From The Big Day to game day shoutouts, USF shows appreciation for area educators

Tuesday, Sept. 19, was business as usual for Nicolette Barone, a fourth and fifth-grade
teacher at Oak Park Elementary School. That is until a special guest arrived in her
classroom: Rocky D. Bull.

On his heels were USF College of Education Dean R. Anthony Rolle, Hillsborough County
Public Schools Interim Superintendent Van Ayres and a host of other representatives
from USF and Hillsborough County Public Schools.

The occasion? The Big Day for Teachers, part of Extra Yard for Teachers Week, an eight-day
celebration spearheaded by the College Football Playoff Foundation and dedicated to
honoring and recognizing great teachers. Celebrated Sept. 15–23, it included The Big
Day, a tailgate for area teachers and College of Education alumni at the USF vs. Rice
University football game and on-field recognition for Tampa Bay area school superintendents. 

“We were given the opportunity to nominate a teacher from the Suncoast area districts
to be celebrated today, The Big Day, which will be celebrated across the United States.
Nicolette Barone, your favorite teacher, was the winner!” Dean Rolle said to the delight
of the students watching from their desks.

Barone, Hillsborough County’s 2023 Teacher of the Year, was presented with USF gear,
including a personalized football jersey, and a big check — both in size and amount
— for $1,000 to spend at Donors Choose, a nonprofit resource for classroom supplies.

The money couldn’t have come at a better time. Barone had just welcomed more new students
and wanted to update her room, including creating a “math lounge.” 

“When you all came in, I was like, ‘What is happening?’ I know my students were very
excited, and I’m very excited as well to be recognized by USF,” said Barone, who joined
the school district in 2016 and has been at Oak Park for five years. “As a teacher,
what we do I feel like goes unrecognized, so for you all to take the time to recognize
not just me but the other teachers in Hillsborough County is just truly remarkable.”

Superintendent Ayres said Barone was “the ultimate example” of the district’s motto,
Hillsborough Strong, and a shining example of what it expects of its teachers.

“We’re just so, so proud of you. This couldn’t come to anyone better. Congratulations,”
he said.

Barone consistently goes the extra yard, said Principal Ryan Moody, spending her own
money to create special opportunities for her students and even taking on a second
job to do so.

“It’s teachers like Ms. Barone that keep administrators wanting to go above and beyond
every day. She makes a learner out of myself and sets an example that we want to spread
across campus,” said Moody.

Reflecting on the event, Dean Rolle said, “Visiting the schools is my favorite part
of this job. It’s what this is all about.”

The festive atmosphere continued on Sept. 23, at the Extra Yard for Teachers tailgate
sponsored by the USF College of Education. Tampa Bay area teachers and College of
Education alumni stopped by to pick up USF gear and enjoy complimentary food and beverages,
as well as discounted tickets to the game.

Members of the College of Education Alumni Society and Dean’s Advisory Council were
on hand to greet attendees, including Eileen Hafer, chair of the Dean’s Advisory Council
and a 1988 College of Education graduate.

Events like Extra Yard for Teachers are important because they recognize teachers
for the work they do, she said. “The alumni from the College of Education are important
and valued by USF and the community. This event is a fun way to welcome them back
so that we can thank them for all they do in the pursuit of educating students.” 

Another Dean’s Advisory Council member, Joyce Haines, ’68, MA ’77 and PhD ’89, recipient
of the 2023 Dean’s Lifetime Achievement Alumni Award, pointed out how important it
is for educators to get together.

“Networking in all professions is important, but especially important for teachers.
Events like this tailgate are a time to have fun, but it’s also an important opportunity
for the teaching community to learn from each other,” she said.

Liana Fernandez Fox, MEd ’80 and PhD ’98, has been an active member of the USF community
since 1964 as a student, alumna, faculty member and volunteer. She serves as a mentor
at the college and on the Dean’s Advisory Council. 

“I look around and think, ‘How did this happen?’ When I was here in 1964 there was
none of this and today, we’re a full-blown university that’s highly respected. This
celebrates all of that,” she said, gesturing to the crowd of tailgaters, the Herd
of Thunder band playing the background. “This event shows people the College of Education
is still alive and growing and full of energy. I’m thrilled students still want to
major in education, and it’s up to us to encourage them.”

The celebration continued throughout the game, beginning with Dean Rolle serving as
Honorary Captain for the coin toss. Later, Tampa Bay area superintendents were welcomed
on the field and all educators were asked to stand for recognition.

“Thank you for making a difference in the lives of so many,” boomed from the stadium
speakers.

The game was Barone’s first college football experience, and the recognition of local
educators made the day extra special.

“At a time when it’s so difficult to be a teacher, to be seen for what we do and for
people to give back to make our lives a little easier is so heartwarming,” she said.
“There are people who recognize the value that educators have in our community.”



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