Top 15

Don Jackson

Position: Principal

School: Grapeland Elementary School

School District: Grapeland ISD

City, State: Grapeland, Texas

About the Nominee: Don Jackson was nominated by his spouse, Darlene Jackson.

Grapeland Elementary School is a PK-5th grade campus located in rural East Texas. Nearly 80% of the students struggle financially. Regardless, Mr. Jackson has come in and set high expectations for his campus.

The first thing Mr. Jackson instituted was a dress code that required the students to wear collared shirts to school with jeans and khaki pants or shorts. This initiative was matched by the teachers being asked to not wear jeans to school except on Fridays for spirit day. This initiative was created because of the importance of appearance and self-esteem.

Next, Mr. Jackson sought out to establish clubs on campus that would enrich student culture. The teachers were asked to nominate students who were leaders in their classrooms to become ambassadors for the campus and represent Grapeland Elementary in events around town. The ambassadors meet each Tuesday, go to local businesses, attend school board meetings and played an instrumental role in promoting a bond election for our school.

The next club Mr. Jackson formed was called Young Businessmen. This group of young men meets each Thursday and must wear a tie and khaki pants to school. Local businessmen from town are brought in to meet with them and teach the importance of having great character and getting a great education. As a reward for their good behavior, Mr. Jackson stays after school with the students on Thursdays so they can perform a community service task around the school and have recreational play.

Mr. Jackson has also instituted a choir club, a book club and a club for GT students. The students at Grapeland Elementary are taught character along with the curriculum and start each day with a motivational message from Mr. Jackson. During announcements, he is known to either play a song or break out into a song on the PA system. Each Wednesday, students in 2nd-5th grade gather in the gym for a 15-minute motivational message from the principal. The students are taught life lessons that are aimed to inspire them to be great students to create aspirations for a lifetime. This program is called REACH (Relationships, Encouragement, Attitudes, Coaching and Help).

Finally, Mr. Jackson has established a program that has students stretching and reaching their way to success. The program is called Triple A, which stands for Attendance, Attitudes and Academics. Students who have no absences, above a 90 in conduct and at least a 75 or higher in all classes are recognized as Triple A and get to go on a fun field trip every 6 weeks.

In conclusion, Mr. Jackson is committed to being a role model his students will look up to and be inspired by. His monthly callout to his students’ parents, as well as the awards assemblies he holds each 6-week period, keep the halls filled with parental involvement. He even finds time to call students who are absent from school each day to let them know how they are missed. This connection with his community is further enhanced by working directly with the schools' PTO group which is 70 strong.

The staff at Grapeland Elementary School will tell you that they are supported and have a voice in the collaboration of principles and practices. Working together, Mr. Jackson and his staff have become a collaborative force. It is apparent that Mr. Jackson looks, listens, learns, leads and loves his students, staff and parents. He is a powerful, personable, professional and positive difference-maker who is a communicator, collaborator, and connector while remaining calm, cool, collected and careful in dealing with all people. This principal makes a difference by being visible, available, approachable and accessible. His humble beginning as a child of a single mother has created a man with high energy, effort and enthusiasm.

Billy Carroll

Position: Robotics Engineering Teacher

School: Moss Point Career and Technical Education Center

School District: Moss Point School District

City, State: Moss Point, Mississippi

About the Nominee: Billy Carroll was nominated by a friend and former colleague, Nikki Cunningham.

Although Mr. Carroll wears many hats during the school year, he primarily serves as the Robotics Engineering Instructor at the Moss Point Career and Technical Education Center. Mr. Carroll has been employed by the Moss Point School District (MPSD) since August 2008. MPSD is located in Moss Point, MS. It's a Title I school district that serves 2,273 students, 96% of which qualify for free or reduced priced lunch. MPSD students face many challenges and do not have the same opportunities as other students in more affluent school districts. In spite of these challenges, Mr. Carroll has demonstrated the ability to make a beneficial difference in the lives of students, add to the development and production of a positive and nurturing school atmosphere, provide leadership within the school, perform at a professional level and adhere to high moral and ethical standards.

In addition to serving as the Robotics Engineering instructor, Mr. Carroll is the founder and coach of the Moss Point STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Team. The MP STEM Team is the first academic-based team in the district, but it faces financial difficulties. To overcome this dilemma, Mr. Carroll began writing grants. Since 2012, Mr. Carroll has written and received over $53,000.00 in grants to support the Robotics Engineering program and the MP STEM Team. The funds from these grants have been used to make a beneficial difference in the lives of students.

Mr. Carroll also served on the PBIS (Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports) Committee. It was the first program of its kind in the district. As committee member and eventual committee chair, Mr. Carroll was tasked with the responsibility of creating a positive school atmosphere. Intrinsic rewards were implemented to reinforce desired student and teacher behavior. To fund the PBIS program, Mr. Carroll wrote a grant to start the first toner/inkjet recycling program in the district. Proceeds from the sale of the recycled products were used to purchase PBIS rewards. As the only member that has remained on the PBIS Committee from the time it started in 2012 until 2015, Mr. Carroll has made a firm commitment to producing a positive and nurturing atmosphere.

Mr. Carroll began working in MPSD in August 2008. Since that time, he has provided strong leadership within his school and district. For example, Mr. Carroll served as the: • School Lead Teacher since 2012 • ClassDojo District Wide Mentor since 2014 • School Teacher Mentor in 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2014 • Member of the MPSD Superintendents Advisory Committee in 2009, 2012-2014 • Member of MPSD Technology Committee from 2008-2012

Mr. Carroll has a record of excellent performance at the professional level. He has earned an Associate’s Degree in Liberal Arts, a Bachelor’s Degree in Business, a Master’s Degree in Education, a Specialists Degree in Leadership and is currently working on his dissertation to earn a Doctorate in Administration while maintaining a 4.0 GPA at the Doctorate level. Every one of Mr. Carroll's students passed the MS-CPAS2 (Mississippi Career Planning and Assessment System) state test in Engineering. As a result, his program scored 3rd out of 46 Engineering programs in Mississippi. In 2016, twelve South Mississippi teachers were honored for using innovation in the classroom. Mr. Carroll, was one of the recipients. The teachers received the prestigious Leo W. Seal Innovative Teacher Award.

Mr. Carroll strictly adheres to high moral and ethical standards. He is always at work and continually seeks professional development to become a better teacher. He does not entertain gossip and always conducts himself in a very professional manner. Mr. Carroll is not the type of educator who “hangs around the water fountain” at work. He is well respected by his colleagues. When people need help, he is their “Go-To Guy.” Ms. Cunningham states that if it wasn’t for Mr. Carroll, she would not be where she is today. Her former colleagues would have a difficult time performing their jobs. Many students have been able to experience things for their very first time in Mr. Carroll's class, and that's why he's a LifeChanger!

Richard Hurt

Position: JROTC Instructor

School: Cape Henlopen High School

School District: Cape Henlopen School District

City, State: Lewes, Delaware

About the Nominee: Any educator worth their weight in salt is an on-going LifeChanger. Sergeant Richard Hurt is the perfect example of on-going LifeChanger. Based on the sheer number of lives he has changed for the better and the degree to which he changed them, he is worth his weight in gold. Sergeant Hurt is a JROTC instructor for 9th graders. In this capacity, he has been, and continues to be, a positive influence on hundreds of young men and women. When these 9th graders move on to higher grades, they still seek out “Sarge” as a mentor, confidant and life advisor. His relationship with most of these students continues into adulthood, where “Sarge” is still checking in on them and pushing them to be better.

Sergeant Hurt has a larger than life personality, and all of his students respond to his guidance and positive, "anything is possible" attitude. He is the coach and advisor for a variety of after school activities such as Drill Team, Raider Team, Color Guard and an Academic/ Leadership Challenge Team. All of these teams are regularly awarded for their excellence or winning major competitions. Sergeant Hurt spends countless hours after school working with these students to pursue excellence. At the same time, he mentors them to help improve their self-image and beliefs about their prospects for the future. His students perform a tremendous amount of community service, and on every occasion, Sarge is always the first one there, modeling his positive, highly contagious attitude. His students were recently awarded a National Jefferson Award for community service for the 5th year in a row.

Sergeant Hurt definitely has an impact on all students who come into contact with him, but there are certain stories in particular that make him a LifeChanger.

One student came back to Cape Henlopen High School from juvenile detention, and Sarge immediately took that student under his wing. The student believed his life was ruined and could find no hope for the future. Sarge mentored him and worked with him for four years, and upon graduation, the student was accepted into the Army, where he continues to gain rank and flourish. Other students have thought that their only life path was to join the military, but Sarge guided them down a path that led to college, where they are now extremely successful. Sarge also works with his school's AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program, and last year, he insisted that a student apply for a scholarship sponsored by Dell. This student dragged her feet, but Sergeant Hurt kept insisting that she was good enough and convinced her to complete the application. Unsurprisingly, she won a $20,000 scholarship from Dell to attend college, where she is now working on a degree in international affairs. Additionally, Sarge has purchased more food and clothes for students than can be calculated, as well as a handsome suit for a student who was trying to attend prom.

The bottom line is that Sergeant Richard Hurt has been, and continues to be, the epitome of a LifeChanger. There are so many students who come back to visit him, share their successes and show off their families to him. He changes the lives of everyone he comes into contact with, and the students are proud to come back and let him know and thank him. Sarge changes lives for the better with his positive attitude and his focus on what can be done, rather than what can’t be done. A one-page nomination does not do him justice, according to his nominator, but his students can tell the whole story.

Pamela Fowler

Position: Adapted Physical Education Facilitator / Special Olympics Coach

School: Grand Prairie Schools

School District: Grand Prairie Independent School District

City, State: Grand Prairie, Texas

About the Nominee: Pamela Fowler was nominated by Rhonda Brown-Crowder, the parent of a student.

It is on the rarest occasion that any of us are fortunate enough to live to see the legacy and impact our actions have had in the lives of others. Pamela Fowler, also known as "Coach Pam," is one of those privileged few to see the impact of her life's work, now, in the present. After coaching the Special Olympics team for the past 30 years, Coach Pam has decided this year will be her last year in the Grand Prairie School District. Ms. Brown-Crowder states that she cannot think of anyone more deserving of recognition than Coach Pam.

As a parent of a child with Special Needs, Ms. Brown-Crowder says that it is rare to find someone who cares about her son's identity, future, well-being and self-esteem as much as she does. Coach Pam not only challenges her students, but she makes them feel loved and valued and shows them they matter. Over the course of a 30 year career, she has worked with thousands of children at all ages and stages of abilities.

During her career, Coach Pam has worked tirelessly with numerous schools to set up Peer Partner Programs where mainstream students, even as young as age eight, can partner with special needs students to work with them during recess and physical education classes. The goal of these programs is to help special needs students work on improving their physical skills. The older peer partners are allowed to travel to the track meets with the Special Olympics Athletes to assist them on the day of the meets. Their presence provides a great level of comfort for the district's special needs students. These programs are not only beneficial in helping students in their growth and development, but they are also instilling compassion in the mainstream students who are providing the assistance. What a wonderful way for Coach Pam to impact today's students and future generations by getting them to care for the needs of others!

During standardized testing at Grand Prairie Independent School District (GPISD), the students have limited movement throughout the building to minimize distractions. This request is understandable, but it can be difficult for special needs students to remain in a classroom all day without becoming anxious. In order to create a calmer situation for the special needs students, who were not testing, Coach Pam spearheaded an offsite field trip for them at a local jump facility. The students were bused over from the school and had full access to the facility for a few hours. They loved it!

Ms. Brown-Crowder's son is one of the youngest Olympians. In the short time he has worked with Coach Pam, he has already demonstrated tremendous growth, calmness, focus and excitement. She inspires all of the athletes to do more and to be more. She doesn't lower her expectations because of their disabilities, but rather raises her expectations to a level that she knows each of them can meet.

Coach Pam is a humble, yet mighty leader. Everything she does with her students is impactful and lasting. She not only treats her students with care, but goes above and beyond to create a relationship with their parents and family members. Coach Pam stresses to parents the importance of them being involved in the lives of their children, and how doing so will contribute to their success.

GPISD Director of Special Education Dr. Dorothea Gordon, Ed.D. stated the following: “It is such an honor to have Coach Pam Fowler on our team! She is truly the epitome of servant leadership. It is her calling. Her unwavering dedication to our scholar athletes, parents, community and our team is embedded in all she does. It is in her DNA! She was honored as the 2013 Texas Special Olympics Coach of the year. In her six years of service to GPISD, she has grown the Special Olympics program from three sports with minimal participation to 13 sports servicing 300 scholar athletes, even two from Arlington ISD. Our program is revered not only in Area 10, but across the state of Texas. Area 10 coaches seek her guidance. Coach Pam is truly our Community LifeChanger.”

As Ms. Brown-Crowder and her son were leaving track practice one day, Coach Pam thanked her for allowing her to coach her son. Coach Pam's use of the word, "allow" touched Ms. Brown-Crowder very deeply. In a world where special needs parents are doing all that they can to make sure their children feel loved and are accepted by the mainstream world, the word said it all. "Allow" spoke to Coach Pam's character, to her life's work and focus, to her dedication and commitment in what she does, to her heart and her pursuit to help others and let them know they matter. It is a memory that continues to bring tears to Ms. Brown-Crowder's eyes.

Johanna Lopez

Position: World Languages Resource Teacher

School: Orange County Public Schools

School District: Orange County Public Schools

City, State: Orlando, Florida

About the Nominee: Johanna Lopez was nominated by Orange County Public Schools superintendent, Barbara Jenkins. “Crecemos juntos.” Or, in English, “We grow together.”

That is the philosophy of Johanna Lopez when she enters her classroom. She has been teaching at Colonial High School since 1999, and she believes that caring teachers and an appreciation for one’s culture are key ingredients for student success.

In her case, it shows. During the 2014-15 school year, 100 percent of her Advanced Placement (AP) Spanish students passed their AP Spanish exams. Ms. Lopez also helped increase the enrollment in AP Spanish to more than 400 students in a record 12 AP Spanish classes, up from less than 100 a few short years ago.

If you sit in on any of her classes, you’ll see why. She makes every student feel valued and loved, and that they can achieve anything they want. “I feel so honored to be a teacher,” Lopez says, “not only because I’m inspired by my students, but also because I can inspire them to find their path with dignity, pride and confidence.”

Success in the classroom is only part of the approach that Ms. Lopez takes to change the lives of her students. As the creator and advisor of the Hispanic Honor Society, she steered the group towards completing more than 2,100 hours of community service. Additionally, through work with Mi Familia Vota, Ms. Lopez held a voter registration drive that resulted in more than 500 Colonial High School students becoming new voters.

The commitment Ms. Lopez has for her students was recently recognized when she was named as the Orange County Public Schools Teacher of the Year. She was selected among 186 other nominees from schools across the district.

Ms. Lopez is the first Hispanic Teacher in the history of the Florida district to be honored. She will now serve as the district’s nominee for the 2017 Florida Department of Education/Macy’s Teacher of the Year.

Ms. Lopez is dedicated, service-minded and passionate about ensuring that her students grow intellectually and as leaders in our community. She has changed the lives of countless students for nearly two decades, and her drive for teaching is worthy of honor.

James Shelton

Position: Graphic Arts Teacher

School: Nagel Middle School

School District: Forest Hills School District

City, State: Cincinnati, Ohio

About the Nominee: James (JT) Shelton has worked for Forest Hills School District since 2011, starting as a paraprofessional working with special needs students before becoming the Graphic Arts teacher in 2013. He is also the seventh grade Assistant Football Coach and Head Wrestling Coach for grades 7 and 8. Additionally, he was asked last year to pioneer a local lacrosse club for seventh and eighth grade boys who had no previous experience with the sport. The new lacrosse club was much needed in the community, as the district only offers lacrosse as a high school sport. Mr. Shelton hopes to help prepare those who are interested in lacrosse for a higher level of play and ease their transition into high school athletics. Teaching fundamentals from the ground up and working with the club's founder to grow and develop their presence in the community, they hope to eventually transition the club into a school-sponsored team. Mr. Shelton firmly believes that keeping students active and involved in sports will not only lead to better physical and mental health, but also teach them basic life skills such as responsibility, time management, communication and how to successfully work with peers and authority figures.

In addition to pioneering the lacrosse club, Mr. Shelton worked with a fellow teacher to successfully develop new curriculum and implement the first year of a new class they created called Broadcast Journalism. The class covers cinematography, video/sound editing and film production, and it can be taken in addition to Graphic Arts. This class has already provided a deeper education and practice for students interested in related careers, as well as the opportunity to travel and submit work to city-wide award programs such as the coveted “Golden Lion Awards.”

Aside from these things, Mr. Shelton has served as a representative on the district’s safety committee and participates each October in Nagel’s student vs. faculty volleyball game to raise awareness for breast cancer. At the end of last school year, he was anonymously nominated by a student to attend the GLSEN (Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network) Educator Appreciation Reception. He very humbly considers it a great honor to be viewed as such a trusted and supportive teacher by students in the LGBTQ community.

During his few years at Nagel, Mr. Shelton has volunteered his time and talents, not only to his students, but to faculty and staff as well. His days begin with helping direct school traffic - even in the bitter Cincinnati winter months. They have ended many times with a short mentoring session with a student interested in improving their art skills or wanting to learn more about career opportunities in the field. He has met with students after school, on weekends and even during the summer to work on different projects. Mr. Shelton seems to have a real knack for fostering an environment where everyone "fits in" and feels comfortable in a class where creativity and individuality are highly encouraged. Often times, he is asked to assist the school and district by creating and designing graphics and logos for various events. His work can been found on the school's yearbook covers, banners and backgrounds for plays and productions, updated team mascot logos for several sports and many, many t-shirts.

One thing Mr. Shelton takes great pride in is the relationship he has developed with the local Mercy Hospital in conjunction with his class. For the past two years, he has worked with administrators at the hospital (which has been under construction) to create a design project for his students. The students would receive instructions from the hospital’s architect and graphic designer regarding a room needing an interior design layout. Then, they would work in small groups guided by Mr. Shelton and create a full student-led presentation to present to the hospital’s design team. The project has been highly successful and popular with the students and was featured on the local news both years. Mr. Shelton believes it is a prime opportunity for his students to learn how to create and give professional presentations before reaching higher levels of education.

Mr. Shelton is a young educator who is highly involved and clearly takes pride in the job he holds at his district. He consistently demonstrates the desire to want more for his students and athletes. Many of them have been impacted in ways they likely don’t even realize, and there is more to come. Mr. Shelton and his wife have some big things going on in their personal lives, yet he still plans to begin his MA in Graphic Design this winter to further his breadth of knowledge and bring it into his classroom. He is a fantastic mentor, teacher, coach and colleague who is always looking for new opportunities to get involved in his district, help his community, and most importantly, provide unbelievable opportunities for his students. Mr. Shelton possesses a rare level of pure intentions for such a young educator. There are bright things ahead in the future for him and the students who have the privilege to call him teacher or coach!

Ruthie Rayner

Position: Principal

School: Stanley Hupfeld Academy At Western Village

School District: Oklahoma City Public Schools

City, State: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

About the Nominee: Ruthie Rayner is an inspiration to her staff! She is a selfless leader from the bottom of her feet to the top of her head. Ms. Rayner is a "roll-your-sleeves-up" kind of principal who works in the trenches, side-by-side with all staff, whether it is the custodian, kitchen staff, paraprofessionals or teachers. She does not expect her staff to do anything she wouldn’t do. She is both a kid’s principal and a teacher’s principal.

Prior to her current role, she was an assistant principal at a school in an affluent suburban district. She chose to take on the role of principal in a challenging, urban, Title I school because she considers Stanley Hupfeld Academy her calling and her home. Many of the school's students do not come equipped with everything they need to be successful. Students often come to school without their most basic needs being met, and the demands of this school are high. Ms. Rayner tackles these challenges head-on.

First, she recognizes that the students' basic needs are a high priority and must be met before learning can take place. She provides her staff with professional development that supports the issues they run into daily, such as hunger, learning differentiation, healthy diets and giving students hope for the future. Then, she recognizes that everyone has something important to contribute and taps into her best resource – her staff. Ms. Rayner recognizes her staff's talents, supports their needs and encourages their growth. She creates an environment that makes both staff and students want to go above and beyond because that is the behavior and attitude she displays. Her excitement is contagious! She organizes, operates and acquires donations for an "incentive store" where students can buy prizes from behavior tickets they earn from the Positive Behavior Intervention Model (PBIS) program. What an inspiration! It was contagious when she implemented “Watch D.O.G.S – Dads of Great Students,” and the Parents as Partners volunteer program. It’s infectious when the school has family events and Ms. Rayner personally sets up the chairs at the beginning of the night and takes them down after the event. This tells her community that she is there for them the long run.

When a teacher at Stanley Hupfeld has concerns with students, Ms. Rayner is always there to support and promote what is best for the student. She holds and attends weekly Professional Learning Community meetings to foster collaboration among the staff. She helps them look at interventions and progress data from students that have been identified to be at-risk with reading or math difficulties. When she meets with staff, she doesn’t simply ask questions about their data. She listens to them and brainstorms with them to come up with solutions that best fit the needs of each child. She knows classroom and pedagogical techniques across all grade levels. Ms. Rayner continues to maintain her own National Board Teaching credential, even when she doesn’t benefit from the financial incentive. Most importantly, the genuine connection she maintains with “teaching” instead of “management” lets her staff know that she values their work and knows their struggles.

Ms. Rayner has been seen picking up trash on the school grounds, planting and harvesting vegetables in the raised garden beds with students from a “Growing Up Green” grant she wrote, meeting with parents, teaching a science lesson, covering recess duty and running car pool duty, all in the course of a couple of hours! She is never in her office and is always out and about. If that isn’t enough hats for her to wear, Ms. Rayner also works tirelessly at promoting the school’s mentoring program, as well as being a public representative to support many initiatives that give students extracurricular opportunities, including the Ballroom Dancing program, Eagle Entertainers and various sports teams. The list of things she does for her school is endless. She is always teaching, learning, and promoting Stanley Hupfeld's mission!

Todd Higashi

Position: Science/PE Teacher

School: Alameda Science & Technology Institute

School District: Alameda Unified School District

City, State: Alameda, California

About the Nominee: Todd Higashi lives, breathes and walks “LifeChanger” every day; he is the eyes, ears, and heart of Alameda Science and Technology Institute (ASTI), and his impact on students, inside and outside the classroom, is remarkable. At ASTI, which has only 9 staff members total, Mr. Higashi wears many hats. He teaches Biology, Media Studies, Physical Education and Current Life, and he also serves as the school’s Safe Schools Site Coordinator, Yearbook Advisor and founder of ASTI’s community garden. Mr. Higashi embraces ASTI’s Early College High School mission and vision to make college a viable option to all students, particularly low-income, first generation students of color. He is often the last person to leave ASTI in the evening, and can be found on many weekends and over school breaks helping students work on the yearbook and tend to the garden. Mr. Higashi cares deeply about his students and goes above and beyond to provide them with learning opportunities that extend beyond the classroom.

He embeds his talents and passion for his subjects into his curriculum, engaging students and making learning matter. In Media Studies, he shares his love for photography and gives students a space to cultivate their own creativity. He brings latent talents alive in students. For example, a series of photography assignments led Mr. Higashi to discover the incredible talent of one of his 12th grade students, whose photographs now grace official school postcards used to send positive notes home to parents.

In PE, his lessons thoughtfully engage students of all athletic abilities. For the dance final, 9th & 10th graders are grouped and given a dance rubric, although they get to choose what song they dance to and the choreography style. The final culminates in a dance showcase that empowers even the shyest and most uncoordinated students. Students care deeply about this final project, spending countless hours practicing their routines in the quad after school and over Thanksgiving break.

Mr. Higashi’s greatest contribution to ASTI is the school garden. Years ago, he had a vision to take a piece of land next to school and turn it into a community garden. This took over a year of planning, grant writing and partnering with community members. Mr. Higashi and his students worked tirelessly during the year to create a beautiful, seasonal, organic garden that the students in his Green Club oversee. From building planter boxes to teaching students about different types of soil, seeds, and ways of organic farming, Mr. Higashi has created an outdoor classroom where students have the opportunity to learn about hands-on gardening, the environment and nutrition. Students work into the evening, watering plants, pulling weeds and harvesting fruits and vegetables. Mr. Higashi works the garden into his biology curriculum, giving students the opportunity to plant crops of their choice and test hypotheses about factors impacting the growth of their plant. Being around Mr. Higashi inspires colleagues to examine their own work and think about how they can do more do address the needs of ASTI students.

Students tending the garden include quieter ones who are typically more comfortable on the sidelines. If a student is going through stress and hardship at home, they use the garden as a peaceful place of refuge from the difficulties of their personal lives. All kinds of students tend to the garden, from those who struggle academically to those who have a hard time fitting in with their peers socially. Mr. Higashi created a space where all students feel welcomed and valued, and has given an opportunity to all students to contribute positively to their school community. He is also changing the way students think about food, nutrition, farming and their impact on the environment. One afternoon, a student walked away with a turnip saying she had never tasted it before and did not know how to prepare it. Mr. Higashi taught her how to roast the vegetable she had just pulled from the garden, expecting her to let him know how it tasted the next day.

He cares deeply for each student’s socio-emotional well-being. Students describe him as patient, kind and encouraging. He creates relationships of trust with all his students. He listens to them, and they feel comfortable discussing difficult personal topics in his presence. Mr. Higashi is often the first person whom a student has ever opened up to. Many counseling meetings about personal student concerns are a direct result of his referrals. He provides an emotional safety net for students.

Michele Mohl

Position: SAI Teacher/School-Based Team Leader/Teacher on Assignment

School: Palmetto Elementary School

School District: Palm Beach Schools

City, State: West Palm Beach, Florida

About the Nominee: Michelle Mohl was nominated by her principal, Gladys Harris.

Michelle Mohl is currently a Teacher on Assignment (TOSA) who goes above and beyond the call of duty. She is responsible for assisting administration and is available to assist anyone who needs her. She mentors teachers, assists the children in Palmetto Elementary’s EBD unit, and has even opened a bike shop where students are able to fix bikes and donate them to families in need.

Ms. Mohl is also responsible for overseeing fifth grade patrols and helping each of them attain their goal of going on the fifth grade Washington D.C. trip. She helps them with fundraising and finding donors who would be willing to sponsor their trip. In many ways, raising this kind of money is a full time job.

Ms. Mohl works late hours and weekends to help her students and their families. She has coordinated garage sales and school events and works with outside agencies in helping the students. Whether it’s for fundraising or tutoring, she is available any time during the day or night. She has even volunteered to work during the summer to tutor students so they won’t regress.

Ms. Mohl is also responsible for the school’s food bank. She packs meals for families every week and makes sure the food bank is stocked. She oversees and, at times, hand delivers meals to the school’s families and other local families in need. There is no one she has said “no” to. In fact, she has adopted in her heart one of the students that attends Palmetto and does everything a grandparent or parent would do for a child. Ms. Mohl organizes the holiday food and toy drive, making deliveries as needed. If they are short, she pulls out of her own pocket to cover the expenses.

She also gets her own family involved with helping the families of Palmetto. Her daughters have provided support to the school through tutoring and mentoring students. Ms. Mohl is also the SBT leader and knows the students and their families by name. When needed, she provides transportation to parents so they can participate meetings for their children. There is nothing that she wouldn’t do for the students and families of Palmetto, and for that, she is an outstanding LifeChanger!