A typical day of teaching fourth-grade students became anything but ordinary for FishHawk Creek Elementary School teacher Stacey Hirn Friday, Jan. 18.
Hirn was in the midst of a lesson on civil rights leader Rosa Parks when her classroom door opened and Principal Pam Bush ushered in the Hillsborough Education Foundation Surprise Patrol.
Hirn's bewilderment turned to amazement when the patrol announced that Hirn was a finalist for the Ida S. Baker Diversity Educator of the Year award.
"It was very exciting," said Bush. "Mrs. Hirn was so totally surprised, she was almost speechless. And if you know her you know she's rarely speechless."
"I couldn't believe it," said Hirn. "There are so many teachers in this county who do such amazing things. It was such an honor to be selected as a finalist for this award."
The award, presented each year by the foundation, is named in honor of Ida S. Baker, an educator known for her pioneering spirit and devotion to students. She later became the first black to be appointed deputy superintendent in the Florida Department of Education.
Finalists for the award are recognized for going above and beyond to meet the needs of the county's diverse student population.
It was more than Hirn's commitment as a math, science, writing and social studies teacher that earned her recognition as a finalist.
Hirn is a strong believer in children learning to save money at an early age and developing good money-managing habits that will carry them through adulthood.
With that in mind, Hirn launched a partnership with Suncoast Schools Federal Credit Union youth marketing manager Julie Lewis that allows students to open savings accounts and make deposits on a weekly basis at their school.
Hirn, a River Hills resident, began her teaching career at an inner-city school in Baltimore but left teaching to raise her three children.
"I took a 14-year hiatus and then started working in the mortgage industry," Hirn said.
However, she returned to teaching six years ago after attending a Brandon Rotary Club meeting where former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco was the speaker.
"He was talking about the importance of teachers, and it was so inspiring," she said. "I was at the point in my life where I really wanted to make a difference. I felt something was missing in my life so I went back to teaching."
Her first assignment was at Mintz Elementary School, a Title 1 school where a high percentage of students are economically disadvantaged.
"I wanted to help them get on the right path financially," said Hirn. "Before we moved here, my oldest daughter had a savings program at her elementary school so I talked to the principal at Mintz about setting up a similar program."
With the help of Lewis, Hirn set up the Mintz Mint to encourage the students to save their money. She then introduced the program to Alafia Elementary School when she was transferred there.
And since coming to FishHawk Creek Elementary School a year ago, the FishHawk Mint has flourished with more than 200 students depositing birthday money and allowances each Wednesday morning with the help of Hirn's volunteer tellers, including her mom, Phyllis Miller of FishHawk Ranch. Hirn also is assisted by her daughter, Mallory, a seventh-grader at Randall Middle School, and five other Randall students.
Suncoast Schools Federal Credit Union provides the students with deposit slips and pouches to keep their receipts in. In addition, the students receive incentives for saving such as $5 added to their savings account when they make 10 deposits.
"This project is so near and dear to my heart," said Hirn. "It's so wonderful to be recognized for something I love doing."
Bush said the honor is well deserved.
"She works so hard with the students and has such wonderful enthusiasm," said Bush.Let Patch save you time. Get great local stories just like this delivered right to your inbox or smartphone everyday with our free newsletter. Fast signup here.
Hirn is one of five finalists for the Ida S. Baker Diversity Educator of the Year in Hillsborough County selected from 230 nominees.
The finalists for the Ida S. Baker Diversity Educator of the Year award, along with finalists for the Teacher of the Year award and the Instructional Support Employee of the Year award will be honored Thursday, March 28, at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts.
For more information about the 2013 Excellence in Education Awards presented by the Suncoast Schools Federal Credit Union Foundation, visit www.educationfoundation.com.
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