TAMPA BAY, Fla. — Many parents are getting ready to send their children back to school as summer comes to a close.
It can be a nostalgic time, allowing them to reflect on their own school days. We've all had teachers who have impacted our lives by going above and beyond.
We're highlighting two Tampa Bay educators who are no exception as they make a difference in their students' lives.
One of these people is Ron Smiley, an assistant principal at Collins Elementary in Riverview. He's been in education for 22 years.
Earlier this year, he showed just how far (literally) he was willing to go to help his students succeed. One of the students at his school, upcoming fourth-grader Audrey Cross, has aniridia, an eye condition that makes it hard for her to see. On tests and other reading materials, she requires large print to be able to see properly.
“We know that she uses tools to help her with magnification," Smiley said.
When FSA testing rolled around, Smiley was keeping an eye out for Cross' special test, but as it got closer to the testing day, it still hadn't arrived.
“Normally the test for large print comes in a large box and I was a large box short. So I had to call the district assessment office and they had to quickly order it. They said it would be here on a Monday and we were taking the test on a Tuesday,” Smiley said.
However, the test never came. It missed a truck to the school that Monday, so Smiley took matters into his own hands.
"The night before, I stayed finishing up, making sure all the final boxes, all the tests were ready. Then I quickly drove over to the warehouse to be able to pick it up," Smiley said.
The drive was about 45 minutes one way but Smiley didn't mind. He just wanted Cross to have the opportunity all of the other students have.
He successfully brought the test to the school, being careful not to alert Cross as to what he had done. He didn't want to stress her out before her test — and it was all worth it in the end.
“I got the biggest grade you could get. I got a 5," Cross said.
Smiley and the rest of the administration were happy with her high grade.
“The elation was there, we were very ecstatic, doesn't even put the right word...we were just extremely overjoyed," Smiley said.
Cross found out what Smiley had done for her after.
“I thought it was pretty nice of him to go to Tampa and do that...He's really nice and he knows what to do during bad things," she said.
Another teacher around Tampa Bay has made it a point to make her class feel like family. At Manatee County's Harvey Elementary, Amy Hood, a fifth-grade teacher, has been teaching for 28 years.
“I knew from the time I was a little girl that that's what I wanted to do," Hood said.
It's clear that teaching is a passion for Hood — even her principal raved when asked what was so special about her.
In an email, Principal Rio listed off things she loves about Hood's teaching style, saying, "She's magical! It sounds a little silly, but I watch her year after year pull a random group of students together in August, and by May she has created a family of children within her classroom who genuinely care about and support each other.”
In Hood's own words, she says part of the reason her class dynamic works out so well is because she never stops.
“I know I’m known as a little bit crazy because I haven't slowed down. I'm always putting more in. My ideas never stop and there's really nothing that comes my way as an idea that I think, ‘No I can't do that,'" Hood said.
In an effort to connect with her students, she allows them inside her home for Christmas parties. She also does Baked Hoods, a monthly Zoom classroom baking session; a tradition that began during the pandemic last year.
“I would email the list of ingredients and make sure parents were there to help and then we’d cook...We made pies, banana pudding and banana bread," Hood said.
Inside the classroom, she has a system set up to reward her students when they accomplish challenges. It's her "Wall of Fame." To get up on the wall, students must complete at least 16 out of 90 learning challenges. When they reach the quota, they get their face on the wall.
“If you get on the Wall of Fame, you stay 'till I stop teaching," Hood said.
But Hood's efforts don't stop there. She also makes sure her students have access to her outside of the classroom. She gives every student her phone number in case they need help with homework or they just want to share something that happened to them.
“I don't want a reason to be, ‘But I didn't understand it.’ And you know, nowadays there's not always that parent help. Or ‘My grandmother died.’ And being just that help has... it means a lot to me," Hood said.
This connection with her students naturally reflects in their test scores.
“I think that they don't wanna let me down," Hood said.
She surely isn't going to let them down either. She will be there, every step of the way.