Alex-Ann has taught for a total of three years, and currently teaches Kindergarten, 2nd, and 5th grade ESE students at Clair-Mel Elementary.  Alex-Ann has always worked with kids, both as a nanny when she was younger, and in summer camps when she was a cheerleader, and loves having a positive impact on children at such a young age.  After completing her teaching certification, Alex-Ann wanted to work with lower-level students that struggled with reading and math, and is now in her 3rd year working with ESE kiddos at Clair-Mel.  When asked why she loves what she does, she shared the story of a student that she has been working with since the 3rd grade (who is now in 5th).  This student comes from a less-than-ideal home life where young parents provide little support and encouragement.  However, despite having struggled with math and reading for the past three years, this student’s work ethic is relentless, and Alex-Ann’s commitment to this student is unabated.  A couple of weeks ago, Alex-Ann received a letter from this student thanking her for believing in her and helping her progress.  This, Alex-Ann says, is why she loves what she does…Because, no matter how horrible the home life or challenging the obstacles, hard work and encouragement can move mountains.  When asked what she planned to do with the $1000, Alex-Ann said it will help her break even after some significant bills just hit the account, and whatever is left over will be spent on summer travel.  Thank you for moving mountains for these kids, Alex-Ann!  Enjoy your summer!
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!