Press Release for Thursday, April 30, 2009

UNF Presents Jacksonville Teachers 2009 Gladys Prior Awards

Contact: Joanna Norris, Assistant Director
Department of Media Relations and Events
(904) 620-2102

Four Duval County public school teachers are winners of the 2009 Gladys Prior Awards for Teaching Excellence, administered by the University of North Florida’s College of Education and Human Services. The teachers will each receive $15,000.

The 2009 winners are Patrick Gibbon, a literacy inclusion teacher at Beauclerc Elementary School; Amber Amerson, a drama teacher at La Villa School of the Arts; Beth Neece, a kindergarten teacher at Sabal Palm Elementary School, and Bob Pierce, an English teacher at Paxon School for Advanced Studies.

The Gladys Prior Awards for Teaching Excellence—one of the largest teacher awards in the nation—were established in 1998 by Gilchrist Berg, founder and president of Water Street Capital, a Jacksonville investment firm. He has given 48 teachers more than $560,000.

“The University is deeply appreciative for the generosity of Mr. Gilchrist Berg, who makes this annual recognition of outstanding teachers possible,” said Dr. Larry Daniel, dean of College of Education and Human Services at UNF. “This program recognizes teachers who have served as an inspiration to their students and have made a significant impact on children’s learning and development over the course of their career.”

Patrick Gibbons’ heart is in urban schools. When he came from Boston to Jacksonville to teach at Long Branch Elementary School, it was like coming home. After 12 years, he found himself driving home too often in tears over the struggles of his students and their families. Gibbons needed to take a break, so he transferred to Beauclerc Elementary School to get away from the stress. But it didn’t work. He is still sometimes in tears because he just can’t stay uninvolved with his students and their families.

When Mary Alice Fryer’s grandson, Daniel, was seriously injured by a car while riding his bicycle, Gibbons was there in the hospital to urge the young boy to fight. Daniel will never forget the gummy worms he ate for two days and the books about the Holocaust that Gibbons brought to him.

When another student Darius died suddenly when he was in the sixth grade, one of the first things his mother did was call Gibbons. She wanted him to know what an important influence he had been in her son’s life. She said Darius cried for three days because Gibbons wouldn’t be his teacher the next year. The boy’s mother asked Gibbons to give the eulogy at Darius’ funeral, which brought his young life alive at the celebration of his short existence.

Darius wrote at the end of his fifth-grade message to Gibbons, “Mr. Gibbons is like a father to me. He treats me like I’m one of his kids and that’s why I love him. ...We all love you, Mr. Gibbons.”

Amber Amerson has taught drama for 13 years at La Villa School of the Arts. In her class, failure is not a bad word. Students are given room to explore the theatre process, learning to analyze their strengths and weaknesses. As they learn theatre, they learn life lessons about supporting each other and taking risks.

She is quick to call parents when she is concerned about their child, viewing education as an authentic partnership between the parent, the student and the teacher. As one parent said, “If you are ever at the end of your rope, Ms. Amerson is the one with whom you need to be connected…when your child is in her class, you become a student, too.”

Beth Neece, a teacher for 30 years, inspired her former student Sarah Pelton to become a teacher. Pelton can still remember her first day of school when she reluctantly entered kindergarten and got her first hug from Mrs. Neece. “Mrs. Neece really made me feel special and helped instill a love of learning in me,” she said.

Today Pelton and Neece are colleagues at Sabal Palm Elementary School. Pelton teaches first graders who were in Neece’s class the year before. These first graders come to Pelton loving school like she did 21 years ago as a little girl who really didn’t want to leave her mother.

Bob Pierce, an 18-year veteran, teaches 10th grade English at Paxon School for Advanced Studies. A modest and unassuming teacher, one of his students said, “He always spoke to the shy kids in class. He makes people who never speak come alive.” Another said, “From the moment I walked into Mr. Pierce’s class, I knew I had a place to express myself—a place to call home.”

Pierce generously gives his time before and after school to tutor students for the challenging International Baccalaureate program in 11th grade. He meets with other teachers to be sure his lessons coordinate with theirs and sees teaching as a collaboration not a solitary pursuit.