It has been almost a year since Governor Rick Scott visited Marco Island Academy (MIA), to bestow his Shine Awards, and see for himself what makes this tiny charter high school (less than 210 students) such an academic powerhouse in the state of Florida. The governor makes these awards to Florida public school educators who have proven to be inspirational to their students. On March 4, 2016, Lori Galiana and three other MIA educators personally received the awards from the governor, in their classrooms, in front of their students. It was an impressive and moving show of support. (See “Galiana Shines” at coastalbreezenews.com.)
Galiana had come to MIA after an 11-year teaching career in the social studies departments at two of the top ranked schools in Collier County. She began teaching at MIA in August 2013, when that school (then only two years old) was still struggling to establish itself. MIA was mired near the bottom of state rankings and was having to raise over $500,000 every year just to stay open. They could pay their teachers relatively little and there was no money for bells and whistles. Attracting good teachers and staff was difficult. But there was something in the air at MIA’s campus, perhaps expectancy, perhaps vision, which brought the good educators in. Lori Galiana was one of these.
In 2015, Galiana was named Social Studies Teacher of the Year by the Veterans of Foreign Wars. In 2014 and 2015, she was recognized by the Collier County Supervisor of Elections as having achieved the highest percentage of high schoolers registered to vote. And, in 2015, she was made an Honorary Kiwanian for her service with the MIA Key Club. In the three years Galiana has been here, MIA has risen from near obscurity to the designation (by the Florida Department of Education) as a high performing A school, the state’s highest such designation. For the last two school years running, The Washington Post has named MIA as being in the top 2% of the nation’s most challenging high schools.
For MIA, attaining these accolades is certainly a result of a team effort by the talented staff that MIA has put together. When it comes to challenges, however, Ms. Galiana’s AICE Global Perspectives class is hard to beat. AICE, or Advanced International Certificate of Education is administered by England’s venerable Cambridge University. It offers its own diploma for successful completion of its required courses. MIA offers this challenging curriculum in its entirety. Despite the immense amount of work and input required from every student, Galiana’s freshman students come back for more in their junior and senior years. There is a palpable sense of pride and accomplishment in her classroom among the students. They are proud to be a part of this extraordinary type of advanced placement class.
In October 2017, Galiana was named MIA’s first ever, Teacher of Distinction. It is the beginning of an arduous nominating process that will result in just five of 55 similarly designated Collier County teachers being awarded the Coveted Golden Apple on April 16, 2018. There will be a lot of fanfare and media coverage at the award ceremonies, but it won’t be the first, or likely the last, for Lori Galiana. This is the flagship event of Champions for Learning, a Collier County nonprofit organization whose mantra is to “make it possible for our community to impact lives by enriching the environment for learning.” Receiving one of these golden apples can be the defining mo- ment in an educator’s career. Many are called, but few are chosen.
In November, Galiana made her presentation to the Golden Apple Selection Committee, followed by a Q&A session. “In my AICE Global Perspectives class, my high school students must research a global issue and turn this into an eight minute video presentation,” Galiana told the committee, “Two of the hardest things to establish in the classroom are understanding perspectives from a variety of experiences and backgrounds, along with learning to speak and present in front of a live audience of their peers.” She will be periodically observed by the selection committee until the five winners are announced in February.
MIA’s administrative staff has been effusive in their praise of Galiana and what she has done for the school and her students. But it is the students themselves, who have so eloquently borne witness to how well she has succeeded.
Senior, Mackenzie Lytle was intimidated by the specter of the public speaking requirement of the course. “Prior to Global Perspectives I was intimidated by this class and thought I wasn’t going to pass because I had trouble speaking in front of the class,” Lytle said, “With the help of Mrs. Galiana and Global Perspectives, I am now confident when speaking in front of the class and feel prepared for college. This is due to her strict deadlines and motivating words that always helps me push myself to achieve things I didn’t think I could.”
Junior, Tristan Arroyave, agrees with Lytle about being pushed to the limit by Galiana. “To tell the truth, Mrs. G scares me a lot of times, but for good reason,” Arroyave says. “I know she wants to push you beyond what you think you can do. This is why everyone is successful in her classes. By taking this course, I have learned to thoroughly research and analyze information and come up with new ideas. I have learned to recognize credibility of sources and why it’s important to know this.” For his oral presentation Arroyave chose the topic “Should the World Transition from Gas Powered Vehicles to Electric Vehicles?” and for his 2,000 word paper, “Should Nations Prioritize Stem Cell Research to Cure Various Diseases.” His conclusions to these weighty issues were not exactly what he thought they would be.
Junior, Morgan Jones, was grateful to learn how to write a research paper and overcome her fears of public speaking. “Prior to this class,” said Morgan, “I would get very nervous about speaking in front of people. By the time I gave my eight minute oral class presentation, I surprised myself at how easy public speaking had become.” But you have to take this class seriously, says Morgan, as it is a lot of hard work.
Senior, Olivia Watt, has taken a number of classes from Mrs. Galiana during the last four years and believes Galiana stands out in a number of ways. “What distinguish Mrs. G,” Livvy says, “is definitely her passion for teaching and how she really cares for every student. She promotes a great dynamic in her classroom, making every student feel comfortable and welcome in sharing their opinion and being open about how they feel.” When discussing controversial global issues, Livvy feels that this is important. “Mrs. G does a good job of mediating the discussion and keeping her class a safe environment.” Livvy’s 5,000 word paper will be entitled “Should Pharmacists have More of a Role in Prescribing Medication?”, another controversial issue with which Galiana’s class will come to grips.
Senior, Danya Zarate, is one of three in the class who are taking the highest level AICE Global Perspectives course offered by Mrs. Galiana. “This course requires good time management, determination, and hard work,” Danya says, “Just taking one day off from your research sets you back so much. We are writing a 5,000 word research paper on a global issue, focusing on various countries. We are also writing a research log about our thoughts, struggles, and information we have come across. I would definitely recommend this course to others as it prepares you for your future college research papers. You learn how to differentiate credible sources and learn how to analyze the information you find to come to a conclusion.” Surprisingly, Danya credited Mrs. Galiana’s strict no exception deadlines with her success. From the first day of class, this set the tone for the course. Along with the deadlines Mrs. Galiana gave the class outlines and templates to help in their preparation. “She wants us to succeed and tries her best to guide us in the right direction,” says Danya, “She lets people pick their own topics and many of us get really passionate about them.”
“Every day is a work day in this course,” Danya says, “Everyone grows immensely as speakers and people. We stay up to date on current events as we watch the news to start off class. We learn from each other as well as from our mistakes. Mrs. G helps creates this strong, positive learning environment and it is what helps us succeed.”