RIVERVIEW — When fitness trainer Rodney Burton called science teacher Sharon Leto and asked if she’d like to go shopping for school supplies, she felt guilty.
“I met him last year in Staples, where he introduced himself and paid for my whole cart of supplies, $150 worth,” she said. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime, random act of kindness, and here he was offering to do it again.”
Leto, a biology teacher in Hillsborough High School’s International Baccalaureate program, thought about the Hillsborough County new-teacher orientation she was leading.
“New teachers need stuff,” she said, “so I asked Rodney if we could get them something helpful.”
As for Burton, the year had been a good one.
“We’ve had a busy but blessed year,” said Burton. “It’s been amazing — indescribable how things have come together for us, and it has nothing to do with us.”
So he and his wife decided to give $1,000.
“We’re just obedient to what the call is,” said Burton. “God gave me a message and led me to Sharon. Since then, God’s done miraculous things in my life that have enabled us to do this.”
Leto introduced her benefactors to the new teachers Aug. 7 at Spoto High School and passed out academic planners from the Burtons.
“Thank you for everything you’re doing for your students now, and will do in the future,” Burton told them. “You’re going to get a chance to guide them down that path of what life is going to be and what it can be. You should be the highest-paid people, because you do more in one day than most people do in a year in helping youth see what’s right and what’s wrong.”
The act of kindness did not go unnoticed by the new teachers.
“It’s nice to hear someone other than a teacher say teachers influence students, not always just in subject matter. Maybe they learn manners or how to survive out in the world,” said Elsie Nilsson, of Brandon, who will teach at Strawberry Crest High School. “It’s a very amazing thing these people did, and the gift they gave us is on point, because teachers use them every year, but they’re expensive. And you can’t use your phone to take notes all the time.”
One new teacher, Trey McMillan, 23, a University of South Florida graduate who will teach science at Brandon High School, wants to be a positive impact on students. It helps to know there are people “who care, who are willing to help,” he said.
“It makes me feel better about teaching in a community that has people who are happy to give back,” said Ben McCormick. “My dad was a fireman, and he came home with cookies and dinners people gave him. People don’t do that for teachers.”
“What (the Burtons) did is extremely generous,” said Jared Schwartz, of Carrollwood, who will teach at East Bay High School. “It’s rare that complete strangers give to complete strangers.”
The Burtons’ “passion for their community is outstanding,” said Kevin Goff, of Brandon, who teaches traditional students at King High School. “Their desire to help others shows their true passion, their faith.”
Goff recently relocated from West Virginia to Hillsborough County because, he said, “Teachers’ professionalism and the community’s respect for teachers here is unparalleled.”
Email local news to freelance correspondent Barbara Routen at [email protected]