CAPE CORAL, Fla. — A prestigious award earned by one Southwest Florida educator.
The 'Teacher as Hero' award recognizes outstanding educators who represent best practices in teaching and serve as role models to their colleagues and students. This year, three of the ten winners are Florida teachers- with one of them being in Cape Coral.
“I didn’t win the award- the kids won it and then all of the adults that have been involved. It wasn’t me. That was my first thought.”
For two decades, Al Piotter has been teaching agriscience at Trafalgar Middle School. He’s been named ‘Exceptional Teacher of the Year’ by the National Liberty Museum, having been nominated by one of his colleagues. But you better not tell him he won the award.
“I get the award but really it’s all the students and staff, volunteers, and community helpers that we have and the parents- everybody is involved. I just get the little recognition,” says Piotter.
One of his recent projects is the Trafalgar Square, a cozy garden situated outside of classrooms. He also started a vegetable garden, led by students and volunteers, that has grown over 32 tons of food for use in the school kitchen as well as local soup kitchen for those in need.
“For some of these kids, this is the biggest project they’ll ever belong to," Piotter says. "Usually we’ll do about 8,000 pounds of vegetables a year and they’re giving this to somebody they don’t know that’s going to eat it and that’s how it works. It just keeps giving back, that’s what it’s about.”
A lesson that is beneficial on multiple fronts for his students.
“It’s actually a really fun experience to plant and learn about the whole gardening experience," says Olivia German, a seventh grade student of Mr. Piotter. "Also, if you are older and when you grow up, you can learn how to grow a lot of different plants from his class.”
“It’s almost as if he is the man, the myth, the legend," said Kevin Beckman, Assistant Principal at Trafalgar Middle School. "He goes above and beyond in everything that he does in his life but he’s true to nature. He’s true to himself.”
Some of the work Piotter does involves preparation, which can often go unnoticed. But it’s leaving a size-able impression on those around him.
“He wants the kids to know this is the way we live, this is the way we survive- building food, agriculture- this is the way we can give back to the community. He just does it. You look at someone like that and it’s inspiring, it’s inspiring for you to want to do better and he inspires the kids to always want to do better. That’s what I love about him and I think that’s what he’ll be remembered by is of his inspiration to every person that he touches on how much he wants them to do better," said Beckman.
And for Piotter, it will always be about his students.
“We’re fortunate at Trafalgar to have great students and that makes it a lot easier. On me it’s just go outside, do a little bit of work, give back to the community, it doesn’t get a lot better than that- and they like it… I hope!”
A lot of Piotter's class projects are made possible through donations. Those who would like to help can donate to the Trafalgar Garden. You can find more information by heading over to the Lee County School District website.