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‘Excellence in Education Awards’ presented

By Staff | May 2, 2019

It was a night of recognition in the field of education Monday night at the Broadway Palm Dinner Theater in Fort Myers, as 30 teachers and students were highlighted for their outstanding accomplishments in the classroom.

The 27th annual Excellence in Education Awards, held by the Cape Coral Chamber of Commerce’s Education Committee and sponsored by the Breeze Newspapers, made for a night of smiles and helped further the scholastic ventures of high school seniors as they embark on their next journey.

Students and educators from the elementary, middle, high school and college level were honored, the majority from the West Zone of the school district which includes Cape Coral and North Fort Myers.

The Mariner Middle and Challenger Middle Jazz Bands played smooth tones as guests and awards winners enjoyed buffet style food and dessert.

Pamela Aubuchon of the 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.

This year’s keynote speaker was Ida Baker’s Dr. Pat Hanrahan.

He spoke of Philo Farnsworth, who was an American inventor and television pioneer who overcame his own obstacles in life, but persevered as one of the brilliant minds of our time.

“You students have demonstrated how to persevere and how to overcome hurdles to achieve your goals,” Hanrahan said. “You will show the world things and take the world places that haven’t even been dreamed about yet. You’ll be the authors of your own history and all of our destiny.”

Hanrahan, a former lawyer turned teacher, was a 2018 Golden Apple recipient, an award given to teachers who make extraordinary contributions to students.

He encouraged the students in attendance to ask questions, to learn through different portals and to continue to persevere and overcome hurdles.

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.

Cape Coral High School’s Grace Altidor was among those recognized for her achievements.

Altidor has a long list of accomplishments, including being a part of the Student Government Association, National Honor Society, Coding Club, Creative Writing Club, Future Business Leaders of America and more.

“I’m really grateful for being recognized here tonight. I didn’t really expect it, but I’m really thankful. I’m happy to be rewarded for my hard work,” said Altidor.

She also enjoys volleyball, basketball, track, photography and volunteering at Gulf Coast Village and Cape Coral Hospital.

She’s grateful for her scholarship money, as she plans to attend either the University of Miami or George Washington University, double-majoring in chemistry and biomedical sciences.

“To me, this scholarship means a lot because I’ll be able to pay for college, something I might not have been able to do before,” she said. “My future plans are to study chemistry as my major and to go on into the medical field.”

She said her parents are the driving force behind her ambitions.

“My inspiration, I’d have to say, are my parents and my family, being that they came from a foreign country of Haiti and just being the strong people that they are in furthering their education,” said Altidor. “I believe that I can do it as well.”

Ida Baker High School senior Jesus Rodriguez-Concepcion has lofty goals set out for himself that include prominent roles in government going forward.

Rodriguez-Concepcion is involved in organization such as Key Club, American Red Cross, Kindness Club, City of Cape Coral Youth Council, Student Government, Kiwanis, Lee County Student Advisory Committee and more.

“Tonight feels really amazing to be recognized out of all the students in our school. It’s an honor and a privilege to do a lot for our community, and not just for our community, but for our high school as well. Not just me, but every other student also deserves something like this as long as they work hard,” he said.

He believes that hard work pays off, and is humbled by scholarship money that will help him pursue schooling in communications and business management with a focus on public administration from Florida SouthWestern and Florida Gulf Coast University.

“Every little bit helps. As long as you just keep up the hard work. There will be good days and bad days. As long as you keep up the effort, the scholarship will definitely help you. If you put in all the work and effort, you’ll definitely succeed anywhere in life you go,” Rodriguez-Concepcion said.

Who inspires him the most?

“My driving force is my family,” he said.

Other than his family, a neighbor from childhood has instilled in him, from a young age, what it means to be a good citizen.

“They’ve helped me out so much from the time I was in elementary school until now. They’ve kind of led me to the right and correct path. Without them I honestly probably wouldn’t be here today,” he said of Joy and Brad Barber.

He hopes to run for the office of mayor of Cape Coral, and eventually, a pronounced role such as governor or senator -though he won’t stop there.

“My ultimate goal is to become the president of the United States of America,” Rodriguez-Concepcion said.

Sharply dressed Jamison Kohl was recognized from Patriot Elementary.

He belongs to organizations such as Safety Patrol, Patriot Pioneers, Math Team, Choir, Good News Club, Book Club and more.

“It feels good. It feels like an honor to be here,” Kohl said.

Kohl won fifth place in his math competition, the three million words award and achieved a perfect score on the third and fourth grade Florida Standards Assessments.

His favorite hobbies include reading, sports and animals.

“I like reading. Harry Potter are my favorite books to read,” he said.

Steve Irwin is his biggest inspiration and he one day hopes top be a field biologist because he loves plans and animals.

One educator recognized at the awards dinner was Carrie Guffy from Oasis High School. Guffy is the theater/chorus/drama teacher and brings 20 years of experience to the table.

“It’s nice,” she said of being named as the representative from Oasis. “After teaching for so long it’s really good to have that recognition when you’ve put a lot of stuff into everything that you do.”

She said going to work every day is a breeze.

“I have the greatest students and I absolutely love getting up. I drive an hour to work every day and I’m smiling all the way there — and singing usually. But I love coming to work every day,” said Guffy.

The Oasis theater program is in its infancy, and Guffy said she enjoys the challenge of bringing things to life.

“It’s what I do. It’s what I love. Being able to build something from scratch that’s truly yours — and just to show what you’ve done and to show what the students are capable of, even at a small school, it makes them want to continue on and that’s what my job is,” she said.

A special scholarship was presented to a Junior Leadership student in the name of Cindy Gallagher, who passed away from cancer in November of last year.

Jimmy Lu, from Ida Baker High School, was awarded the scholarship by an emotional Chamber President Donna Germain and Chamber Membership Services Director, Laura Koehn.

“I feel very honored to be here. I know the background of Junior Leadership and I really enjoyed my time there. I really liked it. I feel really honored to receive this scholarship and to be the first one elected for it,” said Lu.

He plans to attend Florida State University to major in Electrical Engineering.

Lu hopes to be a proponent in combating global warming, something that stuck out to Koehn in her decision making process to award the scholarship.

“I would really like to thank Junior Leadership and Cape Coral Chamber for giving me this opportunity and scholarship, because it will help me out a lot,” said Lu.