Fort Myers Beach is known for many things that provide top-notch quality of life for all its residents, like the Mound House, Fort Myers Beach Public Library, Bay Oaks Recreational Center and Community Pool, Times Square, its first-class public parks, and of course the beach itself, with all of those rating high among its citizens. Perhaps nothing is more universally beloved, however, then the Beach Elementary School, where community groups like the Parent-Teacher Organization, Renee’s Closet, Fort Myers Beach Fire Department and the Beach Kids Foundation go above & beyond over and over again to make sure the needs of its precious charges from Kindergarten through Fifth Grade are constantly met.
The latest group to join this worthwhile endeavor is the Fort Myers Beach Friends of The Arts, who will host a special concert to benefit the Beach Elementary School during the 7th season of its Winter Concert Series. The “School House Rock” concert is Thursday, January 24 from 7 to 9 p.m., at Fish-Tale Marina at 7225 Estero Boulevard, with all proceeds to the Beach School. “The headliners of this special show will be Sheena Brook, who made us all so proud on ‘The Voice,’” related Janeen Paulauskis, Friends of the Arts Board member and series spokesperson, “along with Bridgette Tatum, who is so talented. There might be a surprise or two during this show that you won’t want to miss!” Tatum, from South Carolina, co-wrote 2009’s most played Country song, “She’s Country,” recorded by Jason Aldean.
Janeen explained that the “School House Rock” show occurred “because the Beach Elementary School approached the Friends of the Arts about hosting a fundraiser, and we thought including one as part of our ‘Winter Concert Series’ would be the ideal format. The Beach School is the perfect partner for us, as part of our Mission is to promote the arts to our younger generation.”
Teach Your Children Well
While all those community programs and fundraisers are for the children, the excellence of Beach Elementary School is only made possible by its outstanding, caring and compassionate teachers, administrators and staff. Several of the teachers agreed to share some personal details about themselves, to give the community the personal touch behind the schoolhouse walls, including where they are originally from and how long they’ve been in Southwest Florida; how long they have been in education and at Beach School; what was their “A-Ha Moment” that led them to pursue a career in education; what is their favorite Beach School story, memory, or moment; and what is the greatest thing about the Beach Elementary School.
Alicia Catlett, 2nd Grade: “I was born in Massachusetts but I moved to Florida when I was 5 years old. This is my 21st year of teaching at Beach Elementary; I began here as an intern in my final year in college. My “A-Ha Moment” was when I had a great teacher who made it “click” and I knew I wanted to do that for others. There are so many great moments and memories at Beach School – hiking too far with my students in Matanzas Pass Preserve and ending up at the Red Coconut RV Park stands out – we almost missed lunch! The greatest thing is that everyone knows each other, and eventually your former students bring their children to attend Beach School.”
Christiana Cribbs, Kindergarten: “I am from Atlanta and have been here since 2003. This is my 30th year as an educator and my 15th year at Beach School. I was fortunate to have many amazing teachers who inspired me to love learning and I wanted to share that with others. One of my favorite stories that reflects the community feeling of our school happened when I had to call a parent one afternoon. The parent said she couldn’t talk at the moment because she was at the Tax Collector’s Office. I said, “my Mom works there!” The parent was, in fact, sitting at my Mom’s desk, and we all had a chuckle over that! People still walk up to my Mom at the Tax Collector’s Office and ask, “Are you Mrs. Cribbs’ Mom?” The greatest thing about the Beach Elementary School is we are all a family. Even when students grow up and move on to middle school, high school, and even college, THEY ARE STILL MY KIDS!
Virginia Fraley, 5th Grade: “I was born in Kansas, the daughter of a military father, so we moved often, but I have now been in Florida for 23 years. This is my 16th year in education, my 14th at Beach School. My “A-Ha Moment” was working as a paraprofessional at Beach School, as my children were attending here at that time, so I decided to go back to college in my late 30s. This is a small school and everybody knows your name!”
Heather Lodovico, Physical Education & Music: I am from Connecticut and have lived here for 7 years. I have taught for 10 years at three different schools, including Beach Elementary for 6 years. My “A-Ha Moment” was during a Parks & Recreation preschool basketball class; it was my first time teaching and it was the most fun and natural experience, and afterwards the parents came up to me and asked where I taught. My favorite memory is our first school holiday program, where I dressed in a Santa onesie and had the Kindergarteners sing “Let It Go” from the movie “Frozen.” It was magical, hilarious, and fantastic! The greatest thing about Beach Elementary is that we know every child, every parent, and every staff person, as we are one big family who cares for each other.”
Holly Nichols, Art Instructor: “I am originally from Fort Myers and have lived here all my life expect for during college when I lived in Tallahassee while at Florida State University. This is my 9th year at Beach Elementary and I have been in education for 9 years. I have wanted to be a teacher since I was a little girl, as both my parents were teachers who both loved their jobs. My favorite Beach Elementary moments are any time my Mom has come to school to teach with me or help out. She is a retired teacher that taught here at Beach School. Having her here with me and sharing our love for kids and teaching is very special to me. I think the greatest thing about Beach School is that we are a family. The entire staff at Beach School knows every student, and every student knows every staff member. This creates a warm and inviting close-knit school and we are always there for each other.”
Rebecca Reed, 1st Grade: “I was born in Fort Benning, Georgia, and raised in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. I have lived in Texas and Tennessee, and now in Southwest Florida for 20 years. I have been a teacher for 36 years: Texas for 2 years, Memphis, Tennessee, for 14 years; and now at Beach Elementary since October 1996 – 20 years! When I was a little girl in elementary school, I would play “school” with my sisters and cousins, and was always the teacher and they were my students. I had a room all set with a small chalkboard, books, globe, paper, rulers, and pencils, and we would play for hours! I think I have always known that this is what I want to do. My favorite moment at Beach School is the Fifth Grade Walk at the end of the school year. This is the final walk around the courtyard that the Fifth Graders take, and all the classes line up around the courtyard to say, “Good Luck and we will miss you!” It brings me joy – and sadness – to say, “Good Bye,” as I do get a little teary-eyed to see my former students getting ready to go on to the next phase in their lives. The unique thing about our school is the size, as we are the smallest school in Lee County, but we have a BIG Heart! We know each other so well and support one-another. We know all the students at Beach and are there for them in many ways, not just as teachers, but the whole entire staff. We are Family, and I love this about our school!”
Joy Rockwell, 3rd Grade: “I grew up in Chillicothe, Ohio, and graduated from Ohio University in 1983. I moved to Florida in August 1983, worked in Hendry County for 3 years, then to Lee County. I have been teaching for 35 years and at Beach Elementary since August 1994. I have ALWAYS wanted to be a teacher! When I was in elementary school, I would gather the younger neighborhood kids together during the summer and have “school” and I was the teacher, of course. There are so many memories here; the best are when former students come back to do college observations and internships with me in my class, especially when two former students, Jamie Bowers and Angie Bunting, came back to do their semester-long student teaching with me. They were in Education in college and it came time for them to do their final internships in order to graduate, and both asked me to guide them and that was such a wonderful compliment, as I fondly recall them and loved to be able to guide the beginnings of their teaching careers. I love Beach School; we are the smallest school in Lee County and it allows us teachers to get to know the families of our students, as our school is a community. I have been teaching here so long that children of my former students are now starting to appear in my classrooms.”
The principal of Beach Elementary School is Karen Manzi. Additional teachers include Lori Zamniak, Carie Wood, Michelle Smith and Megan Blake. School staff includes Michael Cribbs, Jacqueline DeMilia, Renee Mulloy, Kirk Bielic, Kerrie Stephenson, Terry Jacobs, Susan Propp, Denise Hagge, Deborah Corbin, Gayle Macpeek and Shelby DeWitt.
Winter Concert Series
The final two “Winter Concert Series” shows feature “The British Invasion” on Thursday, February 7, and “The Atlantic City Boys,” who channel Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, on Thursday, March 14, either inside the Propeller Lounge or outdoors at Fish-Tale Marina, depending on weather conditions. Tickets for the individual shows including “School House Rock” are $25 per person; for information or to purchase tickets, call 239-463-3600 or see FMBarts.org. “Dress for appropriate weather,” said Janeen, “as even Southwest Florida can have cool evenings this time of year.”
The “Winter Concert Series” benefits the Fort Myers Beach Friends of the Arts that promotes creative arts on the island, including the visual, sound and taste varieties. It sponsors four large-scale events each year, with the Fort Myers Beach Film Festival, Sustainability Dinner, and “Paint the Beach” Plein Air Art Festival joining the “Winter Concert Series.” You can become a member of the Fort Myers Beach Friends of the Arts through its website, to help bring the arts and its various festivals to the island community.
By Gary Mooney