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Fourth grade teacher Jenny Fraley wins the Golden Coconut

February 14, 2018
Jessica Salmond - News Editor (jsalmond@breezenewspapers.com) , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

All the fourth graders at Beach Elementary needed to hear was "she likes to travel" and they knew instantly: their teacher, Jenny Fraley, had won the 2018 Golden Coconut.

The students turned around from their criss-cross-applesauce positions in the school cafeteria to shoot her a knowing glance, sometimes with a victorious point or an excited giggle.

But to Fraley, it was a nice surprise.

Article Photos

Beach Kids Foundation chairwoman Linda Beasley presents the Coconut to fourth-grade teacher Jenny Fraley.

Each year, the Beach Kids Foundation facilitates a special award for a teacher at the elementary school. The rest of the teachers submit a ballot voting for the one among them that they feel deserve this special recognition.

Then, the foundation gives the teacher the "Golden Coconut" along with other goodies for the teacher - and the rest of the school.

Foundation chairwoman Linda Beasley said the organization began the Golden Coconut about 12 years ago because it wanted to make sure the teachers knew they were appreciated.

Fact Box

Q&A with Jenny Fraley

What made you want to become a teacher?

At the time my children were in school, the hours were really cool. I was able to have my summers off with them. But more than anything I really like teaching people new things, that's why it attracted me so much. I went back for my degree in my 30s. I graduated when I was 43. It was truly the wanting to teach kids. I just love it.

What makes the Beach Elementary so special?

Everybody knowing everybody. It's the community end of it. It's the knowing each other, the trust we have in each other as teachers. We all know we can go to each other for help. We can go to each other if we have questions. That's what makes this a unique environment.

Your colleagues voted for you to win the Coconut. What's it like, knowing they chose you?

That's the best part. They acknowledge and support me, they recognize that I'm giving my best and trying my hardest, and they voted me in because they saw that.

Can you think of a time that you could tell you made a difference for a student at the beach school?

I can tell when they come back to me when they're in high school, and they come and tell me what they're doing. I got invited to one of my prior kid's graduation, and that was really a moving thing. They were a fifth-grader graduating seven or eight years later.

"Lee County (Schools) has the Golden Apple," she said. "No one here ever gets it."

Besides the coconut trophy, each teacher received a personalized canvas tote back. The foundation also donated $1,000 to the teachers to use for classroom supplies and $1,000 to its Reading is FUNdamental program, which purchases books that students get to take home and keep.

Former chairwoman Fran Myers told the school to let the foundation know what else it needed. One student put in his pitch for everyone to get iPads.

"Honorary" board member Toni Lynn Starr attended the award event and gave the teachers a gift of one of her perfumes. Starr was a student at the beach school turned country music singer, and told the student body about how one teacher at the school changed her life by teaching her to love to read.

But once Beasley began to read the biography of the winner, the twitters ran through the audience.

"The kids were really excited," Fraley said. "They knew it was me."

Fraley has a special connection with the beach school: her two children, Johnny, 29, and Kristen, 28, attended the school when they were children. Fraley started work at the school as a teacher's assistant and went back to get her degree to teach when she was in her 30s. She kept her eye open for a job at the beach school, but those openings don't come around very often. She began teaching at a charter school for her first three years - and it was a totally different experience.

Rather than the small, close-knit school she'd worked and sent her children through, Fraley was teaching 35 fifth-graders in a school with more than a thousand students enrolled.

"You can get lost in everything," she said.

But then, Administrative Assistant Renee Mulloy let her know there was an opening at the school she loved.

"I came back for the community. It's a community school," Fraley said.

She's now been a teacher at the small, 100-student school for 12 years - and doesn't plan to go anywhere else.

"We don't leave," Fraley said.

 
 

 

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