Meet the 4 finalists for Miami-Dade Schools’ Teacher of the Year award

MIAMI (WSVN) - Each year, Miami-Dade County Public Schools honors teachers who have excelled with a Teacher of the Year award.

There are four finalists for the award: Molly Winters Diallo, Aaron Taylor, Judy Rodriguez and Katina Perry-Birts.

For Diallo, teaching is a passion that stems from family history.

“I grew up in a family of educators,” said Diallo. “My mom and dad were both teachers for their entire careers.”

Teacher Molly Winters Diallo

Diallo teaches advanced placement courses at Alonzo and Tracy Mourning Senior High in North Miami Beach.

“The diversity of our student body — we have students from 66 different countries in this school, and it makes teaching social studies so ideal,” said Diallo.

Diallo said she wants to help students understand their value and power and that “they have the ability to make an impact on our world.”

Taylor said teaching was not always his intention. He graduated with a degree in criminal justice and wanted to join the FBI.

“I became a teacher simply being a substitute teacher,” said taylor. “I was doing it just to make a little money when I graduated from college and somebody pushed me.”

Teacher Aaron Taylor

Taylor teaches fourth-grade reading and language arts at Henry E.S. Reeves Elementary in Northwest Miami-Dade. He also serves as the school’s site director for the 5,000 Role Models of Excellence Project.

“I look out for [my students] even outside the classroom,” said Taylor. “I always try to find out what their hobbies are, what they’re interested in if they play football. I show up to football games,” said Taylor. “If they’re in drumline majorette, I show up to performances.”

Rodriguez said she also had a change of heart before teaching. She worked as a quality assurance auditor in the pharmaceutical industry, but her career outlook changed once her son was born.

“I became a teacher after becoming a mother, and I did so because I realized the value of the profession,” said Rodriguez. “When I realized that I would have to trust my son with a teacher for seven to 10 hours a day, and I wanted to be a part of that impact.”

Teacher Judy Rodriguez

For the past eight years, Rodriguez taught at Cope Center North. The school serves teenage mothers and pregnant teens.

“We impact two generations simultaneously,” said Rodriguez. “One half of our school is dedicated to ages 6 through 12, traditional classrooms where they earn their credits as they would in the other setting. The other half of the building is dedicated to our nurturing center, which is a fully-accredited daycare center.”

Before the end of each school day, Rodriguez said she leaves her students with one thought: “Nothing that they set before them is too large.”

Perry-Brits began showing interest in becoming a teacher after she volunteered in her son’s kindergarten class.

“I was able to reconnect what I learned at an early age about the power of education,” said Perry-Brits.

Teacher Katina Perry-Birts

Inside Perry-Brits’ fourth-grade class at Florida City Elementary, she said she teaches more than just reading. More than 95 percent of children at Florida City Elementary are low-income children, but Perry-Brits reminds them that their environment does not pave the road for their future.

“What I teach my students is that the impossible is nothing,” said Perry-Brits. “I give them that grit that with education they can overcome whatever obstacle they face. Whatever challenge they face, the key is education.”

A winner will be announced on Thursday night at the Doubletree by Hilton at the Miami Airport and Convention Center.

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