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Sarasota High remembers teacher with memorial, scholarship

Robert Shackelford was a teacher at Sarasota High School. He died after testing positive for COVID-19.

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  • | 12:45 p.m. December 15, 2020
A memorial featuring a plaque, a portrait of Shackelford and his favorite painting hangs in the school's media center. Photo courtesy
A memorial featuring a plaque, a portrait of Shackelford and his favorite painting hangs in the school's media center. Photo courtesy
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Robert Shackelford, or “Shack” to students and colleagues, was a history teacher at Sarasota High School. He died at 61 a month after testing positive for COVID-19. 

Now, the school is continuing his legacy with a scholarship for students who carry a similar passion for history. 

Shackelford worked at Sarasota High School for 22 years, and the 2020-21 school year would have been his last before retirement. 

‘“Shack”’ was an amazing educator and friend,” colleague of 18 years Stella Karas said. “He knew more about history than any other person I have ever encountered. ‘Shack’ was an imposing man with his size and deep voice. At first, the kids were always intimidated, but it would not take long for them to become inspired by his vast knowledge of all things history.”

Karas said Shackelford would spend his breaks visiting battlefields and other historic places he taught about. Along the way, he would take photos and buy souvenirs to share with students. 

Each year, he would have a friend bring his Ford Model T to school to show students an example of the Industrial Revolution and American ingenuity. 

“He really was passionate about making history real to his students,” Karas said. 

When they heard of Shackelford’s death, Karas and colleague Gina Barresi knew they had to do something to remember him. 

So, they created a memorial for him in the school’s media center.

The memorial features a plaque, a photo of Shackelford and one of his favorite paintings, the signing of the Constitution, donated by his family. The plaque reads “brother, father, son, educator and patriot.” 

“He loved being known as a patriot and that is why we put together the Robert J Shackelford Patriot Scholarship in his name,” Karas said. “Each year, we would like to award to one student who embodies and is inspired by the ideals he held dear and deemed fundamental to the United States of America.” 

The $1,000 scholarship will be awarded annually to a student who maintain: 

  • The belief that the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights outlines God-given unalienable rights to protect us against tyrannical government and should not be infringed;
  • The belief that the government functions at the consent of the governed;
  • The belief that free market entrepreneurial capitalism encourages individual initiative and incentive to produce a strong economy;
  • The belief in equality of opportunity to pursue happiness, not equality of outcomes;
  • The belief that government must be fiscally responsible and that excessive taxation and government waste are not conducive to economic growth;
  • The belief in securing an everlasting peace through a strong military and national defense; The belief in American exceptionalism; and
  • Understanding the truth of America’s history and its positive impact on the world.

To apply for the scholarship, students must meet the following criteria:

  • Have a 3.7 unweighted G.P.A overall;
  • Demonstrate excellence in four years of social studies courses, which includes both participation and a numerical grade of an “A”; and
  • Write an essay not exceeding 500 words explaining why America is an exceptional country.

The school is looking for community support to help fund the scholarship. Those willing to donate can write a check payable to The Sarasota High School Foundation with a memo note “Robert J. Shackelford Patriot Scholarship.”


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