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Rotary Club of Florence hands out annual teacher of the year honors to Boone County educators

By: Patrick Moynahan
Special to the NKyTribune

Tiffany Westhoff uses 21st century technology to motivate students to want to read, instead of avoiding it.

When students in Samantha Richards’ kindergarten class look into a “Meet the Author” box, they see reflections of themselves in a mirror.

Trisha Ridener knows the 500-plus students in her school by name and helps them select books that match their interests with their reading levels.

Nikole Mahoney sponsors her school’s Lego Robotics Team and organized a regional competition to give more students in the area a chance to compete.

The Rotary Club of Florence named Westhoff, Richards, Ridener and Mahoney as 2019 Teachers of the Year at a ceremony April 22 at the Hilton Cincinnati Airport Hotel. Each received a $250 award from Heritage Bank and banner to display at their respective school.

“You do make a big difference in society,” Shawn Carroll, master of ceremonies for the event, told the teachers. “You help folks get on the path to success:

More on the award winners:

– Tiffany Westhoff, 9th Grade English Teacher, Boone County High School
A teacher for 17 years, Westhoff relishes helping students with the transition to high school. She adapts her teaching strategies to connect with changing standards and to keep pace with innovations in technology. And she does so in ways that both captivate and motivate students.

“She has the unique ability to influence them and get them excited about the importance of the world that reading and literature can open to them,” said Bart Pindela, who presented the award.

“Mrs. Westhoff creates excitement and engagement with her students through incorporating technology into her classroom.”

She spends a lot of time during school breaks and after school mentoring students to keep them from falling behind. In addition, Westhoff went back to school to earn a certificate in counseling to enable her to better meet student needs.

– Samantha Richards, Collaborative Kindergarten Teacher, Erpenbeck Elementary School
A kindergarten teacher for 16 years, Richards works with 5- and 6-year-olds “with twice the energy and half the time to learn everything,” according to one of her nominators. Yet, she does so with great success with both a morning class and an afternoon class each day. In addition, she teaches all the students with special needs.
“She knows the way (students) feel about school and themselves begins in her classroom,” said presenter Rhonda Chisenhall.

“She does everything in her power to make sure they leave her not only with the skills necessary to succeed in first grade, but also with the mindset that they can accomplish anything they set out to do in their lives.”
Richards serves on the district writing committee and district curriculum leader committee. She also has mentored more than a dozen Boone County teachers in work with the Kentucky Teacher Internship Program (KTIP).

– Trisha Widener, Librarian/Media Specialist, Walton-Verona Elementary School
As facilitator of the accelerated reading program, Widener interacts with virtually every student in the school. She teaches five classes per day and leads a small reading group. A 17-year veteran of teaching, she helps other teachers select books, movies and other instructional materials for other teachers.

“Trisha is the embodiment of the colleague every person wants to have by their side,” said presenter Pat Gutzeit, quoting from a letter of recommendation. “She sacrifices her time and talents continually, while being a constant positive influence in our building.

“Her official role at Walton Verona Elementary School is the media specialist. However, she willingly steps into so many more positions each and every day.”

Widener serves on the Positive Behavior Intervention Team. She assists with book fairs and other PTA events. She also helped write a grant for a program that helps select families learn how to better teach their own children to read.

– Nikole Mahoney, Mathematics Teacher, Walton-Verona High School
Mahoney teaches ever level of mathematics at the high school and works with students who need help before school, after school and during planning periods. Her passion for teaching students how to solve problems led her to begin sponsoring the Lego Robotics Team in 2013-14, her second year at the school. She proposed the regional competition to enable local schools to compete closer to home.

The underlying theme in her eight years of teaching, seven at Walton-Verona, has been her total dedication to students and willingness “to give her time all the time in her tutoring,” said presenter Dennis McEvoy. He cited an endorsement from a former student to illustrate her impact on students.

“You not only taught me mathematical equations and numbers, but also made me see a purpose in everything I do,” the student wrote. “You taught me how to have self-confidence in myself and the ability to believe I can do bigger and better things.”

Mahoney came up with the idea for a two-week ACT Boot Camp this year. She assists the Data Team Committee and Technology Committee. She also is serving a five-year term on the School Based Council and is helping juniors plan the Junior-Senior Prom.

State Sen. John Schickel (R-Union) presented each of the teachers Kentucky Colonel and Kentucky Senate citations. County Commissioner Charles Kenner issued proclamations naming April 22 as each of the teacher’s day.

The Rotary Club of Florence (serving all of Boone County) is a community service organization focusing on “service above self.” The club meets weekly on Mondays at noon at the Hilton Airport located at 7373 Turfway Road. Guests are always welcome. To learn more about upcoming speakers and events, please visit the club’s website at www.florencerotary.org or follow its Facebook page.

Contact the Northern Kentucky Tribune at news@nkytrib.com

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