The Foundation for Lee County Public Schools surprised six teachers in their classrooms Friday to announce their being recipients of the prestigious Golden Apple award, considered to be the highest honor a teacher can receive.
Mariah Washington, of Bayshore Elementary School, and Richard Romano, of the North Fort Myers Academy for the Arts, were among the six recipients.
"It was exciting and overwhelming at the same time. Thirty people came into my room with cameras. The kids knew what was happening before I did and they were screaming 'You did it,'" Washington said. "I love that they do it as a surprise."
Washington, a Cape Coral resident, is a product of the Lee County School system. She attended Littleton Elementary, Diplomat Middle and North Fort Myers High schools before attending FGCU and earning her degree in 2013.
She taught for half a year at Manatee Elementary before going on maternity leave. She joined the staff at Bayshore the following school year.
Washington may have literally been singing when she got the news, for she uses songs from popular artists (with different lyrics) as a way to help teach her third-grade students, a technique she learned from a teacher out in Las Vegas.
It is this kind of outside-the-box thinking that allowed Washington to become a Golden Apple winner in just her third full year of teaching.
"It's confirmation that God put me where he wanted me to be. And like I have with everything else I've done, I do it to the best of my ability. If I was going to be a teacher, I want to be the best teacher possible," Washington said.
Romano, a language arts teacher, started his career on Long Island, where he was born and raised, after graduating from Dowling College. He was going to be a physical therapist before taking an education course and becoming hooked on teaching.
As with many teachers, he was going to take up something else, in this case physical therapy, when he caught the teaching bug.
Romano has taught for nearly 20 years, first on Long Island, then in Florida, where he moved to in 2003. He taught at Mariner High and Middle schools before coming to NFMAA two years ago.
Romano tends to be more scientific, focusing on close-reading skills and how to understand text rather than comprehend it, which he calls a survival skill.
"Instead of giving kids more work, I give them richer work. My sixth-graders are analyzing Shakespeare. Imagine being 11 years old and being able to do that," Romano said, in a previous interview. "That I'm able to do that is incredible."
Romano could not be reached for comment Monday.
The other Golden Apple winners were Jesse Bryson of Fort Myers High School, Patty Gair of Cypress Lake High School, Vaneesa Lynch of Harns Marsh Middle School, and Milagros Sowers of East Lee County High School.