THE SCHOOL DISTRICT OF INDIAN RIVER COUNTY’S 2016 TEACHER OF THE YEAR WAS ANNOUNCED ON DECEMBER 19, 2016, AT THE CONCLUSION OF THE ANNUAL TEACHER AND EMPLOYEE OF THE YEAR GALA, WHICH WAS HELD IN THE PERFORMING ARTS CENTER AT VERO BEACH HIGH SCHOOL.
The 2016 Indian River County School District Teacher of the Year was Katelyn Fiori, Vero Beach Elementary 4th Grade Teacher.
“I am inspired by the incredible opportunity I have to help children discover and delight in knowledge. All children are born with a natural, powerful curiosity, and I humbly appreciate my responsibility to help nurture that innate desire in my students,” said Katelyn Fiori.
At this same ceremony, Biotechnology teacher Jeff Bush was recognized as VBHS Teacher of the Year.
Jeffrey Bush with his Biotechnology students.
Mr. Bush’s Biotechnology students attended the ceremony dressed in their lab coats.
Acknowledging his recognition, Mr. Bush said: “Welcome to a night to celebrate teachers in our District for being recognized as ‘outstanding teachers.’ When I was told I was selected VBHS Teacher of the Year, I felt very uneasy about accepting this recognition knowing how many amazing people work at Vero Beach High School and do as much as I do, and many who do so much more.
A colleague told me I was really representing the school, and what we do, which made me feel more at ease. But knowing this simply was not enough.
My winning was to let the public see what so many teachers do on a daily basis.
And so it is that prior to the award ceremony, Mr. Bush solicited stories from staff members at VBHS that responded to the prompt he sent below. He had no idea what he was going to get in response to his request, but he is so proud of the people at VBHS he wanted to recognize them, as well.
According to Mr. Bush, “the stories you are about to read are just the tip of the iceberg. These types of stories occur at ALL of the schools represented tonight, and most likely all over our country.
Anytime someone criticizes public education I hope these stories and others that could be put together, will mute the critics. Thank you for coming tonight and supporting us, and all the teachers you come in contact with. We are far from perfect, but try as best we can to make a difference in ‘our kids’ lives.”
Mr. Bush’s Prompt for Teachers at Vero Beach High School:
Photo by Bob Craig
“Dear Teachers and Staff,
Here is all I need you to do…please email me in a few sentences or less about something you did for a student ‘when no one was looking.’ We have all done this, and most likely not even told a colleague. We did it just because it was the right thing to do. I have only been at our school for three years, and I have heard examples from people here that are so inspiring. These are the stories people need to hear about- the everyday things that add up to huge differences.
If you are too shy to tell your story, then please write to me about something your colleague told you that you thought was really awesome. I need a story from everyone…teachers, administrators, coaches, and staff alike. Make it short and sweet as we all have no extra time in our day.
Thanks for your help,
Story 1: One afternoon around 2:50 (doors lock and I leave at 3:00) the phone rings; a parent is in a panic because her daughter left an AP book behind that she needed to complete an assignment THAT NIGHT. No one from the family could get here before we closed. I asked where they lived – it was quite a distance, but mom said her husband’s office was about 10 min away. I got the book and drove it to his office. The student got the assignment turned in on time.
Story 2: Last year at the FLC, we had a week in the last semester with which fights were breaking out daily. One of my students from my 5th period class (immediately following lunch) was about to fight right before my class. This would have made the week’s fourth fight among black females (the only population involved in the fighting).
The fight was intercepted, I cancelled my lesson for the day, and I taught self-respect, self-control, and character. I explained to the entire class that allowing others to control their behavior gave the other power and made them weak. We had an amazing discussion where I really felt I had made a class wide breakthrough.
The next morning, after lunch, I heard the student was in a fight in the cafeteria. I was initially crushed, disappointed in my impact, but then, I begin hearing she was jumped, she refused to hit back, she would not be suspended because SHE CHOSE TO BE STRONG! I was so proud.
That afternoon I called her home and spoke to her and her mother, congratulating her for her courage. The very next morning she returned to school, only to get jumped again first thing in the morning. I was AMAZED to learn, that even though this one was more severe, again, she never fought back! My pride was overflowing.
I bought her a card, and a bag full of treats. When she returned to school the next Monday, I presented her with her gift in front of the class and let her know that every item in the bag represented the number of times I thought of her and smiled with pride that weekend.
There were over 200 items in the bag.
Story 3: My job is much more than teaching art to students. I view it more as a conduit to be an advocate for kids who feel they have no one. This is my first year at this school, yet I have had several experiences and opportunities to pour into students.
Story 4: One experience I had was with a student in drawing. He was normally upbeat and enthusiastic but on one particular day he came in downtrodden. I asked him what was going on and listened to how his mom and stepfather got into an argument with him and his mom wanted him out of the house. He felt worthless and felt as if his mom looked down on him as worthless. This student was always helpful and uplifting to others. His work was great and he worked bell to bell. I decided to call home to mom and let her know how good he was doing in my class. He came to me the next day and thanked me saying that it made a big difference at home.
Story 5: I would rather brag about my colleagues: *****– he bakes brownies for student’s birthdays. He hangs pennants for every student and where they end up going to college. They remember him and come back and visit often. I don’t know that a year has gone by that he hasn’t been the teacher everyone recognizes at Top Ten Percent. ******– she sets up writing workshops on the weekends and actually attends them. She does the reading mentor program. She spends every weekend here at school trying to give her students the best!
Story 6: I provide notebooks for my students who seem to be unable to purchase them. I encourage them to move forward without making a big scene. I do many other things for my students as they are the most important thing in my classroom.
Story 7: I was able to get a reconditioned computer for one of my football players who was in need.
Story 8: The story that sticks out in my mind is when I was entrusted with a student’s past. She came to me during lunch in tears. She told me about the time she was molested by an uncle at a very young age and how this has troubled her ability to function normally. She had anxiety and depression and did not know what to do. I shared my own history with her, and advised her to get therapy. I provided her with information on therapists and she eventually did start treatment. She did not have a trusted adult in her life, or one that she felt comfortable with. I was emotionally moved by her coming to me and feeling as if she could share this personal information with me. She and I still communicate!!
Story 9: Please make this anonymous—-maybe you could word it as “more teachers than I can count…” but so many open their doors to kids for lunch and after school so they have a welcoming and safe place to hang. During this time, one-on-one time is spent getting to know about their lives. Since we are such a large school. this may be the only time kids get to tell their story or feel that there is someone who will listen to them or even care about them. I believe that this time makes a huge difference in their lives. My hat’s off to all those teachers who give up planning, lunch and after school prep for counseling!
Story 10: Gave money for snacks, helped get a prom dress, hemmed chorus dress, bought apples from the band.
Story 11: Last year I had a special needs student whose family was struggling at Christmas time. He had commented one day that he really liked my sneakers and that’s all that he wanted for Christmas. I contacted the parents and with their permission, I bought the student the sneakers that he wanted, delivered them wrapped to the house and instructed the parents to place them under the Christmas tree from them. The student still to this day thinks that they were a gift from his parents. This is the first time that I have publicly shared this story.
Story 12 : For some students, they said I was one of the only people that stayed constantly positive (even when I was negative toward their singing) but it inspired them to do better for me and themselves. Others said that the Choir felt very safe and they had a home here with a family. Others said even though they had the choice to go to Charter, it was way I made them feel before, during and after a performance that made them stick with it and stick around. One student I had when I taught Elementary School Music came to VBHS just to learn from me. That student chose to honor me at the Scholars Ceremony last year. I guess I did a lot more than I thought.
Story 13: “Natalie” is a student who resides at Hibiscus House. She expressed to me that she really wanted to join HOSA but did not have the money. I slipped a $10 bill into an envelope and told her than an anonymous donor wanted her to join and gave her the money.
Story 14: Supplied needy student with clothes and gift card to bookstore from a “mystery Santa” during holidays. The student loved to read, and had read most everything in the school library.
Story 15: Just this year, a student came to me because she is about to turn 18 and her mother said she is kicking her out as soon as her birthday comes. I put her in contact with Ms. Hearndon, and she now has a viable solution to her problem – that she is also comfortable with.
Story 16: One thing I can think of that maybe was out of the ordinary was an interaction that I had with a gen-ed student the first week teachers were back. Being brand new I was as busy or more so than everyone else. I had my classroom door open and music playing…in the zone. A young man came to my door to ask directions which I had no idea where the room was located.
Instead of sending him away I walked with him to find it. Along the way he told me that he was a 17 year old sophomore and worried about being on the main campus. He told me that he was very close to quitting last year while at the FLC. We proceeded to talk and walk his entire schedule together…..twice, so that he would be comfortable when he started on Monday.
He then came back to my classroom and I gave him materials to make his own map (his request). We then went to guidance to get a locker app. and parted ways. I have asked about him a few times from the teachers I recall being on his schedule. He probably doesn’t remember me…but I think of him often and hopes he perseveres!
Story 17: Chief Dues personally sponsored a freshman cheerleader who could not afford the fees to go to camp, or her cheer clothes.
Story 18: Anonymous – (with the help from our community) raised over $14,000 for Renee Woulard in her fight with Burkitt’s Lymphoma.
Story 19: Anonymous – purchased a car for a student who was a senior and had no transportation because her family split up and neither parent could afford it. It was an inexpensive car, but she had wheels for her senior year.
Story 20: I am fluent in American Sign Language. We have a new hearing impaired student, who is in 10th grade and has been at Florida School for the Deaf and Blind for the past eight years. There were some issues with her interpreter, so for about two-three weeks, she did not have an interpreter. I emailed her teachers daily, and in addition to running the resource room, I took it upon myself to teach AC her academics. Not only was I able to help her, but she in turn, has helped me improve my signing skills!
Story 21: A recent occurrence for me was when a student was enrolled in my class, late into the 1st nine weeks, and apparently has been through a tough time. When I asked him whether he had a binder, he said he did not. I directed him toward an area of my room where I keep spare notebook binders, and he joyfully looked through the selection and found one he liked. He sat down at his desk and took out all his paperwork from the few days he’d been here and immediately organized them into sections. It was such a pleasure to see that such a small effort on my part made such a huge difference in his ability to feel like he now had a chance to succeed.
Story 22: I bring snacks daily to school and invite kids for lunch with me to have a snack and get missing work completed. I try to twice a month on weekends from my house, call two kids that did something positive and let their parents know through the phone call to connect home to school in a positive manner.
Story 23: I take part of my Saturday and call parents to tell them good things about their children in my class.
Story 24: Mostly I consider it a philosophy to try and make sure my “kids” have a good day; that my room is a safe and happy place to be (many of them don’t have this in their lives.) I consider this to be as important as teaching them English.
Story 25: One year I took my teacher supply fund and bought one student a graphing calculator that was about $100 because she could not afford it and she was someone that should go to college. I didn’t want her to have any excuses plus it put some pressure on her to get an A in math. This was a very big deal for her and it has kept us in touch ever since.
Story 26: We have a student book group that meets at different parks or beaches during the school year and summer (sometimes it is for tutoring or just talk time)
– So far, seven bicycles have been purchased for students with no other transportation and truly live too far from school to walk, or are homeless
– Clothes for students who need some (or need appropriate clothing)
– Gift cards to grocery stores for food for family
– Paid for student lunches
– Visit former students (sometimes current students) in jail to give them books
– Visits to hospitals and funeral homes
– Crocheted “baby things” for expectant mothers (not all, it is a time thing)
– School supplies drive, and/or purchases
Understand, I don’t do these things all the time…only when I can!
Story 27: I always tell my seniors that I understand that the college application process can produce anxiety, and I am ready/willing to help reduce the anxiety. Therefore, I invite students to submit their application essays to me so they can have “another pair of eyes” look the essays over for revision/editing/suggestions.
As I have 126 seniors, there is much anxiety. As a result, very often my planning periods and/or my time after school is taken up meeting with students about everything from picking their brains so they know what to write about to, as mentioned, proofreading their rough drafts.
As an English teacher, I always have a stack (mountain?) of papers that need my attention…..these essays are the ones produced in class. So, I spend a good portion of my free time with the college essays that have nothing to do with the curriculum yet, the very nature of my job (correcting school-based essays and helping students with the college application process) requires me to put in an extra 20-30 hours of my own time; time away from family and leisure
Story 28: This year, one of my colleagues met with a student who had already graduated because he was nervous about going away to college. Even though he wasn’t her student anymore, she still took the time to meet with him and counsel him through his anxiety.
Story 29: We had a student at VBHS (with younger siblings as well) whose electricity had been shut off in the house. The parent had gotten behind on bills and was either going to be evicted or not pay the electric. They picked up extra shifts at their job so they could pay the bill each month but the “back bill” was $300.00 and since they had fallen so far behind the electric company wouldn’t turn it on until the bill was paid in full to date. So I paid the bill. The student doesn’t even know, only the mom.
Story 30: I did help one student who had a pretty severe medical problem and his father just didn’t know what to do. His father spoke very broken English and did not know how our health care system works. So I got his health care card, which is one of the insurances that no one accepts, and called the insurance company and got a list of specialists that took his insurance. I managed to find him a family doctor in Ft. Pierce that took his insurance and he got a wonderful endocrinologist up in Orlando that is now treating him. His father and I got him on partial Hospital Homebound until he is able to get this disease process under control.
Story 31: I always try to send a card home when a student has had a surgery or is sick. I make sure the entire class writes something to their classmate.
I also try to come to their performances at school or in the community.
I have personally tutored some of our minority students for SAT and ACT for no charge to help them make it to the next level.
When my students have been suspended, I have met them at Starbucks or Panera to keep them up to pace so they will not fall behind. The last one about tutoring students who have been suspended would probably upset the administration. It is just so hard in math to be gone for 10 days and come back to be expected to understand what you missed.
Story 32: Everyday they briskly walk to the Cafeteria anxious to eat “SCHOOL LUNCH”. Daily there are hungry students here at VHBS. Certain teachers here daily provide monies and snacks to their hungry students during the day.
Story 33: As the sponsor of National Honor Society, our requirements are a 3.5 unweighted GPA. It does not matter is a student is in AP, Honors, Regular, or ESE classes. I really try to include our ESE population in the induction ceremony.
My favorite memories of the numerous ceremonies over the years involve ESE students and their parents. They are happy to be invited and involved in something “normal” kids do.
One year after the ceremony, a mother came up to me crying and told me that this was the first time her child really felt included in something academic at school. The entire family came to watch and they were able to celebrate what that student accomplished. She thanked me for not excluding her child because he was different. I know that most NHS groups in many schools don’t include or think about including ESE students but I believe it is the right thing to do.
Story 34: Sat with a student every day, all day long for the last week of school to help her complete her ALS courses so she could graduate/walk across the stage. Bought her lunch and snacks each day and offered to give her a ride home.
Story 35: This week I lent/gave three students money so they could eat lunch.
Dear Mr. *******, (student included pics of family and herself)
My heart was filled with joy when I found out that you are still at Vero Beach High School and I really wish I was in high school again, receiving your amazing help. I really wish you are doing great. Katia Betancourt told me she visited you not too long ago. She said that you look great and you still have the great personality you always did. I asked her if she thinks you would remember me and she said, “of course!”
I can imagine how many students you meet and I will not judge you if you do not remember me, it is understandable.
Story 36: I have taken 24+ students to Mexico to bring their language learning to life and promote cultural understanding.
Story 37: This year I have been counseling a male student who suffers from depression (also referred him to guidance). He stops by after school, during lunch and sometimes during my planning. I never refuse to listen or give advice when asked. Throughout my 20+ years I have attended games, shows, events because my students asked me to come. I’ve also bought dozens of car wash, chocolate, and discount tickets to support my students fund raisers. I have also given money to a student so she would not miss lunch. I want my students to know I care and that they are special to me. There is no guarantee that they all get positive affirmation at home.
Story 38: I am the *****secretary, so I see the students first when they come in the door after a heated or angry moment in class. I always try to speak very calmly to them. No reason to add fuel to the fire. I give them a few minutes to cool down, and then ask them nicely to sign in. Many times, they will vent their frustrations, and I listen…… but then I will explain how we face things in life that are hard, but we also must own up to our actions. Because of this, I have actually had teachers call me and say that many of their students who give them grief, will actually ask to come talk to me….. in the students’ words….. “Mrs. **** calms me down.”
Story 39: As a teacher and coach he has come across many kids in different hard situations. On many occasions, he has packed multiple lunches for kids, he has given them lunch money, he has bought underwear, socks, and toiletries for his kids. He has paid for their items if he runs into them or their family at the grocery store, he takes them home from school and picks them up for school. And in years passed we have taken them into our home and gave them a family when they had no family, or just a place to stay when things were bad at home.
Just last year two of his former players were inducted in the Fairhope Hall of Fame, these are a great kid from great families, and both of them honored him in their speeches. Both set of parents sent us letters thanking him for his influence on their sons’ life’s. (he taught them over 15 years ago.)
Story 40: This is Mar Anabell Ledesma Cabanas from Class of 2005. You must remember me by helping me find a place to live when I was kicked out of my guardian’s (cousin) house. Selflessly you helped me by recommending me to Suzanne Egan, a volunteer who accepted me into her home without even knowing me. I was very proud when I received my High School diploma, it was one of my biggest accomplishments due to struggle and situations I went through to obtain it.
I think now it is the perfect moment to THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart for all your help. If it had not been for you, I do not think I could have got my Diploma. I also owe the English I know to you, you always believed in me. I do not go to Vero Beach often. Last time I was there was 3 years ago. It was during winter vacation, school was not operating so I could not find you. I also wanted to visit my Web Design teacher Bobby Miller. I also receive a certificate of accomplishment from her class.
How are the students now? Are they easy to teach? Do you still have the International Club? How is everything in general? There is so much to talk about, 11 years is a long time and a lot of things can happen.
I am very glad I found your email online. You do not have any idea of how happy I am writing this email. I will not continue typing as I know you are a very busy person. Have a great day and I hope to hear back from you.
Story 41: I listen and give advice on personal and life issues that many students come to me with. I also stay in my classroom during lunch to hear and share stories with any student that wants to show up. Most show up every day.
Story 42: I will never forget Mr. Brian **** generosity and thoughtfulness, when he provided a student we shared with hygiene products and clothing. It was a student who suffered from bullying as a result of his weight and his inability to get a shower or clean clothes at home. It was such a simple thing, but made a world of difference for the student. Mr. **** has done this ever since I’ve known him…sharing what he has with those that he sees have a need. He is extremely humble in his efforts, never wanting to be recognized.
Story 43: It may be when Todd, Harry, and I stood in as family for a student who was getting married and her whole family had been deported.
Story 44: In the world of high school each teacher has well over 140 students. There are a few teachers in particular that have gone above and beyond to not just try to meet a student’s academic needs, but they have reached out to help some kids that are struggling with social and emotional issues by reaching out to the parent, guidance counselor and MTSS team. We all know that without basic needs being met, academics with never come. Taking that extra time to build relationships and build kids up is what many of the teachers at VBHS do best. For that, I am proud to be a member of this great team!
Story 45: A student of mine was living in a home with a single parent. His mom had an emergency hospital visit due to lung cancer, and had no transportation to bring himself and his younger sister to visit her. I brought them to the hospital to visit their mom, and help with what they needed. Their mom couldn’t talk, and just cried when they came in the door. She later told me she quit smoking after she saw someone else had to take care of her kids and would never put her kids in that situation again.
Story 46: I have a nice story about a student who was just trying to go “Home”.
I have a female student of Jamaican origin, and she lives in the US with her father, but unfortunately her mother still lives in Jamaica. One day last week (before winter break) she seemed off so I pulled her aside to speak with her.
She opened up and said that she could not afford to pay for a ticket to see her mother this Christmas, she has not been back in over 2 years.
Long story short I gifted her the money to go to Jamaica in return for her smile. J