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Chamber honors top teachers, students

Meanwhile, two Largo High School students each receive a $1,000 college scholarship.

By CHRISTINA K. COSDON
Published April 27, 2005


LARGO - Eleven area teachers were honored Tuesday as "Outstanding Educators" at the 11th annual Salute to Education luncheon program sponsored by the Largo Mid-Pinellas Chamber of Commerce.

Two of Largo High School's top students, Dana Wahlbeck and this year's valedictorian Daniel Holmes, both 18, each received a $1,000 college scholarship from the chamber during the event at East Bay Country Club. Both plan to attend the University of South Florida.

Each of the teachers was selected an Outstanding Educator by the principal and peers at his or her respective public or private school, said chamber president Tom Morrissette.

The honored teachers were Michael Klapka of Largo High, Robin Benoit of Largo Middle, Laurie Wright of Ponce de Leon Elementary, Barbara Belstrom of Pinellas Technical Educational Center (PTEC-Clearwater), Fran Harvey of Belcher Elementary, Linda Bennett of Frontier Elementary, Beverly Lee of Fuguitt Elementary, Jennifer Kunish of Bardmoor Elementary, Patricia Wagenseil of St. Patrick Catholic School, Rhonda Farver of Indian Rocks Christian School and Julie Christian of Walsingham Elementary.

"It was a wonderful honor," said Benoit, who is in her seventh year as band director at Largo Middle. "I look at myself as representing many of the wonderful educators in all the Largo schools."

Music is paramount to the education process, she said. "It teaches tons of life skills and critical thinking skills," she said. "In arts education we're educating the entire person as well as the soul."

Two hundred seventy-five students, 35 percent of the student body, are enrolled in music classes at the Largo Middle. One of Benoit's children, 13-year-old Ryan Ware, is a percussionist in her band. "I treat him like all the other band kids," she said. Her husband, Christopher, is band director at Largo High.

Benoit is this year's Ambassador of the Profession for Pinellas County Schools.

Michael Klapka is one of the original five teachers selected to establish the 21st Century Learning Center magnet program and has been instrumental in every aspect of its development.

Laurie Wright is a fourth-grade teacher at Ponce de Leon Elementary. She was a finalist in this year's Teacher of the Year program in the area of highest student achievement.

Barbara Belstrom of PTEC-Clearwater is in her 33rd year of teaching. She works with 18- to 22-year-old students with various abilities. She teaches life skills management, survival cooking, employability, independent bus riding, creativity and community services projects.

Fran Harvey's peers say she has created a classroom at Belcher Elementary that is a welcoming, comfortable environment where her students can grow educationally and socially.

Linda Bennett has been a guidance counselor for six years at Frontier Elementary. She invites all new children to have lunch with her, and her peers say she often remembers students and staff members on both sad and happy occasions.

Beverly Lee works with emotionally handicapped boys at Fuguitt Elementary. Although a first-year teacher, her classroom management techniques, integrity and motivation have garnered her the respect and admiration of her peers.

In addition to teaching, Jennifer Kunish is Bardmoor Elementary's exceptional student education team leader and student council sponsor and is the driving force behind funding, creating and planting a memorial garden for a deceased staff member.

Patricia Wagenseil instills life in American history with her special programs at St. Patrick Catholic School. She chairs the school's reaccreditation process and provides after-school study.

Rhonda Farver has been the vocal music director for 13 years at Indian Rocks Christian School and teaches students in grades 6-12. Her Ladies Ensemble received superior ratings last year at the state level.

Julie Christian has been teaching kindergarten at Walsingham Elementary since 1997 and is the kindergarten team leader. She is involved in the PTA and Commitment to Character, Technology and Hospitality and has appeared on the Digital Learning Show on Pinellas County Schools Channel 14.

[Last modified April 27, 2005, 00:48:18]


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