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For Wimauma teacher, a $10,000 surprise

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image Melanie Bolender, covered with Silly String, hugs a student during the suprise ceremony. Mitch Traphagen Photo

“I thought I was coming through the door to see my principal,” Bolender said. “I was very surprised.” Video report below.


WIMAUMA—To say that Reddick Elementary teacher Melanie Bolender was surprised when she walked into the school’s media center only to be inundated by Silly String shot from cans held by her students would be an understatement. What was an even bigger surprise, however, was that Hillsborough County Schools Superintendent MaryEllen Elia was among them with her own can of Silly String.

It turned out to be a day of surprises for Bolender, a Hillsborough County teacher since 1999. The students and school administration officials, along with a large compliment of television cameras and media, were there to honor her for being named the winner of the district’s $10,000 We Deliver award. The award, which has been given each year since 2006, is provided to a single teacher within the district “who delivers miracles every day.”

That description, as provided by Superintendent Elia, certainly is appropriate for Bolender, who became the school’s migrant reading teacher shortly after it opened in 2008.

“I thought I was coming through the door to see my principal,” Bolender said. “I was very surprised.”

She was chosen from hundreds of candidates, due in no small part to her commitment and selflessness. She spends her own money on supplies, and she works overtime to raise money for field trips she knows her students could not otherwise afford. She visits students and parents at home, and she makes a great effort to ensure that the educationally disruptive life of migrant workers is made as smooth as possible for their children.

“A lot of what I do is because of them,” she said while looking at her students. “I love them so much, I care about them and I want the best for them.”  She also thanked her husband and daughter, who were present for the award ceremony, and her fellow teachers.

“I think all of us working together is what helps our children to succeed,” she added.

She described her job as a calling. She said her own childhood has helped her to better relate to her students. She was the first in her family to finish high school and attend college. She looks forward to the day when some of her students will be the first in their families to do the same. She learned Spanish to communicate better not only with her students but also with their families.

“They teach me as I’m teaching them,” Bolender said.

The $10,000 We Deliver award is provided by the Hillsborough Education Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising private funding for and public awareness of public education. The organization mission states: “funding and extra resources for the students, teachers, and schools helps to cover the gap that exists between what school budgets can cover, and what is needed to ensure the academic success of our students.”  Since 1988, it has raised more than $75 million for public education in Hillsborough County.

Teachers Wayne Stinnard from Cypress Creek Elementary School and Bill Robertson from Sligh Middle School were finalists for the award, each receiving a check for $1,000.


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