Oneco Elementary teacher Zada Bazzy and Riverview High School teacher Katrin Rudge will be honored Thursday evening as nominees for the Florida Teacher of the Year.
Rudge, among the top five finalists, might be chosen top Teacher of the Year and collect a $10,000 grant.
The Florida Department of Education and Gov. Rick Scott will celebrate the state's top educators at a special ceremony in Orlando where one Florida teacher will be named the 2013 Macy's/Florida Department of Education Teacher of the Year.
Nominees came from 72 districts statewide, including Manatee's Bazzy and Sarasota's Rudge.
The winner will receive a $10,000 grant from the Macy's Foundation for classroom
use and an all-expense paid trip for four to New York to attend the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. The winner also will serve one year as the Christa McAuliffe Ambassador for Education touring the state to spread the word about educational opportunities and challenges.
Rudge, a marine biology teacher at Riverview High School, has a master's degree in marine science and studied under Eugenie Clark, the founder of Mote Marine known as the "shark lady."
Rudge was a research scientist studying sharks and red tide before she started her carer as a teacher. Rudge is also the adviser of the school's marine club, which does community volunteer work with Mote Marine.
The marine biology classroom at Riverview is filled with multiple aquariums students call the "aquadome." If she wins the grant, Rudge said it would be used to maintain and improve the aquariums.
"They are in need of constant upkeep, with feeding the fish and maintaining the tanks and buying salt," Rudge said. "The money would be invaluable for that and for replacing equipment."
In her classes, everything is hands-on.
"We use the aquariums to observe water chemistry, and we have small sharks and clown fish that lay eggs," Rudge said.
Rudge's classroom has about 50 species of crabs, sea stars and saltwater fish.
Rudge said she wants to excite more student curiosity about science, technology, engineering and math education.
"College and career readiness is an educational issue," Rudge said. "We need to be getting kids to think early on about what career they are interested in."
Rudge said she invites guests from Mote Marine, the University of South Florida and New College to trigger student interests.
"It is important to see someone who has gone through an extensive education, and show a variety of different jobs," Rudge said.
Bazzy, Oneco Elementary's music teacher, also believes in students discovering their passions early.
"Music helps create a well-rounded individual," Bazzy said. "It allows students to be creative, think outside the box and gain confidence in speaking and performing."
While Bazzy is not one of the five final nominees for the Top Teacher of the Year, she is looking forward to attending the gala at the Hard Rock Live in Orlando as a district winner.
"I am looking forward to networking with other teachers around the state from different grade levels and learning from the best in the field," Bazzy said.
All 72 district nominees will collect a $750 personal cash award and a $250 school grant funded by the Macy's Foundation.
Bazzy said she will put that money toward the music program and the Junk Jammers, which she has led at Oneco Elementary for the past three years. Bazzy said she needs to buy more "junk" for the group, including trash cans, buckets, pots and pans, brooms and metal signs, for their first performance at the Florida Music Association State Conference in January.
The gala will be emceed by journalist and anchor Deborah Norville.
The other top five nominees for the Macy's/Florida Department of Education Teacher of the Year include Nancy Smith of Citrus High School in Inverness, Apryl Shackelford of Northwestern Middle School (Duval County), Patricia Gair of Cypress Lake High School (Lee County) and Dorina Sackman of Westridge Middle School (Orange County).
Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 041-745-7081.