Wiregrass Cheers Check Presentation
May 25, 2018 melissa

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 fourth and final check presentation took place Thursday, May 24th at our Irish 31 Wiregrass location, where we recognized five more ROCKSTAR Wesley Chapel 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 Wiregrass winners:
APRIL CAMPBELL COBB – Jennings Middle School
A career in education chose April Campbell Cobb over 16 years ago when a friend’s father needed help writing a curriculum for D.W. Waters Career Center – a magnet high school focused on occupational training.  She embraced the role, created the curriculum, discovered her love of teaching, and since then has taught High School, 6th-8th, and currently, 6th grade Math at Jennings Middle School.  Working in a low-income area, with kids that see school as an obligation rather than an opportunity, April spends every waking hour trying to change her student’s outlook of what an education can, and should, represent – Blessing vs. Burden…Chance vs. Chore.  In addition to teaching at Jennings, April takes her mission a step further with her Blueprint4Girls organization, a fairly new not-for-profit currently applying for it’s 501c3. In partnership with the Coalition of 100 Black Women Incorporated Tampa Chapter, Blueprint4Girls inspires, educates, and equips girls ages 11-18 with leadership skills and knowledge that apply to various facets of their lives. April also makes sure the initiatives provide information that will integrate skill practice in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, creating a foundation for success.  April uses any money raised at Blueprint4Girls events to help fund group trips to College/University campuses where low-income students with no form of transportation, and little family support, have the opportunity to see what the future could hold, and feel what it’s like to experience a college campus first-hand.  When asked what she planned to do with the $1000, April shared that some of it had already been spent on the Blueprint4Girls event happening tomorrow (Saturday, May 26th), and the rest will be invested in the organization to continue showing these girls that no matter where you start out, as long as you embrace education and work hard, success is within reach.  Thank you, April Campbell Cobb, for being a beacon for these kids, and such a positive force in this world!
Please visit www.blueprint4girls4.eventbrite.com to learn more about tomorrow’s event and how you can help Blueprint4Girls.
When we talk about lifelong educators, LoriSue Grieb-Severino may be one of the few (if not the only) that can date their first teaching gig back to when they were in second grade.  Okay, maybe it wasn’t a true ‘gig’, but Lori recalls asking her father to bring home carbon paper and office supplies so she and a friend could create tests for their ‘students’.  Lori’s love for teaching only intensified over the years, inspiring her to not only earn her mandatory teaching degree/certification, but also to pursue her Doctorate in Reading Education and Teacher Education, which comes to an impressive total of THREE higher education degrees from University of South Florida.  Way to go, Lori!  Since leaving her pretend classroom and starting her teaching career, Lori has taught 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grades, as well as 9th-12th, and serves as an adjunct professor at HCC molding future teachers.  Lori currently works as a Reading Coach for primarily 9th grade students at King High, but her effectiveness is evaluated based on the success of the entire school, so her responsibilities extend well beyond her core group of 9th graders.  Lori’s “Reading Rocks” program uses a rock ‘n’ roll theme to motivate low-level readers to want to practice reading, and we have a feeling her bubbly personality and natural positivity are just as popular and inspiring in the classroom.  Lori personifies JOY, and we can easily see how anyone lucky enough to have her in their lives – students, friends, or family – can’t help but strive to work harder, love harder, smile harder, and be a better person, because her energy and genuine zest for life is contagious.  When asked for a story that sticks out as a great representation of why she loves teaching, Lori told us about a student from her SAT/ACT class last semester.  At the end of the course, she asks her students to reflect on what they liked most, and one student said, “I liked how you made it so easy and everything was so organized.”  This may seem like a small compliment in the grand scheme, but when you are as passionate, detailed, and committed as Lori is, knowing that somebody noticed is sometimes all that it takes to make your heart swell.  In addition to the $1000 and Bucs tickets gifted to all winning teachers, Lori was our lucky winner of a Weekend Getaway in a brand new 2018 Cadillac Escalade courtesy of Ed Morse Cadillac of Brandon, and equally lucky for her friend Polly, now the two of them have a road trip to New Orleans to look forward to!  Lori, we think you totally ROCK, and can’t wait to see what other incredible things you accomplish!  You truly are a SHINING example of what a teacher should be, and we can’t thank you enough for all that you do.  Enjoy New Orleans!
ROSE CLEMONS – Shaw Elementary School
Rosemarie “Rose” Clemons loves teaching…period.  She loves the kids, loves the classroom, and loves the opportunity to touch the lives of children that need it most.  Rose had a difficult childhood, and attended the same Title 1 Renaissance school where she now feels privileged to teach.  She came from a life of poverty, but thanks to a family that believed in education, and some amazing teachers along the way, she escaped that life and feels blessed to be able to show kids that you are not a product of your past – anything is possible.  Although this is only Rose’s second year teaching, she has completed an internship working with special needs children, taught 3rd and 4th grades, and hopes to teach 5th grade next year.  When we asked her why she wanted to teach 5th, she smiled and said, “I like the older ones.” She went on to explain that she feels that sometimes they are misrepresented, and at such a pivotal time with graduation approaching, they need someone to help them find their way as they start this next chapter.  Rose lights up when she talks about her day-to-day, especially the five or six students that eat breakfast with her each morning and share their happy stories, their challenges, and sometimes their fears.  She cherishes these times, and anxiously awaits the next opportunity to engage with students  – whether it be in the classroom, at the cafeteria table, or out on the kickball field.  Yes, we said kickball.  Rose’s favorite day of the year is the day Shaw hosts their annual kickball tournament where 5th graders take on the Teachers for bragging rights before they set off for middle school.  This year, Rose’s rendition of “All I Do is Win” left little doubt as to who had bragging rights (Teachers won 11-7), but there was only laughter and smiles from the 5th graders.  They say that when you love what you do you never work a day in your life, and that is most certainly true for Rose.  Although she has three kids of her own, one with special needs, you won’t ever hear her complain.  She jumps out of bed each day with purpose, and passion, and a genuine desire to do everything in her power to make a difference in the lives of everyone that has the privilege of knowing her…and a privilege it certainly is.  When asked how Rose will spend her $1000, Rose said some will go towards repaying her brother for a loan, and the rest will be used to hire a  summer tutor for her 13yr old daughter that has special needs.  Rose – Thank you for being such an incredible influence and positive role model for the kids at Shaw.  Keep up the great work!
GABRIELLE O’NEIL – West Zephyrhills Elementary School
When we talk about selflessness, and giving of oneself for the betterment of others, very few embrace such altruism to the extent of our fourth winner, Gabrielle O’Neil.  Gabrielle has worked as a Behavioral Specialist at West Zephyrhills Elementary for the past three years, and when we met her last night, she was surrounded by family.  In addition to her position at W. Zephyrhills, Gabrielle is working towards her teaching certification, and is a huge force in the lives of at-risk children – especially the five that accompanied her to the ceremony.  Gabrielle has two foster kids of her own (which you can read about in her Cheers nomination, but four of the five kids at her table belong to ‘Grandma’ seated at the very end, a literal Grandmother who has accepted guardianship for her four grandchildren, while struggling with Sickle Cell Anemia.  You may be asking, what does this have to do with Gabrielle?  Well, Gabrielle helps care for the kids when ‘Grandma’ needs to go for treatment.  Selfless, indeed.  Gabrielle credits her parents as her inspiration, sharing that her family always felt strongly about education, and sponsored many children through their church over the years.  “If you had a way to help, you did.”  When asked if there was one story that sticks out as a great representation of why she loves her job, Gabrielle gestured to the fifth child at the table, and said, “That would have to be Nyliajah.”  She went on to tell us that when she first met Nyliajah, he was from a low-income family and had a very tough time building relationships with people.  He was closed off, quiet, and refused to talk to most, especially Gabrielle.  Time passed, and one day Gabrielle came into her room and found one Oreo cookie on her desk with a note that said, “Hope you have a nice day.”  It was from Nyliajah, and their bond has been impenetrable ever since.  She shares that someone once told her that it only takes one person, having a positive influence on another, to make a life-changing impact.  She believes Nyliajah is her person, and initially we assumed he was the person she feels proud to have influenced…but as we write this, we wonder if she meant Nyliajah is the one having the life-changing impact on Gabrielle.  Either way, Gabrielle is an INCREDIBLE force for good in her school, in her community, and for her family.  Gabrielle plans to use the $1000 to treat her mom to a Mother-Daughter getaway at the Ritz Carlton Sarasota to celebrate her mother’s remission after a cancer scare.  Thank you, Gabrielle, for relentlessly giving of yourself…we hope you enjoy your Mother-Daughter time, and some R&R this summer!
GAIL RIPLEY-JONES – Pasco Middle School
Gail Ripley-Jones has been a teacher for 19 years, and has taught 6th, 7th, and 8th grade.  Currently, Gail works as a 7th grade ESE teacher (Exceptional Student Education) at Pasco Middle, and credits her inherent desire to do something that matters as her inspiration for entering the field.  Gail is the Department Head of the Students with Disabilities department, and works with Pasco Middle’s most vulnerable population on a daily basis. She is a passionate advocate for doing what is right, not just what might be convenient, and does her best to ensure her ‘babies’ get everything they need.  When asked if she had a story that sticks out as a great representation of why she loves her job, she shared the success story of one of her ESE students from her first year teaching.  This student overcame many challenges over the past 19 years, but has kept in touch, and Gail beams with pride as she shares that he is now a father with two kids of his own, and doing very well.  While the fact that this former student has kept in touch speaks to the lasting bond Gail forms with her ‘babies’, his success in the real world is a remarkable testament to how a passionate advocate like Gail can provide the encouragement and foundation necessary to pave the way to a wonderfully normal life.  We asked Gail what she planned to do with her $1000, and she said she was going to spend the money on a trip to Vegas – not to gamble, but to visit her son who is stationed there with the U.S.  Air Force.  Thank you Gail, for serving these kids with your whole heart, and thank you to your son for serving our country!  We hope you all have a wonderful time over the 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!