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Wise words from 3 teachers

Teaching trio: three tell us why they love what they do.

By Times Staff Writer
Published February 13, 2004

Three area teachers will be holding their breath when the Hillsborough County Teacher of the Year is named Thursday night. Mellissa Alonso of Valrico Elementary, Pamela White Ennis of Ippolito Elementary and Debbie Vaughn of Dowdell Middle are among the 10 finalists.

Alonso specializes in reading instruction; Ennis teaches fifth-grade math and science; Vaughn teaches English to students speaking Spanish and other languages. They were selected from among 200 teachers nominated by their schools for the annual award. Finalists receive $500 in cash and two scholarships to continue their education at local universities. The county's winner will compete for state honors.

Brandon Times reporter Letitia Stein quizzed the three on topics ranging from why they entered teaching to a secret that they never shared with students. Below are the highlights.

Mellissa Alonso

Position: Title I Reading Resource Teacher, Valrico Elementary

Early lessons: Some girls play with Barbies. Alonso gravitated to chalk. As a child, she would lock her brother in her bedroom and write lessons on the closet doors. "He couldn't leave and play until he was done. It was pathetic. I destroyed him. He wasn't a model student."

High school sweetheart: Alonso met her future husband in geometry class at Jefferson High.

Reading last: Alonso signs e-mails, Read, Read, Read :) - even one to the Times.

Family matters: "Parents are children's first teachers, and it starts at home. I would impress on parents that their support, their dedication, their motivation serve as models for their children. I know teachers are important, but parents really come first."

Students don't know: Alonso is the only person in her house to graduate from college.

Looking forward: She aspires to leadership positions at the district or in a school.

Age: 34

Residence: Valrico

Family: husband, Hector; son, Tony, 16; daughters, Brianna, 8, and Miranda, 1

Honors: published author; 2000 Celebrate Literacy Award from the Hillsborough County Classroom International Reading Association; showcased in an international videotape project.

Pamela White Ennis

Position: math and science teacher, fifth-grade, Ippolito Elementary

Favorite lesson: Ennis once had a class design and build their own apartment units. Students started with blueprints and drew a floor plan. Then they built model units - about 6 inches tall - and strung them together to create a classroom condominium. "It's hands on. More manipulatives and experimentation."

Experience: For much of her 30 years of teaching, Ennis taught younger children - kindergarteners and first-graders. Eight years ago, she moved up to fifth grade. "We both were getting older."

In the family: Ennis' daughter works at the Jacksonville high school that Mom attended.

Hair-raiser: Students don't know that Ennis wore her hair in an Afro during her college years at Florida A&M University. It was the 1970s.

Ah-ha moment: Ennis once took a group of fifth-graders from disadvantaged homes to Odyssey of the Mind, a problem-solving and creative thinking competition. Six years later, one of the boys called her. He wanted to know if she would attend one of his basketball games.

Looking forward: Ennis wants to work closely with teachers entering the profession.

Age: 52

Residence: Samson Park

Family: husband, Michael; daughter, Tangela, 26

Honors: Three-time nominee for Teacher of the Year.

Debbie Vaughn

Position: English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) instructor, Dowdell Middle

Career-hopping: Vaughn has worked at horse tracks in South Florida and New York. She has owned a ceramic tile company. She earned a college degree at age 42. Teaching is "more tiring than putting in a tile floor, I'll tell you that, or racing horses."

Cheeseburgers and racetracks: At the track, Vaughn saw a Mexican child order a cheeseburger - at 6 a.m. Cheeseburger was the only word he knew. "This poor child was wolfing down cheeseburgers three times a day because he didn't speak English." The experience prompted Vaughn to start teaching English to adults at the racetrack in New York.

Family graduation: Vaughn is working on her master's. One son attends the University of Florida. Another is in college in Long Island. All are on schedule to graduate in 2005.

Classroom for life: Along with a master's degree, Vaughn hopes to earn national certification as a teacher. "I don't want to work in an office. I can't see leaving my kids."

Students don't know: Vaughn's Southern roots go back to the American Revolution.

Age: 50

Residence: Mango

Family: Sons, Jacob Hanks, 23; Stephen Hanks, 22; four sisters and a brother.

Honors: 2002 ESOL Teacher of the Year for Hillsborough. Project BEST (Bilingual/ESOL Specialist Training) master's degree scholarship winner through the University of Florida. Finalist for New York State Golden Rule United Way award.

[Last modified February 12, 2004, 12:52:02]

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