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GEMS logo

GEMS stands for Great Educational Moments for Monroe County Students. It is an effort to shine a light on the great things happening in the District Schools.  This is an initiative from the Curriculum Department led by Mrs. Theresa Axford, Executive Director for Teaching & Learning, which recognizes the GEMS in Monroe County. 
In order to create a GEM, it takes the leadership of a great principal, the expertise of wonderful teachers and the commitment of outstanding students.
We will be looking for and recognizing GEMS throughout the school year – you will not be able to miss them as they sparkle and shine throughout our district schools each day! !
2016-2017 GEMS
May 2017 GEMS - HOB Video Production Team
HOB Video Production students receive GEMS award

The Horace O’Bryant Video Production Team and their advisors received GEMS for two awards won from the Student Television Network National Convention: Honorable Mention in Short Film, and 2nd Place in Anchor Team.

Left to Right: HOB Principal, Christina McPherson; Executive Director of Teaching and Learning, Theresa Axford; Video Production Team and Advisor and Teacher Phillip Baucom, Nicolas Gonzalez; William Niles; Spencer Lannigan; Nicholas Henriquez; Finn Saunders, Atia Yasmin; (behind) School Board Chairman John Dick; Violet Smith-Martin; Ainsley Cunningham; Superintendent Mark T. Porter; Production Team Advisor Daliana Goins.
May 2017 GEMS - Alyssa Weech (KWHS)
Alyssa Weech receives GEMS award
Key West High School student and artist Alyssa Weech received a GEM for her 2017 Scholastic Art & Writing Award, won by the likes of Andy Warhol, Truman Capote, Stephen King, Zac Posen, and Lena Dunham as teenagers.

Left to Right: Executive Director of Teaching and Learning, Theresa Axford; Teacher Sabryah Alghrary; KWHS student artist, Alyssa Weech; Superintendent, Mark T. Porter; School Board Chairman, John Dick
May 2017 GEMS - Tyler Smith and Ashley Henriquez (GAE)
Tyler Smith receives GEMS Award
Tyler Smith from Gerald Adams Elementary accepted a GEM for his work with the 21st Century Program on behalf of himself and Ashley Henriquez.

Left to Right: Executive Director of Teaching and Learning, Theresa Axford; Teacher, Tyler Smith; Superintendent, Mark T. Porter; School Board Chairman John Dick
(Not Pictured: Teacher, Ashley Henriquez)
May 2017 GEMS - Rebecca Ickstadt (POI)
Rebecca Ickstadt receives a GEMS award
Poinciana Elementary School Music Teacher, Rebecca Ickstadt received a GEM because of her exceptional work cross grade levels with the music program.

Left to Right: Executive Director of Teaching and Learning, Theresa Axford; Poinciana Principal Dr. Larry Schmiegel; Music Teacher, Rebecca Ickstadt; Superintendent, Mark T. Porter; School Board Chairman John Dick

(Not Pictured: Ariadna Ruiz, Katelyn Diaz, Jessica Nitti, Hunter Nitz)

May 2017 GEMS - John Grimesey (HOB)
John Grimesey receiving GEMS award
Horace O’Bryant Athletic Director, Jon Grimesey, received a GEM for his work with the Athletic Program.

Left to Right: HOB Principal; Christina McPherson; Executive Director of Teaching and Learning Theresa Axford; HOB Athletic Director, John Grimesey; Superintendent Mark T. Porter; School Board Chairman John Dick
Switlik Outstanding Community Outreach - April 2017
Thank you to Guidance Counselor Chris Willis and Parent Coordinator Mercedes Lemos for your Outstanding Community Outreach. Due to your dedication to home visits, facilitating agency contacts for food, clothing and shelter, chronic absenteeism has decreased by more than 50%.

Pictured, from left to right: School Board Chairman John Dick, Switlik Principal Brett Unke, Switlik Counselor Chris Willis, Parent Coordinator Mercedes Lemos, Executive Director of Teaching and Learning Theresa Axford, Superintendent Mark Porter

Switlik Readers - April 2017

Congratulations to 3rd grader Justin Lopez, and 4th grader, Benito Lopez for achieving the highest Accelerated Reading goal this year at SSE.

Pictured, from left to right: School Board Chairman John Dick, Switlik Principal Brett Unke, 3rd grader Benito Lopez, 4th grader Justin Lopez, Executive Director of Teaching and Learning Theresa Axford, Superintendent Mark Porter

April 11, 2017 GEMS
Great Educational Moments take place across the District! This round of recognition took place at the MCSD Board Meeting at Coral Shores HS. Congratulations to the students, teachers, and community partners recognized for their outstanding approaches to teaching and learning!
Kristi Bedell, Ana Hortensi, Brett Unke, Preston Holt, National Merit Scholar Finalist, Theresa Axford, Mark Porter, John Dick
Pictured above, from left to right: Kristi Bedell, Ana Hortensi, Blake Fry, Preston Holt, National Merit Scholar Finalist, Theresa Axford, Mark Porter, John Dick
Pictured above, from left to right: Lisa Taylor, Laurie Beaton, 8th Grade Mentors: Edward Hoff, Garret Gilbert, and Jack Lindsey with their 2nd grade Mentees: Hunter Thomas, Nash Andruski, and Caleb Bokor, Theresa Axford, Mark Porter, John Dick
Pictured above, from left to right: Theresa Axford, Lisa Taylor, Tiffany Murphy and Tina Cash, teachers nominated for the help in motivating wellness within the District, Mark Porter, John Dick
Theresa Axford, Sarah Adams Morton, Kate Bauer-Jones with the United Way of the Florida Keys for her organization's help with the Extreme Classroom Library Makeovers, Mark Porter, John Dick
Pictured above, from left to right: ​Lisa Taylor, Theresa Axford, Marcia Sterling, Konnor Ross recognized for his creation of a "buddy bench”, Mark Porter, John Dick

Pictured above, from left to right: Theresa Axford, Jana Firkins for her thoughtful an creative design of accessories for students of need in her classroom, Mark Porter, John Dick
Pictured above, from left to right: Lisa, Taylor, Diana Basset, Student aide Katelyn Johnson, Bernice Dionne, student aide Alexis Kumar, Mark Porter, and John Dick. The two students were nominated for their outstanding service in the position.
KWHS and SLS Science Fair Winners

KWHS Science Fair Winners

KWHS Science Fair Winner
SLS Science Fair Winners

The District recognized nine GEMS at the March 21st meeting. What is a GEM? A Great Educational Moment in #MyMCSD! Congratulations to the following students and teachers for their hard work and excellence!

Photo 1- left to right: Amber Acevedo, Brian Coward, Mark Porter, Theresa Axford, and John Dick
Photo 2- left to right: Theresa Axford, Leila Nolan, John Dick, and Mark Porter
Photo 3- left to right: Harry Russell, Theresa Bass, Mark Porter, Theresa Axford, and John Dick

Recipients not pictured:
Sugarloaf STEM Fair Winners:
Andres Mendieta-Kuhnke | Chemistry
Chance Palacios | Chemistry
Alexandra Mucci | Physics
Jenesis Rose Perloff | Plant Sciences

KWHS STEM Fair Winners:
Amy Athans | Environment Engineering
Mason Cooper | Chemistry
Marathon STEM Fair Winners - February 2017
Marathon STEM Fair winners
Science Fair Winners were recognized for their outstanding work at the February 18th School Board Meeting. Marathon should be proud of its many winners.

Pictured holding their GEMs certificates are: John Dick, Katerina Nikiforova, John Sheagran, Chris Gaskill, Noah Ross, Chris Anderson, Shannon Pitchford. Nicole Lera and Superintendent Porter. Congratulations to all!!

MHS Literacy Award - February GEM
Marathon HS Literacy Award Winners, GEM recipients
GEMs recognition also went to the team from Marathon High School that won state honors last month during Literacy Week in January. Spearheaded by Reading Coach Jill Williams and Chef Stanton, students hosted a family literacy night and students read from their favorite poem, short story or book while parents and guests feasted on Chef Stanton's Culinary Arts students' creations. This was a first for Marathon High School. Ms. Williams submitted details on this fascinating program to Just Read Florida and Marathon was recognized in second place. Students and faculty received a check from Florida First Lady Ann Scott. The team journeyed to Tallahassee to receive their award.

Pictured are: Mr. John Dick, School Board Chair; Nikolas Bonilla, Taquoia Walker, Marina Doyle, Christian Ruiz, Sophia Dipre; Reading Coach, Jill Williams, Chef Stanton and Superintendent Mark Porter
Ben Ryder - Sunshine State Scholar
Ben Ryder, Sunshine State Scholar, GEM recipient
Congratulations to Benjamin Ryder, who was recognized as the Monroe County School District Sunshine State Scholar for 2016-17. Ben also was recognized as a GEM award for receiving this designation. Ben is a Junior at Marathon High School. He has a GPA of 4.41 and is currently enrolled in AP Physics, AP Statistics, and AP Calculus AB. He received a perfect score of 5 on the AP Environmental Science exam. Ben's Interests lie in the field of mechanical or industrial engineering. He wants to build machines that solve complex logistical and mechanical problems or develop new manufacturing methods to make production feasible on a large scale. Congratulations to Ben. We are proud to have him represent Monroe County as the Sunshine State Scholar
SSE Science Fair Winner
Switlik Science Fair Winner, GEM recipient
At the February 28th School Board Meeting in Marathon, Middle Keys students who excel in science were recognized. Receiving a GEM award for her outstanding work in Animal Science is Stanley Switlik student Chloe Migut.

Pictured are Mr. John Dick, School Board Chair; Theresa Axford, Executive Director of Teaching and Learning, Chloe holding her GEM certificate, Mr. Mark Porter, Superintendent and Stanley Switlik School Principal, Mr. Brett Unke.
Purple Isles Art Guild - February 2017
Purple Isles Art Guild, GEM recipient

The Art Guild of the Purple Isles in Islamorada was recognized for its outstanding work with students from PKS. The Art Guild partnered with the Florida Keys History and Discovery Center to obtain a 20/20 Vision Arts and Culture Grant from the Community Foundation of the Florida Keys. The grant afforded students the opportunity to visit Lignum Vitae Key where they drew pictures of native plants while working with artists; then the artists accompanied students back to the classroom where paintings were created based on the drawings. The project was conceived by Cris Sandifer, former Chair of the Florida Keys Council of the Arts and past President of the Art Guild who passed away in January.

Pictured are Lisa Taylor, Principal PKS and GEMS recipients: KHDC Museum Curator Brad Bennet; Jill Miranda Baker, Executive Director of the KHSC Museum; Kathleen Denis, Plein Air Painter; and Ingrid Brooks, President of the Art Guild along with Mark Porter, Theresa Axford and John Dick

Ocean Studies Charter Science Fair Winner
Ocean Studies Science Fair Winner, GEM recipient
Representing Ocean Studies Charter School and receiving a GEM for his outstanding science project is Zack Woltanski, pictured with Theresa Axford, Mark Porter, Superintendent and John Dick.

PKS Science Fair Winners
PKS Science Fair Winners, GEM recipients
Science Fair Winners from Plantation Key School were also recognized as GEMS at the February 14th Board Meeting at Coral Shores High School.

Front row: PKS Principal, Lisa Taylor; Michael Ancheta, Lucas Carballo and Ayden Lane; Back Row, Mrs. Theresa Axford; Superintendent Mark Porter, and Mr. John DIck

CSHS Poetry Out Loud
Daniel Walker, GEM recipient
Also receiving a GEM Award for his outstanding success is Daniel Walker, a two-time winner of the Coral Shores High School Poetry Out Loud Competition. Poetry Out Loud is a program sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation to encourage the love of poetry through exploration, memorization and performance. Daniel competed against 19 other Coral Shores students in two rounds of competition, performing “The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats and “Israfel” by Edgar Allen Poe. As the winner of Poetry Out Loud, Daniel received an all-expense paid trip to compete in the Florida State Championship on March 11 in Tampa.

Pictured are: Joanne Haddad, CSHS Media Aide who sponsors Poetry Out Loud; Daniel Walker, GEM honoree, CSHS Principal Blake Fry, Sophie Williams, Science Fair Winner, and Theresa Axford, Executive Director of Teaching & Learning

CSHS Science Fair Winner
Sophie Williams, GEM recipient
Recognized as a GEM at the February 14th School Board Meeting was Coral Shores High School's Sophie Williams, who received 1st place overall at the district's STEM Fair for her Plant Science Project, "Anadenobolus monilicornis: Beneficial or Detrimental to Garden Growth."

Pictured are Blake Fry, CSHS Principal; Sophie Williams, GEM honoree; Theresa Axford, Executive Director of Teaching and Learning, Mark Porter, Superintendent, and John Dick, School Board Chairman
KLS Science Fair Winners
KLS Science Fair Winners, GEM recipients
Key Largo Science Fair Winners received the GEM award at the School Board Meeting on February 14th at Coral Shores High School.

Pictured are KLS Principal Laura Lietaert and students Edie Killpack, Annika Needham, Robert Aleman and Connor Dixon, Superintendent Mark Porter and School Board Chairman John Dick.

January 2017 - Amanda Ban, MHS Student
Amanda Ban, GEM recipient
Congratulations to Amanda Ban, who was recognized at the January School Board Meeting in Marathon. Amanda is one of the first students in Monroe County to receive her AA degree midyear while matriculating as a high school student. Amanda will graduate with a high school diploma and an AA degree. Her hard work and dedication to her studies has paid off in a big way.

Pictured left to right are Luis Gonzalez Jr., Amanda's brother-in-law; her sister Ryana Gonzalez; Terri Axford, Executive Director of Teaching and Learning; her mother and MCSD employee Zoraida Ban; John Dick, Chairman of the MCSD School Board; Amanda Ban, holding her GEMs Award; her father Bobby Ban; and School Superintendent Mark Porter.

December 2016 - KLS Special Olympics Team
KLS Special Olympics Team, GEM recipients
At the meeting in December, the Monroe County School Board recognized the Special Olympics Team from Key Largo School. This was their first competition at the state level and they were Silver Medalists. They were very much the stars of the School Board Meeting and enjoyed the well-deserved recognition.

Pictured are: Back row; Assistant Coach Jose Zepeda, Coach Jordan Lombard and Mark Porter, Superintendent
Students: Partner Angelica Gonzalez; Athlete/Inspirational Player of the Year Zergio Ornelas; Athlete Natalia Gonzalez, Athlete Sophia Gonzalez; Partner, Andrea Barrios
December 2016 - Art in the Capital
Annavera Peixoto, GEM recipient
How would you like your artwork to adorn the walls of the Capitol Building in Tallahassee? Annavera Peixoto, Key Largo student, and her teacher Kristen Burns recently sent Annavera's artwork to Key West to be judged with all other middle school students who participated in the local competition to find a winner to be sent to the state. Art Coordinator Shannon Perkins of KWHS coordinated the local contest and judging; Annavera was our local winner. The artwork was given to Representative Holly Raschein to convey to the state.

Pictured are Kristen Burns, KLS art teacher, Annavera, and Principal Laura Lietaert
October 2016 - Remorna Ochoa, Plantation Key School
Remoma Ochoa, GEM recipient
Mrs. Remorna Ochoa received a GEM Award for her outstanding role during International Literacy Day at PKS. Mrs. Ochoa shared information about literacy in Jamaica and read authentic Jamaican story books to the children at all grade levels. To the delight of the staff, she also prepared a Jamaican Jerk Chicken Feast for them. The intent of International Literacy Day is to help us identify with a culture where literacy is still being developed.

Pictured: Theresa Axford, Executive Director of Teaching and Learning; Lisa Taylor, Principal, Plantation Key School; Leyla Ochoa, Remorna Ochoa, GEM honoree; Mark Porter, Superintendent; Kelli Brower, Reading Coach; School Board Chairman, Andy Griffiths and Media Specialist, Tina Cash

October 2016 - Paul Mosczynski, Key Largo volunteer
Paul Mosczynski, GEM recipient
Mr. Paul Mosczynski received a GEM for his outstanding support of Key Largo School. Mr. Mosczynski is a Key Largo Firefighter and he organizes Fire Safety Day for the students at the school each year. This year Mr. Mosczynski went a step further and instructed all middle school students in how to operate a fire extinguisher. Each student actually used the extinguisher in this “hand-on” learning experience. Key Largo Principal Laura Lietaert said, “this is a great way to increase safety especially for those students who are responsible for watching younger siblings home alone.”

Pictured: Theresa Axford; Laura Lietaert, Principal, Key Largo School; Mr., Paul Mosczynski, GEM honoree; Mark Porter, and Andy Griffiths
September 2016 - Craig Kerns, Switlik Teacher
Craig Kerns, GEM recipient
Three years ago Mr. Kerns was volen-told he would be in charge of the DAILY, SWIT-TV program. His tentative start has given way to a passionate dedication to an engaging, student driven morning program. This past summer, SWIT-TV was upgraded to a digital format. After many extra hours planning, setting up, trouble shooting and coordinating with IT, SWIT-TV is rolling. Extra effort and boundless enthusiasm for the program has made the SWIT morning program a student favorite and essential to our school culture. In addition to his producer duties, Mr. Kerns also volunteered as our “Professional” photographer for events and publications.

Pictured are: Andy Griffiths, Chairman, Monroe County School Board; Theresa Axford, Executive Director of Teaching and Learning; Craig Kerns, Superintendent Mark Porter and Brett Unke, Principal, Stanley Switlik Elementary
September 2016 - Janet McNaughton, Sugarloaf School Teacher
Janet McNaughton, GEM recipient
Janet McNaughton is Sugarloaf School’s PBIS coordinator and for the first time, Sugarloaf School received Model School status. Her leadership, hard work and dedication with implementing a school wide successful PBIS program significantly impacted the student and staff culture at Sugarloaf School.

Pictured are: Mr. Andy Grifiths, Theresa Axford, Janet McNaughton, and Mark Porter

September 2016 - Esteban Sainz, MHS Student
Esteban Sainz, GEM recipient
Esteban is a multi-sport athlete who has played football and baseball since his freshman year. He also played basketball for a year. A junior in high school, Esteban is involved off the field as well; his extracurricular activities include Relay for Life and the Garbage Committee. As a new member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, he has goals to continue to improve sportsmanship among student-athletes, and he hopes to make coaches be more involved in their players’ lives.

Pictured are: Mr. Andy Griffiths, Esteban Sainz, Theresa Axford, Mark Porter and Wendy McPherson, Principal MHS
September 2016 - PKS Student Allison Woltanski
Allison Woltanski, GEM recipient
Pictured: Lisa Taylor, Principal of Plantation Key School, Theresa Axford, Alicia Jensen, PKS Civics teacher, Allison Woltanski, GEM recipient, Superintendent Mark Porter, and School Board Chairman Andy Griffiths

Allison was recognized for achieving a perfect score of 5 on the Florida Standards Assessment Civics Test. She received a certificate from the state honoring her achievement along with the GEM Award.
September 2016 - Christopher Hernandez, Coral Shores HS student
Christopher Hernandez, GEM recipient
Christopher Hernandez is being recognized as a GEM for his participation in the Duke University Talent Identification Program (Duke TIP) which honors academically-talented seventh graders for their exceptional scores on the ACT or SAT. Chris received the Silver "State Recognition" Medal Ribbon for being in the 99th Percentile in the State of Florida. He also received a Gold "Grand Recognition" Medal Ribbon for being in the top 4% of 7th Graders for the Duke TIP Program in the Country. As a seventh grader, Chris achieved scores on the ACT or SAT rivaling those of half of all college-bound seniors who took the tests. In addition, Chris entered Coral Shores High School this August as a freshman.

Pictured are Blake Fry, Principal, Coral Shores High School; Christopher Hernandez, GEM Recipient; Theresa Axford, Executive Director of Teaching and Learning; Mark Porter, Superintendent and School Board Chairman, Andy Griffiths.
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