Five Pinellas teachers win Cheers to Public Service Awards
The teachers were awarded $1,000 each by Irish 31's iCare Foundation at a celebration on Tuesday.
Congratulations to the PCS Winners:
- Dayna Gray of Morgan Fitzgerald Middle School
- Candace Reed of Azalea Elementary School
- Patrick McMahon of Bear Creek Elementary School
- Jamaal Rocke of Disston Academy
- Rafael Robinson of Douglas L. Jamerson Elementary School
The iCare Foundation is in its 5th year of honoring and rewarding outstanding local educators. The foundation chose to "recognize a group of people that have an undeniable impact on kids and our community," said Jay Mize, founder of the iCare Foundation.
The Cheers to Public Service Awards are unique because the foundation encourages teachers to spend the money on themselves, not their classrooms. This is the first year that the foundation expanded the awards to Pinellas County.
Dayna Gray, who has been teaching at Morgan Fitzgerald Middle for 30 years, didn’t know the impact she had on one of her students until that student nominated Gray for the award.
Nearly two decades ago, the student was starting middle school and entering the foster care system at the same time. She was smart but had little interest in applying herself. Some teachers coddled her, the student recalled. But Gray was firm and set the bar high. Today, thanks to Gray’s influence, the former student sees herself as a “capable young woman.”
“It actually brought tears to my eyes, because we strive to make a difference,” Gray said. “It’s more than just academics. We want to model and encourage them in life.”
Candace Reed, who teaches at Azalea Elementary School, was humbled by the honor.
“I do my job because I love it,” said Reed, who has taught at Azalea Elementary for 17 years. “It’s a super honor to know that parents appreciate me.”
Reed is an engaging teacher in the classroom, but “what makes her extra special is her dedication to supporting and nurturing Azalea Elementary students through her after-school club leadership,” her nominator said. Gray combined the school’s Girlfriends and Girls Who Code clubs so that her students would have opportunities to learn life skills and STEM.
“I hope I can inspire kids to become more,” Reed said. “To see them grow is amazing, but they also encourage me to be a better person.”
Patrick McMahon “eats, sleeps, and breathes Bear Creek” Elementary, according to Assistant Principal Nikishia Dixon, who nominated him.
Not only does he take responsibility for his own class, but for every student at Bear Creek.
“He has a class of 18 or 19 kids,” Dixon said. “But then he takes on 200 others.”
McMahon, who has taught at Bear Creek for 18 years, spends his planning periods in other classrooms, building relationships with students and staff. He also meets weekly with a group of third grade boys who need a strong male role model.
“It’s humbling and embarrassing at the same time,” said McMahon of the honor. “You’ve got to love (teaching). We don’t do it to get recognized.”
Jamaal Rocke, who teaches at Disston Academy, is a role model for young Black men and women, his nominator said. He goes out of his way to expose (students) to experiences beyond their environment. Rocke started a poetry club to help students discover the power of their voices. Students in the club have opportunities to perform and build their confidence.
“Teaching makes my soul whole,” said Rocke, who is in his fourth year of teaching.
Pinellas County Schools has also recognized Rocke as an outstanding teacher. He was a 2020 PCS Social Studies Teacher of the Year and a 2021 PCS Emerging Teacher of the Year.
Tuesday, he was "still in a state of shock” about winning the Cheers to Public Service Award.
Rafael Robinson, who has been teaching at Jamerson Elementary for two decades, has exposed more than 1,500 students to STEM education.
“I got started at Jamerson Elementary School 20 years ago, before STEM was a thing,” he said.
The STEM advocate leads free Super Sprocket afterschool clubs and Saturday events and has created the AEDI (Achieving Engineering Driven Innovation) Foundation, with a mission to expose, inspire, and engage all students in STEM-based learning.
Receiving a Cheers to Public Service Award lifted his spirit.
“It made me feel good that people could recognize what’s inside of me and what’s near and dear to my heart,” Robinson said.