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Tuesday, Aug 14, 2018
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Top Hillsborough teaching honor goes to a Lewis Elementary educator

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County Teacher of the Year is a self-described "busy, busy bee" who never tires of exploring new ways to help students learn, even if she has to be creative.

At 56, Bonnie Bresnyan also is a mentor for the next generation of special education teachers.

She allows no excuses for her "differently-abled" students at Lewis Elementary School, according to her contest essay, an exuberant string of bee-themed metaphors that still managed to convey her sophistication.

"ALL the bees CAN and are EXPECTED to contribute in some way to making the honey," Bresnyan wrote.

The Temple Terrace educator was honored along with 12 other finalists Tuesday at the annual Excellence in Education ceremony at the David A. Straz Center for Performing Arts.

"We are the sum of our experiences and I am no different," Bresnyan said, seeking to rally her colleagues after her name was announced.

Like a lot of the teachers in the audience, she could have been a doctor, a lawyer or an engineer, she said. But "we decided to enter the field of education because we are on the front lines. We create life-changing opportunities for our students daily."

She was introduced by student David Soto, now a junior at the University of South Florida.

Soto could hardly hold a pencil before Bresnyan became his teacher. "Unlike others who gave up on me, Ms. Bresnyan was different," he said. "The seeds she planted in me equipped me with the tools to be who I am today."

The award for Ida S. Baker Diversity Educator of the Year went to Van Buren Middle School’s Christine Campbell, 40, a U.S. Army veteran who has been a school social worker for the last seven years.

Campbell’s contributions to Van Buren include an on-site clothing closet and collection drives to help families afford school supplies and food during the holidays.

The district’s support employee of the year was Miriam Velez-Hernandez, 65, a bilingual classroom aide at Dover Elementary School. Like Campbell, Velez-Hernandez also looks for ways to help families with unintended expenses, even family funerals.

Bresnyan, the top teacher, used her breezy essays to convey the teaching philosophies that have served her during a career that spans 31 years.

"The cut-away on the curb was designed to allow someone in a wheelchair ACCESS to the sidewalk," she wrote. "What makes it ‘universal’ is that not just people in wheelchairs use the cut-away; people on bikes use them, parents with strollers and travelers with luggage."

Likewise, she looks for ways to provide access to her students.

"Every child CAN learn," she wrote, "But every child does NOT learn in the same way."

In addition to being a teacher, Bresnyan has worked with the University of South Florida as a mentor for special education teachers.

"I have found that just as I learn more about my subject as I teach," she wrote, "analyzing and talking about teaching with my intern becomes a natural opportunity to deepen my own sensitivity and skill."

Contact Marlene Sokol at (813) 226-3356 or [email protected] Follow @marlenesokol

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