When the good people of the Beach Kids Foundation told Principal Jeff Dobbins they were ready to announce this year’s winner of the Golden Coconut Award, Dobbins suggested the ceremony take place on Valentine’s Day. And so, mostly dressed in red and pink, the children filed into the Dolphin Cafe at Beach Elementary and arrayed themselves in cozy (if a bit wiggly) rows in front of the stage in the school cafeteria to see just who was going to take the prize. Much to the delight of the entire student body, teachers and staff, this year’s winner is fifth grade teacher Jennifer Martin.
Coach Lodovico and Principal Dobbins took the stage first, to introduce the students in the school who raised $350 for heart health. Next, Beach Kids Foundation member Fran Myers went up to the stage to explain a little bit about the Golden Coconut, unique to our elementary school. The Golden Coconut is the Foundation’s answer to the Golden Apple Award which is given each year to one of the hundreds of dedicated teachers working in the Lee County school system. According to Myers, one of the originators of the Golden Coconut award, each year the group sends ballots to the Beach School teachers, asking them to vote for whom they think most deserves it. “We’ve been doing it for over twenty years.” In fact, the Foundation raises money throughout the year for the children in our community fulfilling many needs. She then awarded one check for $1000 to be shared among the teachers for classroom supplies, typically purchased by the teachers with their own money. Then another thousand-dollar check was accepted by Principal Dobbins for the Reading is Fun (RIF) program. As Fran explained before the ceremony, “For years, the RIF program has supplied books to the school, but that funding was cut off a few years ago.” This program brings brand new books at all reading levels to the school, and the students eventually select one to take as their own. When the funding disappeared, the school reached out to the Beach Kids Foundation, explaining how this program had made a definitive, positive impact. The Foundation stepped up to the plate, and has funded this important program every since.
Then it was time for the big announcement. Beach Kid Foundation member Linda Beasley, credited with overseeing the Golden Coconut award festivities, talked about this year’s winner before naming her. “(She) grew up in the beautiful state of Michigan,” the day’s first hint at whom it might be. Beasley went on to talk about this accomplished woman – her education background, including a Bachelor of Science degree, a Masters in Science, and of course, teacher certification; her family life, and some of her hobbies, including “fishing, camping, paddle boarding, snake hunting (?!?) and how much she enjoys keeping a baby squirrel in the science lab”. Some of the words her cohorts and family use to describe her, according to Beasley, are “funny, happy, supportive, silly, story teller, hyperactive, experienced, organized and compassionate.”
The kids exploded in cheers for Mrs. Martin as she walked up to accept the Golden Coconut statuette, a beautiful bouquet of roses, and a brand new sunshine yellow beach cruiser bicycle. Joined by the Beach Kids Foundation members present – Fran Myers, Linda Beasley, Tracey Gore, Donna Raymond, Judy Haataja, Lauri Albion, Shannon Smith-Tineiro, Fire Chief Matt Love, Ann Allsop, and Andrew Cochrane, as well as her mother, father, husband and three children, Martin expressed her appreciation for the recognition from her peers. Martin wasted no time taking a seat on her new bike.
But the fun didn’t stop there. Thanks to the Beach Kids Foundation, everyone on staff received a heart-shaped box of chocolates, and all the children were treated to a fancy Valentine cupcake, and each was given a little box of candy on their way back to class.
As cameras clicked and congratulations were offered, Mrs. Martin went over to the back of the crowd to her students and gathered them around her for some hugs. As she will tell anyone who asks, “I am passionate about my students.” And judging from the looks of pride and joy on the faces of those kids, the feeling is mutual.