A privilege quickly morphed into a challenge for Tracy Bowers.
The former principal at Wewahitchka Elementary School was offered the opportunity, or as Bowers characterized it, “the privilege,” to select one student to receive a fully-paid scholarship from Florida Pre-Paid.
That student had to be an “A-plus” student, but that did not exactly narrow the possibilities all that precipitously.
“There are so many A-plus students at Wewahitchka Elementary,” Bowers said Tuesday during an event in the school’s media center.
The student Bowers ultimately selected, she said, wore kindness as a coat and projected a positive attitude in and out of the classroom.
She adhered, Bowers said, to her own philosophy anchored by a determination to be the best she could be each and every day.
“She is very respectful and very well-mannered,” Bowers said. “She is a very hard worker who puts her best foot forward every day.”
And with that Bowers brought to the podium Jalyan Badillo, a current sixth-grader, and the sudden owner of framed copy of her ticket to college, fully paid.
The tears were quick to bubble up as Badillo tried to put into words the deep thanks her face revealed, contrasting a beaming smile with emotional tears streaking her cheeks.
“Thank you, Ms. Bowers,” she said, adding, in a whisper, she would make Ms. Bowers proud.
Bowers encouraged Jalyan, “Excellence and greatness are in you. Allow that excellence and greatness to come out of you.”
Badillo’s scholarship was one of the fringe benefits, if you will, of Bowers, who now oversees testing in the district, being named by Florida TaxWatch last year as one of the top three elementary school principals in the state.
Florida TaxWatch, a government watchdog agency, has recognized and honored the top three principals in elementary school, middle school and high school the past six years.
TaxWatch accepts no nominations, Vice-President Bob Nave said, but uses a “data-driven methodology” looking at student learning gains on standardized testing over the prior three years.
“(Bowers) is winning this award because of your hard work,” Nave told a library full of fifth-graders.
Bowers was principal at WES for four years prior to the current school year and before that was named the county’s Teacher of the Year.
She and the other eight principals honored by TaxWatch for 2018 will assemble for a convention next month at which statewide winners at each education level will be named.
Bowers, as she subtly emphasized during the event, is not one for the spotlight, adding she was “deeply touched and very humbled” by the recognition.
“I have always tried to begin each day on the best foot forward,” Bowers said. “Teachers don’t teach to receive any kind of award; principals don’t lead to receive any kind of award.
“To see children excel and be the best they can be … therein lies a true reward, a true joy.”
On the upside of having the spotlight briefly pointed her way Bowers was able to bestow a college scholarship on one deserving student.
And by the time photos with friends and family had been completed, Jalyan had composed herself sufficiently to grin widely and added, “I am just so honored.”