The Optimist Club of Naples held its annual tribute to middle school students from Collier County Schools on April 8th in the Board Room at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Administration Center. Nervous, excited students, along with proud parents and relatives, teachers and middle school administrators waited patiently for the signal that started the LIVE broadcast on The Education Channel at 6 PM sharp.
John Dina, president; Tom Wyss, Treasurer; and Janet Dattilo, Secretary and Committee Chair of the Optimist Club of Naples, were on hand to introduce the program, which has recognized middle school students for many years in Collier County. One of the lines in the Optimist Creed, particularly appropriate is, “To give so much time to the improvement of yourself that you have no time to criticize others.” The relevancy of this will become more clear as you read about these remarkable Marco Island students who were recognized with students from eleven other middle schools.
The program started with former colleague, George Abounader, Principal at Marco Island Charter Middle School, who introduced three students I had the pleasure of knowing from my time as Principal at Tommie Barfield Elementary. When I heard the reasons they had been chosen for this honor and the depth of their achievements, I just had to “tell the world” about them. (Thank you, Mr. Abounader for the information.)
Helen Totten, 6th grade, Gabriela Garcia, 7th grade and Taylor Drott, 8th grade were each unique and very capable students with superb character traits. In elementary school they weren’t boisterous, they were attentive and embraced kindness to others.
AND, look at them now!
Sixth grader, Helen Totten, is described as having a maturity level and wisdom beyond her years, along with a positive attitude and calm under all circumstances. She excels in all her subjects but is a whiz in math as evidenced by her perfect score on the Florida math assessment. She is accomplished in many areas, including writing; hers was one of the top 10 essays in the Laws of Life essay contest which was based on character traits. Helen has also been honored by receiving the Marco Island Kiwanis “Terrific Kids” Award.
In her “free time,” Helen plays on three soccer teams, plays the trumpet, ukulele and piano, enjoys swimming, biking and being with friends. She sings every Sunday at her church and is a member of the church youth group. Additionally, she is one of the Irish dancers that performs in the Marco Island St. Patrick’s Day parade as well as the Naples St. Pat’s parade. I think, even if they were on the same day, Helen Totten would find a way to be in both places!
Gabriela “Gabi” Garcia, is an amazing seventh grader who loves learning and comes to school with a smile every day. She’s bilingual in English and Spanish and is the first one to ask anyone if they need help with a task. Her favorite subject is math. She stated, “When I’m stuck on a math problem, I have to look at it in a different way to solve it.” (Good advice for problems even beyond math!)
Gabi is a straight A student, but still has time to participate in the YMCA’s “Youth in Government” Club, theater, and plays on the Marco Island Optimist’s basketball team. She volunteers in the annual Meals of Hope food packaging event and serves her church as an altar server. Gabi hopes to attend New Mexico State University and major in medicine. She hopes to become a cardio-vascular surgeon so she can help anyone with heart problems, especially children. (How many of you knew what you wanted to be in seventh grade? Not me!)
But wait, there’s more!
Eighth grader Taylor Drott has an outstanding quality of being kind – to everyone. Her teachers feel that her kindness may go unnoticed by some, but they recognize her universal acceptance of others and that she deserves recognition. Taylor has taken high school classes in Honors Algebra, Honors Geometry, Spanish I and II and Photography, giving her five high school credits before she begins high school! She led her soccer team to the conference championship and was voted the Most Valuable Player.
Taylor has also participated in the Marco Island Optimist Leadership Program, volunteered over 200 hours in varied ways with Special Olympics, Optimist fund-raisers, coaching PreK and K soccer teams, and is certified in CPR, AED and First Aid. Water sports, including surfing, boating, skiing and knee boarding are things she enjoys and has taken the Boating Safety Course. She also loves to write. Taylor is not only a “terrific kid,” she’s a role model for her fellow students.
All three of these young women have chosen a path in their lives that leads to accomplishment, success and living in harmony with others to make a difference. After reading their many achievements, you can see why they were selected to honor by their school, the Optimist Club of Naples and now, me. I’m so proud of them.