By LINDA CHION KENNEY
Set to start his first year of teaching ever, at Riverview Academy of Math and Science, Ricky Kornegay entered The Regent in Riverview to the cheers of Riverview High School cheerleaders lined up to greet educators.
Hosted by the Greater Riverview Chamber of Commerce, the annual Teaching To Excellence appreciation breakfast, inspired by former Hillsborough County School Superintendent Earl Lennard, registered its largest showing ever with roughly 400 people in attendance, according to chamber officials.
When asked to consider what her late husband would say if he were at the event today, Annabel Lennard of Riverview didn’t skip a beat as the Aug. 4 event revved up in the grand ballroom. Her husband died in 2019 after a long illness.
“He was so dedicated to the students, and he was so dedicated to getting them good teachers,” Lennard said. “I think he’d be very humbled to know that this event he was involved in, that it’s lasted so long and that it’s gotten so big.”
The event this year involved 29 public and charter schools, with invites issued for first-year educators or veteran educators new to the schools they teach in for the 2022-23 school year.
Count among them first-year teacher Kornegay, who said he also is the first teacher in his family.
“I always wanted to work with kids,” Kornegay said. “I got the opportunity and I fell in love with it. I get to help kids grow and develop.”
A more noble profession would be hard to find, according to educators issuing similar sentiments at The Regent, including Julio Medina, who said while studying criminal justice, he never imagined for himself a career in academia.
“It’s exciting,” said Medina, who starts his teaching career at Winthrop College Prep Academy in Riverview. “I know I can make an impact and make a difference in a kid’s life, whether it’s one or all of my students. I believe that’s my primary role as a teacher.”
Assistant Principal Andrea Bryner, at a table of educators from Summerfield Crossings Elementary in Riverview, said this year’s vibe is definitively different from those of the past two years.
Despite “PPE materials and constant hand-washing” still available and encouraged, “it’s a different vibe this year,” Bryner said. “The energy from the teachers, they’re so excited to get their classrooms back to the way it was before COVID. We’re so excited to have our community back and involved with our campus events. We can’t wait to work in partnership with them.”
A staple at each year’s annual Teaching To Excellence breakfast is an opportunity for teachers to collect donated reams of copy paper and school supplies from chamber members, as noted by event chair Kristi McCart, managing partner of McCart & Tesmer, P.A.
“Our best way to welcome you is to send you off with goodies and supplies for your classroom,” McCart said good-naturedly, “and especially those that students like to swipe away from your desk.”
A color guard presentation by Navy JROTC members opened the official program, along with a trio of national anthem singers from Riverview High School, who said they have been singing together since seventh grade.
“It’s a good way to start off our senior year,” McKenna Slater said. “We get to actually sing for people in person and not through a screen.”
Lessons learned from the coronavirus pandemic?
“I realize that if you have an opportunity, it can be taken away so quickly, so take it,” said singer Nicole Brown. “You never know what the next day is going to bring.”
Parent Ali May said she is looking forward to “a more normal year,” in which “kids are excited about going to school instead of being fearful.” She said her oldest child, who graduated in 2020, never got to return to school after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting lockdown in March 2020. It’s “finally cool,” May added, “that I’ll get to experience one of my kid’s senior years in traditional fashion.”
As for the schools represented at the breakfast, that was evident by the plaques of appreciation presented to Hillsborough County Teacher of the Year award recipients for the 2021-22 school year. Recognized were Christina Bello (Sessums Elementary), Kimberly Bingham (Ippolito Elementary), Melissa Bondoc (Summerfield Elementary), Laura Brinker (Riverview Academy of Math and Science), Shamorrow Cook (Winthrop College Prep Academy), Amber Daniels (Summerfield Crossings Elementary), Nicole Eichen (Boyette Springs Elementary), Michelle Elser (Pepin Academies Riverview), Kiaralee Figueroa (Bridgeprep Academy of Riverview), Jessica Foster (Kid’s Community College Charter High School), Audriana Griffin (Southshore Charter Academy), Jeanna Harvey (Warren Hope Dawson Elementary), Jamie Himes (Creekside Charter Academy), Collis Ivery (Spoto High) and Stephanie Jamell (Rodgers Middle).
Also recognized, Amanda Kovach (Symmes Elementary), Brian Krautter (Sumner High), Roger Marcellus (Giunta Middle), Samantha Milhorn (Kid’s Community College Charter School Southeast K-5), Erika Pettet (Valrico Lake Advantage Academy), Roxy Ramos (Kid’s Community College Riverview South), Mary Rengifo (Frost Elementary), Jenna Rose (Riverview Elementary), Liz Rubero (Pivot Charter School), Kelly Smith (Collins Elementary), Carlos Torres (Bridgeprep Academy of Riverview), Jenne Wasdin (Kid’s Community College Charter School Southeast 6-8), Agnieszka Winnicka-Tracy (Riveriew High) and Amy Yost (Bell Creek Academy).
For more, visit www.RiverviewChamber.com/.