School district staff joined Education Foundation representatives in surprising the three finalists at their schools.
Buses brought more than students recently to three Sarasota County schools.
Education Foundation and Sarasota Public Schools staff launched their annual Teacher of the Year tour Nov. 14 to surprise each of this year’s nominees
Each year, the school district names elementary, middle and high school teachers of the year. On Dec. 13, one will be named the overall Teacher of the Year.
This year’s tour began at Booker Middle School, where Superintendent Todd Bowden told students and staff Alison Cohen earned this year’s middle school honor. A math teacher at Booker Middle, Cohen said she was honored by the recognition, but her purpose at Booker is bigger than numerals.
It’s all about the Booker mantra — to create students who are college and career ready.
“I’m a Booker Tornado for life,” she said.
Next, district staff pulled up to a school that’s no stranger to teacher of the year fanfare, Riverview High. Reigning overall Teacher of the Year B.J. Ivey congratulated English Language Arts teacher Es Swihart.
“Having the High School Teacher of the Year two years in a row says a lot about what happens here in our classrooms,” Principal Paul Burns said.
For Swihart, the commendation was overwhelming. As a teacher, she hopes her curriculum offers a catalyst for her students.
“I am drawn to story forms and their influence in any medium — including education,” Swihart said. “I believe stories are powerful tools for connection and bettering our understanding of the world and ourselves. I want my students to be comfortable expressing who they are.”
Last on the tour was Venice Elementary school, where fifth-grade inclusion teacher Bethany Burnett received the award for Elementary Teacher of the Year.
“It’s important to help kids understand who they are and to help them rise above the labels others assign to them,” she said. “I look at students who might be labeled as having obsessive-compulsive disorder and help them and their classmates see them as organizers.”
It was a fitting end to the tour. As a teacher, Burnett has frequently heard the adage, “Those who can’t, teach,” — an assessment that, for Burnett other Teacher of the Year award winners, couldn’t be further from truth.
“Those who teach inspire and transform lives,” she said.
It’s a differentiation that reflects the mission of the award itself.
Education Foundation President Jennifer Vigne said the program stands not only to elevate the performance of individual teachers, but also all educators.
“It is to celebrate the profession of teachers and the incredible role they play in the community,” she said. “They need to feel supported, and they need to feel valued and that our community stands behind them.”