Photos and story by Tamas Mondovics

Nature’s Classroom Celebrates Annual “Woods, Water, And Wildlife” Open House Event

For nearly five decades, Nature’s Classroom, Florida’s outdoor education program has been providing young students a chance to get up-close-and-personal with nature to help them reach an appreciation of the environment, while promoting conservation and preservation.

Nature’s Classroom is located Northeast Hillsborough County on 365 acres provided by the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) and within the boundary of the Hillsborough River.

Throughout the year the school focuses on the Hillsborough River Watershed Field Study catered to sixth grade students who attend a 3-day program that covers the habitats, flora, fauna, human use and impact field study of the Hillsborough River Watershed.

According to school officials, nearly 15,000 sixth grade students claim approximately 540,000 hours of ecological and outdoor skills experiences annually.

Since 2007, Nature’s Classroom officials have opened the school’s doors to the community to raise awareness and founding, which supports the feeding of its collection of animals on site. The open house event called, “Woods, Water, and Wildlife” is a once a year celebration now scheduled for Saturday, March 25, 2017, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The one day cash only event is $10 per carload. Boat rides are $2 per person and will include childrens’ activities, animal experiences, hikes, a shoreline sampling experience, and exhibitors.

Nature’s Classroom is located at 13100 Verges Rd in Thonotosassa, FL, just 1.5 miles east of I-75 of the Fletcher Avenue Exit. Volunteers are welcome and may contact Mary Spence at or call 987-6969.

District Announces 2017 Excellence In Education Awards Finalists

Hillsborough County Public Schools officials were pleased to post the names of twelve finalists of the 2017 Excellence in Education Awards.
District officials explained that each year, all area schools nominate the top candidates for three categories, including, the Ida S. baker Diversity Educator of the Year, Instructional Support Employee of the year and Teacher of the Year.

The finalists were notified of the news in surprise visits earlier this month at their school and were joined by Superintendent Eakins, School Board members, Hillsborough Education Foundation, sponsors and school district staff.

The winners of will be announced at the Awards ceremony planned for Tuesday, February 28 at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts.

Finalists For Excellence In Education Awards:
Instructional Support Employee of the Year Finalists
• Nancy Alexander, Wimauma Elementary School
• Terranique Ragins, Franklin Boys Preparatory School
• Roma Soogrim-EsteMcDonald, Muller Elementary Magnet School
Ida S. Baker Diversity Educator of the Year Finalists
• Olivia Williams Holcombe, Colson Elementary
• Aaron Lee Berry, Alonso High School
• Pedro Castrejon, Jefferson High School
Teacher of the Year Finalists
• Carrie D. Donatelli, Turner Bartels K- 8
• Katerina M. Pawloski, Tinker K-8 
• Lauren Schnebly Hackworth, Mitchell Elementary School
• Maria Torres-Crosby, Memorial Middle School
• Elizabeth Walker, Spoto High School
• Cathelyn Gregoire, Armwood High School

HCPS Schools Recognized As Five Star Schools

Hillsborough County Public Schools officials were pleased to announce that more than 90 of the schools within the district have earned the Five Star School Award for the 2015-16 school year by the Florida Department of Education. Statewide nearly 700 schools were recognized.

Some of the local elementary schools on the list recognized included Cimino, Lithia Springs, Pinecrest, Brooker and Valrico, just to name a few.

Florida’s Education Commissioner, Pam Stewart, said that the involvement of the community and family are critical to the success of students.

“I am grateful for the parents, caregivers and community members who invest their time in our state’s schools,” Stewart said.

To gain the Five-Star School recognition, a school must show achievement in all of benchmark areas as well as in five specific categories, including volunteerism and family involvement.

The school must also receive a grade of a “C” or better, or a satisfactory improvement rating for the year being recognized.

For the list of schools in Hillsborough County that received the honor, visit

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