Chamber recognizes students, teachers
The 26th annual Excellence in Education awards, hosted by the Cape Coral Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by Breeze Newspapers took place Tuesday evening at the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre in Fort Myers.
Stand-out students as well as educators from elementary, middle and high schools were honored for their achievements and contributions to their schools and community.
Thirty-one schools, in total, nominated a student and educator to be recognized at the dinner event.
Smooth guitar chords from Dave Byron filled the room as family, friends and colleagues helped themselves to a buffet-style selection of food before the ceremony got started.
Pamela Aubuchon of Breeze Newspapers kicked things off by thanking everyone for coming out to such a wonderful night of recognition for the community’s brightest young minds.
She spoke of ways one can find continued happiness in life, including never forgetting to smile and to always be thankful and gracious for what you have.
The keynote speaker this year was innovative kindergarten teacher at Gulf Elementary Brooke Przespolewski.
“I felt honored when asked to speak here tonight,” Przespolewski said.
“This is their night. I love coming to events that see our teachers and students in the community being honored.”
Przespolewski, a Cape Coral High and FGCU grad, has spent 14 years teaching in Cape Coral and was a 2018 Golden Apple Award recipient, given to teachers making extraordinary contributions to students.
Her speech touched on the many life lessons we learn in kindergarten, such as sharing and being kind to one another, that we may not realize stick with us for the rest of our life.
She says she “teaches outside the box,” implementing her “smart seat” program which lets her kindergarten students choose their seats throughout the day based on how they feel and what they are learning at the time.
“Giving kids choices,” is something Przespolewski feels strongly about, but that they must stick with those choices once made.
Her students’ test scores have risen over the last three years, and she believes technology is not in the future, but in the present.
“This is a very personal career. We chose this life not for the money, but to make a difference,” Przespolewski added at the end of her speech.
Each student and educator recognized received a plaque to commemorate their outstanding efforts, with high school students each receiving $1,000 in scholarship money to go along with their hardware.
Caloosa Elementary fourth grader Kristian Wydysh looked especially sharp for the evening program and was elated he was chosen as his school’s representative.
“This is very special to me, a great honor,” Wydysh said.
“It’s amazing I was chosen out of the 500 kids in my school,” he said.
Wydysh says his biggest influence is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“I learned about him in kindergarten; he stood up for what he believed in and was extremely courageous,” he said of his role model.
Wydysh belongs to his school’s drama club, student news and safety patrol.
His hobbies include reading, writing, swimming, music and spending time with his friends and family.
“I’m extremely proud; he’s a great kid,” said Kimberly Summers, Wydysh’s mother.
Wydysh had perfect attendance all of his fourth grade year, was a three-time student of the month and was named fourth grade top male in music.
One of the educators receiving an award was Patriot Elementary teacher Heather Howdyshell.
Howdyshell made Cape Coral home in 2011, and has been teaching in the area for seven years.
She works in a co-teach classroom at Patriot.
“This is a really big honor,” Howdyshell said. “It’s great encouragement. It means what you do matters, it gives you the spark to keep going and to continue all of the hard work you have put in.”
Cape Coral High School senior Caleigh Kenna-Shadrick is an involved student and role model to her younger brothers, to say the least.
Kenna-Shadrick has compiled many academic and athletic accolades over her high school career, including National Honor Society, Scholar Athlete Society, nominee for Lee County player of the year (2016, lacrosse), Principals Nest award and A-honor roll in 2017 just to name a few.
She has also been a part of Relay for Life, Hurricane Irma community clean-up and food drives.
“It’s amazing to see all of my hard work pay off,” Kenna-Shadrick said.
“It’s an honor, I didn’t expect it. I’m motivated to work not because I want to, but because I know that’s what I need to do.”
That kind of mentality is what makes her so successful and she hopes to pass that on to her siblings.
“My four younger brothers look up to me, I inspire them. I make them work harder, and I hope they can see that hard work pays off,” she added.
“Proud. If one word could sum it up, it would be proud,’ said Amanda Shadrick of her daughter.
Kenna-Shadrick plans to attend Catawba College, enrolled in their pre-medicine program.
For Island Coast High School senior Alexa Roberts, overcoming new surroundings was a challenge she met head-on.
“I just moved to Florida in November, and I was afraid my academic studies would falter because of this new adjustment I had to make,” said Roberts.
An honor-roll student since ninth grade, Roberts has graduated summa cum laude and is involved in Beta club, National English Honors Society and Fashion club.
Her hobbies include singing, dancing, playing the piano and writing/journalism.
“It feels good to be recognized here tonight, definitely not something I expected. I have my parents, friends and family rooting for me and their support has been tremendous,” said Roberts.
Her mother, Sephron Roberts, was all smiles in talking about her daughter being recognized.
“It’s amazing, she makes me so proud. Being summa cum laude and all of her other achievements are wonderful. She’s an amazing kid.”
Roberts plans to attend Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee where she will be studying teaching English to speakers of other languages.
Cape Coral Chamber of Commerce Education Department chair Sandy Silva said the night is all about our wonderful students and educators.
“We love to recognize our students and educators, we always put on different events to benefit our students in the city,” Silva said.
“We give scholarships to our seniors by raising money through ‘Taste of the Cape’ and other sponsors.”
The Chamber also granted a $2000 need-based scholarship to Eliana Jacobs of Mariner High School.
“It’s a great time to bring everyone together from so many different schools so that they can get to know each other. Students can meet students, teachers can meet teachers, and see the faces of their supporters and sponsors who make this all possible,” Silva added.