Riverview High educator named 2018 Teacher of the Year for the Sarasota County Schools

Event also honors first Alumni of Distinction and Ignite Innovation teacher

Riverview High English teacher Es Swihart reacts to being named the 2018 Sarasota County Teacher of the Year as her colleagues celebrate. Photo courtesy Sarasota County Schools

Es Swihart, an English teacher at Riverview High School, was named the 2018 Sarasota County Teacher of the Year during the Ignite Education event, a celebration hosted by the Education Foundation of Sarasota County.

This is the second year in a row Superintendent Todd Bowden has presented this honor to a teacher from Riverview, a Sarasota County Schools news release points out.

Swihart, who was named from among three finalists at the annual awards ceremony, will represent all Sarasota County educators at events throughout the 2018 calendar year and will serve as the district’s nominee for state Teacher of the Year, the release explains. Her fellow finalists were Venice Elementary fifth-grade teacher Bethany Burnett and Booker Middle math teacher Allison Cohen. The 37 other Teachers of the Year representing local schools were recognized at the event, as well, the release notes.

The Education Foundation of Sarasota County produces the event in partnership with the Sarasota County School District. This year’s celebration, held at The Westin Sarasota, included the presentation of the first Sarasota County Alumni of Distinction. That was awarded to James Tollerton, a community leader and the owner and operator of a local independent insurance and benefits company, the release says.

Further, Robbie Wolf, a plumbing technology teacher at Suncoast Technical College, received the first Ignite Innovation Award.

Accepting the district Teacher of the Year award, Swihart said, “Teaching is about helping students who are struggling to find out who they are and helping them find a space to be themselves. It’s our job to help them grow.” She thanked the audience of teachers and family members, administrators and guests and told them, “When you support teachers, you are supporting students.”

Swihart has taught for 11 years, five of them in Sarasota County. She teaches English literature and “English 1” to pre-International Baccalaureate students at Riverview, the release points out. She holds bachelors’ degrees in English and theater performance from the University of Florida and a Master of English education from the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg.

Swihart said she is “passionate about teaching, learning and exploring the arts and writing to understand why these modes of expression are so powerful,” the release continues.

“I believe stories are powerful tools for connection and bettering our understanding of the world and ourselves,” Swihart added in the release. “I want my students to be comfortable expressing who they are — their authentic selves.”

Ignite Innovation Award winner and Suncoast Technical College plumbing technology teacher Robbie Wolf (right) shares the moment with former student Alayna Chavez. Photo courtesy Sarasota County Schools

The Alumni of Distinction Award is designed to honor a graduate of the Sarasota County Schools who has distinguished himself or herself in a field and in serving the community, the release explains. “Tollerton was selected from among many outstanding nominees,” the release adds. He served as the first president of the board of the Education Foundation of Sarasota County, established the Sarasota Memorial Hospital Excel Employee Appreciation Fund and serves on several local boards, including The Ringling board and the Florida State College of Medicine Sarasota Advisory Board.

Tollerton, who was reared in Sarasota, attended Southside Elementary, Brookside Junior High and Sarasota High School, graduating in 1964, the release says. He served in student government, attending Boys State, and coached Pee Wee football. He returned to Sarasota after graduating from Florida State University and started his insurance career, the release adds. He is known as “the great networker” because of his willingness to help make connections for anyone who asks, the release notes.

“I had great teachers here in Sarasota County who made a difference in my life,” said Tollerton in the release. “I thank God for the ability to give back to this wonderful community.”

The Ignite Innovation award is given to a Teacher of the Year from among the 40 Sarasota County Schools’ Teacher of the Year finalists who has shown innovation in the classroom, the release continues. “This can be demonstrated through using technology, utilizing cross-disciplinary methods of teaching or offering an interesting hands-on experience,” the release points out. In addition to being recognized at the Ignite Education celebration, the Ignite Innovation recipient will receive a custom interactive workshop for his class, provided by Microsoft, the release says.

Wolf, the first Ignite Innovation winner, has taught plumbing technology and apprenticeship at Suncoast Technical College since 2010. A graduate of the State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota, he has owned Cy Blue Plumbing, his family’s business, since 1985. “He brings more than 28 years of hands-on experience to teaching the trade,” the release adds.

Alayna Chavez, the first female graduate of the Suncoast Technical College plumbing program, presented the award to Wolf. She thanked him for being an inspiration to her and helping her realize she could be successful in the male-dominated field, the release says. Photos of Chavez with her pink plumbing company truck, “shown on the big screen at the event, helped prove the point,” the release adds.

Jennifer Vigne, president of the Education Foundation of Sarasota County, closed the program by speaking directly to the teachers: “You truly go the distance each and every day. It is our hope that our community continues to recognize the value of teachers and we find ways to continue lifting you up.”

About Teacher of the Year

The district Teacher of the Year will receive a $2,500 cash award from the Education Foundation, sponsored by Sunset Automotive Group; the two runners-up, Bethany Burnett and Allison Cohen, will each receive $1,250.

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