ENGLEWOOD — There’s no way around it. Jenee Mora was always meant to be a teacher. The five generations before her were all teachers.
“It’s in my genes,” the 43-year-old told The Daily Sun after receiving the Charlotte County Teacher of the Year this week. “Both of my parents were teachers. My grandmother was a teacher and so was her mother and her mother.”
Since 2003, Mora’s been teaching Lemon Bay High School students advanced placement biology, honors biology and some regular biology classes.
As a finalist in December, Mora submitted a video and reflection to the Charlotte Local Education Foundation Golden Apple Award about her students and what it’s like being a LBHS science teacher.
On Tuesday, LBHS principal Bob Bedford joined superintendent Steve Dionisio and others in Mora’s class, presenting her with flowers, two glass awards, a $1,200 check from the foundation and lots of cheers.
“Normally there’s a big banquet that all of the finalists go to,” Mora said. “They didn’t have it this year because of COVID. So it was a shock to me when they came into my classroom in the middle of teaching. Earlier in the day, they played the video clip I submitted on the school news.”
With the aid of Science Technology Engineering, Mathematics grants, Mora has helped students advance in science.
“STEM has been a part of my classes for years,” she said. “With grants, science teacher Susan Chabot bought equipment like micro pipettes and Gel electrophoresis which I used in college. The micro pipettes help us dispense fluids in a small volume. The gel electrophoresis helps make DNA fingerprints. We used them to create a crime scene. Those are all things I never did in high school.”
Mora believes English teacher Mark Hertz nominated her because he sees her on campus after school, on weekends preparing her lessons.
“I want to be 100% ready with the best lessons possible for my students,” she said. “Understanding COVID was going to impact our students, I spent my summer preparing for what I thought was remote learning. I have a lot of programs now to help students work collaboratively even though we are not sitting together. The virtual labs are good for students to still learn, experience and design controlled experiments.
“In the AP biology class we studied viruses,” Mora said. “Students learned about protein receptors on the cell membrane and how COVID-19 is more likely to enter the cell wall and why you lose sense of smell. A few students pulled up their masks to better protect their noses after learning how viruses can kill cells.”
Mora said she loves the energy her students give her, which she reciprocates.
“As a whole, Lemon Bay students are really good,” she said. “I love when they start to get excited when they learn something. The excitement spreads. It makes it all more enjoyable.”
A mother of two, Mora’s next homework assignment is to submit paperwork by Feb. 15 for the Florida Teacher of the Year nomination.
The other finalists considered for Teacher of the Year were: Denise Alexander, a teacher at Peace River Elementary, Emily Klossner, a World History and Leadership teacher at Charlotte High, Laura Pucci, an art teacher at Port Charlotte Middle, and Christine WhiteNeil, a teacher at Armstrong Elementary.
Kathleen Skavroneck, at Deep Creek Elementary, was named Support Employee of the Year.
The other finalists were: Melanie Eastman at Charlotte Virtual, Tammy Foissett at Meadow Park Elementary, Jeanna Kukuk at Charlotte High and Michele Sylvester at Sallie Jones Elementary.
The DeSoto County Teacher of the Year was announced Jan. 8 by Superintendent Bobby Bennett.
School District Related Employee of the Year: bus driver Annetta Jeanne Hezlitt.
Rookie Teacher of the Year: Morgan Kotwicki. “I had no idea I won” said Kotwich. “This is such an honor.”
Teacher of the Year: Irene Cerna, West Elementary School, was named for DeSoto County. “Thank you … what an honor,” she said.
Sarasota County’s awards were announced on Jan. 21 in a virtual ceremony.
Teacher of the Year: Kari Johnson, Fruitville Elementary.
“Kari is a tremendous colleague and a true team leader,” said Brennan Asplen, superintendent of Sarasota County Schools, who presented the award in person at the school.
“I am so surprised,” Johnson said. “I feel so lucky to work with so many amazing people.”
“I offer heartfelt congratulations to all the nominees,” Asplen said. “Your commitment to teaching our children in new innovative ways during such challenging times is truly inspiring.”