Chris Ortiz may be very young in his teaching career, but he’s clearly having a big impact at Viera High School.
Mary Peterson, well, she’s a big part of the glue that holds things together at the front desk.
That’s why, much to their surprise Friday morning, they were presented by principal Sarah Robinson with the ultimate recognition. After a vote of their peers, Ortiz has been named Viera High School’s 2021-2022 Teacher of the Year and Peterson was named the 2021-2022 Employee of the Year.
“It was a pretty big surprise,” Ortiz said. “Technically, I’m 2 ½ years into teaching and there are so many things I feel like I have to grow and improve in.”
The 26-year-old, who began teaching in January 2019, was presented with a chair that on the back has the names of all the previous winners listed on gold frames.
“To experience Mr. Ortiz is to experience passion, care, enthusiasm, and a love for educating students,” Robinson said while making the announcement.
“Entering into Mr. Ortiz’s classroom is an adventure, as students experience his dynamic personality and his commitment to educating ALL students. Often, I hear students talking in the cafeteria or throughout the campus about how much they love Mr. Ortiz’s class, but also how much they know Mr. Ortiz cares about them.”
Ortiz told the students in his first period English I Honors class that he’s become the teacher he is because of them.
“This is an incredibly difficult job,” he said. “People don’t understand quite how difficult it is until you get it into it. I’ve just been incredibly lucky to have students that make the late nights working incredibly worth it, and to inspire me to try to push my lesson plans past their boundaries.
“And mostly, (I’m lucky to have) students who are accepting and understanding when things don’t go 100 percent to plan. Because there’s never a 100 percent chance that things are going to go to plan.
“Having students that have a two-way relationship with me where I give them grace when I need it, and they give me grace when I need it, has been instrumental, especially this year and last year with COVID.”
Ortiz is also a member of the school’s Mental Health Committee and Robinson said when she talks to him, he is usually reflecting on what he can do better, or how he can do more to impact his students.
“I just started teaching and grew into it and that’s where I am,” he said of his career path. “I didn’t have a particular desire when I was little to become a teacher. It just happened this way and I’m making it as beautiful as I can.”
Peterson has been at Viera for five years after retiring from a 28-year career working with FedEx.
“I love it here,” she said. “I love the students. I love the atmosphere.”
In her remarks to the students, Robinson said of Peterson:
“Mrs. Peterson is one of our office clerks and a bright spot for students, staff, parents, and the community to encounter each day at Viera High School.
“I often believe she is a magician, managing to multitask and complete tasks with amazing speed and an even more positive outlook on difficult situations. She makes ever situation better and finds ways to spread joy and positivity on our campus.
“This year has been especially challenging with COVID, but she has stepped up in every way and almost every role to fill in when others are out and to keep encouraging the staff when times are difficult. Mrs. Peterson, we are so thankful for you and the impact you have on every one of us every day.”
Peterson, who will turn 60 next month, said she decided to work at the school in large part because she has a number of family members involved in education.
Her daughter and son-in-law are both teachers, her husband is a former teacher and her sister also works at a school.
“They all said to me when I retired, ‘You would love working in a school,’ because I really love kids,” Peterson said. “(There is) energy and movement and a lot of action.
“I tried it and I love it.”