PHOTOS Profile: Golden Apple teacher says she’s learned about human spirit

Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of six profiles highlighting the 2010 Collier County Golden Apple teachers. There will be one profile per week leading up to the 20th annual Golden Apple Teacher Recognition program presented by Suncoast for Kids Foundation on May 4 at the Philharmonic Center for the Arts. For information, call The Education Foundation at (239) 643-4755. Today: Diane Fontdevila.

Teachers receive Golden Apple Awards

Golden Apple Teachers celebrate Awards

Four teachers receive their Golden Apple awards ...

Golden Apple teacher: Diane Fontdevila

Age: 41

Family: Husband, Al Fontdevila; son, Blake Fontdevila; mother, Sue Paul (currently residing in Missoula, Mont.); and sister, Debbie Nocera

Current position: I have been at Osceola Elementary School since its opening eight years ago. The first three years were spent teaching fourth grade, which included two years with exceptional student education inclusion and one year as gifted inclusion. I then changed positions to reading resource teacher/reading coach. Half of my day was spent teaching at-risk readers in grades two through five, while the other half was spent conducting staff development for (Osceola) staff at all grade levels. Two years ago, I returned to the fourth-grade classroom.

Experience: I have been teaching for the school district of Collier County for 20 years. I was hired to teach fourth grade at Big Cypress Elementary School by Jerry Hartwig, the same principal who I was a student under while attending Naples Park Elementary. I was part of the first staff at Laurel Oak Elementary, our district’s first technology school, then worked as program specialist at Naples Park Elementary for six years; again hired into the position by Jerry Hartwig. I returned to the classroom to teach fourth grade at Osceola Elementary School.

Education: AA degree from Edison Community College; B.S. in elementary education from University of South Florida; M.A. in elementary education, reading emphasis from University of South Florida. I have my ELL and gifted education endorsement and am a National Board Certified Teacher as a Middle Childhood Generalist.

Hometown: Born in Aurora, Ill.

How long have you lived in Naples?: My family moved to Naples the summer of 1974. I grew up in the Naples Park neighborhood and attended Naples Park Elementary, Pine Ridge Middle and Barron Collier High School.

Who will be introducing you at the Golden Apple Awards?: I will be introduced by a current fourth-grade student, Dylan Amisano.

Q. What is my teaching philosophy or style?

A. My teaching philosophy can best be described threefold: Build strong relationships with students, establish a strong work ethic, and provide engaging and challenging work. A strong relationship with students enables me to build student motivation and success. Students perform to their highest potential when emotionally connected to their teacher and their classmates. My classroom is a safe place for all students _ they can focus on their learning and be supported by their classroom family. It is that sense of security that enables me to have students’ minds ready for learning and able to tackle academic challenges. I use my eight “Rules For Living” to establish positive attitudes that create success in school and in life. Developing a strong work ethic is another aspect to student success. Holding students personally accountable in achieving their goals teaches valuable work habits they will need as they further their education and become part of the work force as adults. It is vital for students’ success to be directly related to their own personal effort, attitude, and goals to instill a stronger ownership of their learning. The same applies in situations when students may fall short of their goals. I feel many valuable lessons learned in life are from goals not yet achieved. As the teacher it is imperative that I provide work that is challenging and engaging. This includes seeing the connection between school and the “real world” and providing a variety of learning experiences that require students to think deeply and analytically about their subject matter. Teaching students strategies for learning and problem-solving gives tools they can use in all areas of their school and home lives. I can make the greatest impact on the lives of my students by teaching them how to think and showing every day how important they are to the world.

Q. It was been said that the Golden Apple Award gives teachers a public platform to discuss their profession. What would you like the public to know about your profession?

A. The teaching profession has provided me with intellectual challenges in which I can express my creativity and feel I am making a difference in our world. I have learned a tremendous amount about the human spirit, what motivates others, and overcoming challenges in order to succeed. The positive environment of my school encourages each of us to do our best and to work together for the success of all of our students. It is a privilege to work with so many talented and supportive people; each and every one has impacted both my personal and professional lives. Good teachers teach their students what they need to know to be successful in school; great teachers inspire their students to be their best, entertain their students with creative learning experiences, and motivate their students to capitalize on their talents. I am proud to say I am surrounded by great teachers and love what I do!

Q. What does receiving this award mean to you?

A. The Golden Apple represents community recognition of the great things that are happening in classrooms across our district. By receiving the award, I see myself as an ambassador in the important partnership between our public schools and the business community of Collier County. Through the work of The Education Foundation, many wonderful classroom projects have been funded and supported by local businesses who want our youth to succeed. It is an honor to be able to participate in such a partnership, and to have the chance to communicate the needs of our students from elementary school to high school. I am looking forward to learning more about what our local businesses need from our schools and working to meet those challenges. The Golden Apple also represents an opportunity for professional growth which will ultimately lead to greater success for students. As teachers, continual growth is essential so we may approach our students more effectively on a daily basis. By expanding my opportunities to meet other professionals in the area, I will be able to bring those experiences back to my colleagues and to my students.

Q. Has receiving this award changed you or the way you view your profession?

A. Receiving the Golden Apple has increased my awareness of our local community’s support of our public schools and has created an excitement among my school family. My students and I are in awe by the number of cards, e-mails, and letters we have received. Each and every correspondence represents a person or organization that supports education _ what a valuable lesson for my students! It is my hope that this memorable experience is one that will encourage my students to continue to work hard and to find a career they love as adults.

Q. Who is your role model or mentor?

A. There are three people who have played a pivotal role in my life as mentors, each in a different way. I attribute my career choice to Bob Spano, a current principal, who happened to be my high school softball coach. Coach Spano has an amazing ability to bring out the best in those around him, and to motivate others to reach and exceed high expectations. As a teacher and coach, he saw qualities in me that I had not yet realized and encouraged me on a career path I otherwise may not have taken. In fact, it was his advice I sought when I was close to finishing my first year of college, thinking I would become an accountant. My experience with him has enabled me to look more closely at those around me and to encourage their hidden talents. My strong work ethic and desire to excel are qualities that were nurtured by the principal who hired me into my first teaching position, Jerry Hartwig. He was a rare individual who knew the name of every child in his care, as well as their family history. In fact, when I walked into Big Cypress Elementary as a 21-year-old looking for a teaching position, he not only personally greeted me, but called me by the nickname he gave me when I was an elementary school student of his! If he believed you could achieve something, you knew you would. His support and belief came at a time when I was just entering teaching and made all the difference in the world in building my confidence as a professional. Lastly, creating personal relationships with my students and learning to tap into their special gifts, came from my work with Arliss Perriello, a now-retired guidance counselor, and former Golden Apple recipient. (Perriello) has the ability to nurture the special gifts in people and to teach others how to overcome challenges that life throws their way. (Perriello) opened my eyes to how teaching is so much more than filling a child’s head with facts and figures; that personally connecting with children in a positive and engaging environment can bring such greater rewards. I have been fortunate to have met many wonderful friends and colleagues that have touched my life in many special ways. Through those relationships, it is my hope to “pay it forward” by sharing my life lessons with the students I see every day.

* * * * *

What her principal, Jody Jordan, has to say about her: “She is just an outstanding, amazing teacher. She has the highest level of credibility among all of the staff. She is a fantastic teacher of children and she is a fantastic teachers of adults. She has an amazing ability to break down lessons so that people can understand them and she has a really gifted way of presenting and making things make sense. She is not afraid to try new things. She is a principal’s dream, she really is. She’s one of those teachers that we don’t ever want see leave the classroom because of the impact she makes.”

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