Teacher Elaine Bowling loves watching her “Mini-Mustangs” grow up to be Lakewood Ranch High School students.
“It’s like the circle of life,” said Bowling, who started a voluntary preschool program, Mini-Mustangs, in 2000 at Lakewood Ranch High. “I take care of them, and then they grow up and become my (high school) students.”
Bowling received the Outstanding Educator award July 17 given by the Florida Association for Career and Technical Education in Orlando. She has been teaching for 39 years, 19 years at Lakewood Ranch High School.
Bowling teaches early childhood education and helps students receive their industry certification, allowing them to work as preschool or daycare teachers. Her early childhood education students help her run the Mini-Mustangs’ program.
Manatee High School has a similar program called Kitty College, which Bowling also started in the late 1990s while working there.
“I always say I have the best of both worlds because I have time with the high school students, and then I get a 4-year-old fix,” said Bowling.
Lakewood Ranch High Principal Craig Little recommended Bowling for the award.
“She just brings so much to the campus,” Little said.
In his recommendation letter, he noted, “She has excellent classroom management skills, is well organized, and her students not only respect her, but also regularly make solid learning gains.”
Bowling grew up in Sarasota, married her husband, Robert Bowling, and they moved to Texas in 1977 for 10 years before moving back. She began teaching in Manatee County in 1987, first at Southeast High School, then at Manatee High School and finally Lakewood Ranch. Robert Bowling, also a teacher, retired four years ago from Braden River High School.
Their son, Matt Bowling, and his wife, Kelly Bowling, are Braden River High School employees. Kelly Bowling is a school counselor and Matt Bowling is a teacher and assistant football coach.
Matt and Kelly’s 4-year-old son, Easton, now is taking grandma Elaine’s Mini-Mustangs program.
Calissa Foege, a senior who works with the Mini-Mustangs, said Bowling is part of the reason she wants to be a teacher.
“She’s so kind, sweet and supportive,” Foege said. “She has a lot of cute catch phrases, like ‘sugar shoot’ when things get broken or her computer isn’t working right. She uplifts me and supports what I want to do, which is education.”
Bowling is an adviser to Lakewood Ranch’s award-winning Family Career and Community Leaders of America group, which includes Morgan Kirchman, a Lakewood Ranch junior and the Florida state president-elect for FCCLA.
“Mrs. Bowling was the one who encouraged me to be a state officer,” Kirchman said. “I doubted myself, but she told me I could do it. She is so sweet, I couldn’t have done it without her.”
Bowling, who said she will consider retiring in two or three years, said it was an honor to win the Outstanding Educator award, but awards aren’t why she is teaching.
She has seen her former students become her colleagues.
“If there’s one thing to say about it, I was very humbled by receiving the award, but I don’t like to pat myself on the back,” Bowling said. “I just do my job. I just want to be me.”