TAMPA – Jefferson High School social studies teacher Patrick Boyko stays busy both inside and outside his classroom – he coaches tennis and swimming and is the school’s Reading Club sponsor. He stays in touch with his former students and works hard to make his lessons hands-on and creative, with lots of real-world scenarios.
“We have a lot of kids drop out,” Boyko said. “My goal is to keep them in. I try as hard as I can and make things fun and interactive.”
Boyko, 34, was recognized Thursday night as the Hillsborough County school district’s Teacher of the Year. The honor came at the annual Excellence in Education reception and awards ceremony at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, which was filled with the 710 teachers and staff members from schools across the district who were nominated for awards, and their families.
Boyko was born in Philadelphia, Pa., and moved with his family to the Tampa area as a child. He graduated from the University of South Florida with a bachelor’s degree in history in 2003 and took a job with the university’s Resident Services Department.
Realizing he wanted to work with students more, he started his teaching career at Jefferson in 2007. He also was motivated to join the profession by his late father, a high-school dropout who always wanted to be a history teacher himself, and his microbiologist mother.
In his class on wars of the 20th century, Boyko runs a semester-long simulation in which he divides his students into six empires and has them elect leaders, form treaties and “fight” using a board game. He also hosts chats on Twitter and Facebook to keep the conversation going outside of the classroom.
Before the awards were presented, each finalist was introduced by a student.
Jefferson High senior Rebeca Rodriguez, 18, credited Boyko with helping her build strong leadership skills, which she hopes to one day put to good use as a senator and women’s rights activist.
“He brought history to life for us,” she said. “He allowed each of us to tell our stories.”
Top teachers were chosen in November at each of the county’s 200-plus schools. In December, the district’s principal councils for elementary, middle and high school whittled the list to six finalists. Superintendent MaryEllen Elia’s staff interviewed each of the finalists to determine the educator of the year.
Boyko, who said receiving the honor is “surreal,” is now in the running for Florida’s top teacher.
“Remember why we do this job,” he told his fellow teachers in the audience after accepting the award. “Remember when you were a child, feeling you were invisible. Who made you feel safe? Sometimes, you may be the only constant.”
The other finalists for top teacher were Luis Alvarez, Leto High; Karen Barmore, Gorrie Elementary; Reagan Lawrence, Hunter’s Green Elementary; Amanda Morin, Walker Middle Magnet; and Leronya Vaughn-Dunmore, Sheehy Elementary.
Others recognized Thursday night included Shields Middle School student intervention specialist Julia Sarmiento as the Ida S. Baker Diversity Educator of the Year, and Amy Peters, an aide and paraprofessional at the Willis Peters Exceptional Student Education Center, as the Instructional Support Employee of the Year.
“It’s quite shocking,” said Peters, who has worked at the center for 12 years and for the school district for nearly 30. “It’s an honor.”
Sarmiento grew up in Hillsborough County and began her teaching career at Lennard High School in 2006. At night, she works with at-risk children at the Lennard Adult and Community School.
“I can’t wait to go and tell all my students that I did it for them,” she said.