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When the pandemic first struck in March 2020, Central Florida school districts had little time to waste as they quickly adapted to the new reality of remote learning. After spending the summer months fine-tuning plans for how to better approach the uncertainty surrounding this school year, there are still challenges to deal with even as schools slowly start to creep back to normal. And though it may not be ideal, during the pandemic there have been countless teachers who have shown their resiliency amidst the challenges and found creative ways to stay connected with their students even when they can’t all be in the classroom together. Orlando Family Magazine reached out to local schools to find out which teachers they feel continuously go above and beyond. The names below represent some of the region’s best.

Jessica Benscoter
Stone Lakes Elementary School
Benscoter’s method of teaching is similar to Galileo’s philosophy that “you cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him discover it in himself.” Therefore, she enables her science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) students to prioritize their learning and strive to be the best at whatever they set their minds to. Benscoter was one of the five finalists for the Orange County Public Schools’ Teacher of the Year in the 2020-2021 school year.





Gina Bortz
Lake Mary Preparatory School
An upper school educator who teaches history, psychology and economics, Bortz engages students in these classes by allowing them to lead discussions and utilize interesting class activities. Bortz also serves as an advisor for Lake Mary Prep’s Key Club as well as its Student Government Association. In these clubs, she assists students in developing leadership skills and learning how to help their community. Following student suggestions, Bortz will be offering personal finance, global community citizenship and humanities lessons.






Jesse Cohen
Innovation Middle School
Cohen is a theater teacher who demonstrates to his students that there are no limitations to what they can achieve. In the spring of 2020, COVID-19 caused school closures and effectively put their plans for the spring musical, Cinderella, on hold. Instead of canceling the musical entirely, Cohen found a play written for quarantine titled Ten Ways to Survive Life in a Quarantine that his students performed virtually. He was one of the finalists for Orange County Public Schools’ 2020-2021 Teacher of the Year.



Sarah Crofutt
The Geneva School
Crofutt is a seventh and eighth grade English teacher. She prides herself on teaching her students how to consider different points of view through learning about literature. She allows her students to express their passion for the performing arts by having them act out scenes or chapters from the work they’re studying. Crofutt says her favorite teaching moment is when the students’ hard work pays off and they’re able to understand what they’ve been taught.






Richardo Delfosse
Lockhart Middle School
Delfosse, a civics teacher, grew up in the community he currently teaches in. With an understanding of how education can promote growth and foster change for those in need, he consistently endeavors to challenge his students. By engaging them in this manner, the students may be compelled to aid each other and their community. Delfosse was one of the finalists for the Orange County Public Schools’ 2020-2021 Teacher of the Year.








Emine Demir
Orlando Science School
Demir teaches chemistry and Science Olympiad to seventh and eighth graders at Orlando Science School. She’s passionate about STEM and influences her students to excel in the field and at events such as the science fair. She believes that the world of STEM is open to anyone so long as they passionately approach the subjects. Demir expresses respect and understanding to her students while influencing them to perform to the best of their abilities. She also takes time to appreciate her colleagues and recognize their achievements.




Tonya Fennell
The Master’s Academy
Fennell, a middle school math teacher, excels at creating and instructing enjoyable, interactive lessons for her classes. She cares deeply for her students and they can tell through her engaging lessons and her dedication to her profession. She’s a devoted, participatory member of The Master’s Academy team who is consistently positive, encouraging and takes pride in assisting her fellow middle school teachers.








Ashley Hollern
Windermere Preparatory School
Hollern is a high school biology teacher at Windermere Prep who also teaches for NASA’s En-deavor STEM program. She has a background in biology, chemistry and STEM, which enables her to intrigue her students and allow them to think critically. This year, Hollern and her students have been working on a study related to the environmental impact that algal bloom has had on Florida. The project allows the students to take the lead and work as a team, which are important skills for children to learn.






Doris Lawson
UCP Bailes Community Academy
Lawson’s passion in life is teaching, which is why she’s been doing it for the past 43 years, 12 of those at UCP Bailes. A math teacher, she believes that her job is to help children “learn to their highest potential and grow into the best person they could be.” She strives to make their classroom experience equitable and enjoyable by demonstrating respect and love so they feel “safe and inspired.”




Kristen Leader
The First Academy
A second grade teacher, Leader engages her students by pacing her lessons quickly and utilizing friendly, student-based interactions. Parents refer to her as “sincere and joyful,” and as a result their children adore being around her and enjoy their lessons. Leader is organized and focused on communication, which allows her students to become absorbed in their classes and appreciate her teaching methods.







Tatiana McKinney
Trinity Preparatory School
McKinney is a middle school civics and history teacher at Trinity Prep. Throughout the pandemic, she’s been able to adapt and figure out how to allow online students to feel like they are a part of the class. To engage students in their courses, McKinney utilizes simulations, re-enactments and civil rap projects that the students find entertaining. She’s always striving to learn new teaching strategies and techniques to better aid her students.






Lauren Oliva
Lake Highland Preparatory School
Oliva teaches AP world history and modern world history to ninth graders. She consistently strives toward engaging her students by utilizing numer-ous different teaching strategies in order to give them a fascinating learning experience. Oliva’s students are encouraged to be curious and express and perceive different viewpoints. She consistently motivates them to collaborate with each other and engage with the class material. She recently received a faculty award from Lake Highland Prep called “The President’s Award” for her excellence in teaching.


Stewart Parker
Winter Park High School
An AP human geography teacher, Parker hopes for his students to leave his course with a transformed and larger worldview so they can “appreciate their place in life more and be global citizens.” Parker strives to maintain his classroom as a safe space where his students can feel welcome and supported by one another. His students frequently score above the national average on their final assessment and he was Orange County Public Schools’ 2020-2021 Teacher of the Year.




Laura Stile
Dream Lake Elementary School
As a fourth grade teacher at Dream Lake, Stile’s personal mission is to help students unlock their full potential academically and socially. Stile also mentors and supervises college interns looking to become teachers. To her mentees, she emphasizes the importance of treating students with love, respect and dignity and building strong, trusting relationships with them. Stile was one of the finalists for Orange County Public Schools’ Teacher of the Year.

Area schools recognize some of their most beloved educators. […]Read More

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