Teacher of the Year
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Ojus Elementary
18600 West Dixie Highway
North Miami Beach, FL 33180
Tel: (305)931-4881
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Teacher of the Year

Ms. Jessica Chen - 2013 - 2014

MS.Judith Phillias - 2012 - 2013
MS.Judith Phillias

After being surpluses from a couple of schools, Ms. Judith Philias finally found her home at Ojus Elementary. In the classroom, as most teachers, Ms. Philias expects her students to try their best in everything. She believes in them and reminds them of this daily. The attitude of easily giving up isn’t accepted as well. She often incorporates a diverse learning atmosphere; whether it is using food to enrich a lesson or having the students complete an experiment that’ll leave them in awe and filled with knowledge.

Additionally, she feels that students should be well rounded, devoting time to activities beyond the academic spectrum. This was one of the reasons she initiated the idea of Ojus Goes Bonkers. On this day, the students did not have to feel the pressures of doing well on the FCAT because it was over. They had the opportunity to go crazy and acquire an understanding about cancer. Due to this event some students even approached her inquiring about cancer because with like many things in life it’s just not hidden as it affects everyone. The students may have known someone with it (cancer) or heard of it. Nonetheless, this event became a packaged deal as it served as a chance for the students to learn and provided an occasion to them being selfless.  In one day, the students raised over $400 for the American Cancer Society!
Another event that Ms. Philias has decided to tackle is the infamous annual Ojus Talent Show. Over the years she has participated but decided to take a different route this year. With the talent show comes the students’ motivation to want to do better in school in academics and in their behavior. Ms. Philias is up for the challenge this year and her positive attitude will make this journey a great one. Thinking about this makes me think, does she really need a reason to have a headache this school year? Of course not, this new found adventure is for the students. After all, they are the big picture in education; whether she’s helping to sell stencils, bothering Mr. Kirkman about ways to get a grant for the school, or being silly in the school dance her main thought is that it all goes back to the students.

Furthermore, outside of Ojus it seems that Ms. Philias can’t seem to get away from education. Three to four days out of the week she tutors other elementary school students. Also, she conducts youth meeting every Friday night for middle and high school students as she currently serves as the youth president of her church.  One would think once her youth members graduated high school that they would disconnect with her but fortunately that hasn’t happened. They usually call her asking her for her advice on the classes they should take or sometimes they just call to vent knowing that she’ll listen. Ms. Philias is also affiliated with several organizations. She is a proud member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. and United Teachers of Dade. She has also volunteered for several breast cancer walks, has been her team president for Relay for Life, and has educated and hosted a number of events at her church.


Ms. Sonya Gardner - 2011 - 2012

As the teacher, Ms. Sonya Gardner realizes that she is the key element in a child’s life to make a life altering imprint.  Ms. Gardner has worked at Ojus Elementary School for 27 years and has enjoyed every moment.  She states that “it has been a remarkable journey.”  She has played a vital role in the development of this community. Every school day lends an opportunity to grow, learn and embrace new ideas with her students.  Sonya believes it is her responsibility to teach with passion and rigor to bring about her student’s fullest potential as we prepare them as future leaders for the next generation. Sonya believes that the teacher’s attitude sets the tone for learning and productivity.  Equally, it is important to collaborate with colleagues and develop herself professionally to equip students with the best knowledge.  Ms. Gardner embraces an assertive and energetic disposition daily to provide experiences for her students that will be life lasting.  She is an inspiring individual and leaves an impressionable presence.  She strongly believes that the learning experience is not limited to the confines of the classroom but must be broaden to allow students the opportunity to put into action the skills they have learned.  Sonya believes in an invested interest in a cross curricular approach to instruction which makes learning rich and appealing.  Since being introduced to Ojus Elementary in 1984 her leadership and enthusiasm prevails.   Ms. Gardner continues to teach with passion, high energy and motivation always, reaching and seeking new ideas to meet the needs of her students.  As mentioned in the recent newspaper article, Sonya has taught the spectrum of the elementary platform and has transformed every experience.  With her recent extreme placement as a kindergarten teacher transferring from fourth grade proves her vitality as a profound educator.  It is with humble gratitude and appreciation that she accepts this title as” Teacher of the Year!”  Ms. Gardner will continue to work to live up to the responsibility that this honor bestows.Star

Ms. Wendy Firtell - 2010 - 2011
Ms. Firtell

Ms. Wendy Firtell has been an educator for the past 20 years.  She received her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida and Her Master’s degree from Nova Southeastern where she graduated with honors.  For her first three years, she educated young Seminole Indian children at a Private school in Hollywood.  For the past 17 years she has devoted her heart and soul to Ojus Elementary School.  Most importantly she is a devoted wife to her husband Brian of 16 years and a loving mom to her 12 year old son Justin.  She is also a caring daughter, aunt, and sister. 
For the past 20 years, Ms. Firtell has done her true passion…..teaching.   She has taught pre-school for two years, 3rd grade for one year, Kindergarten for 15 years and for the past two years, she has taught the EFL extended foreign language program in both Kindergarten and first grades…..  She has known since she was eight years old that teaching was the only career for her. Her endless devotion to teaching and volunteering drives her passion to learn more.  Her dream is to continue her education and one day pursue her Doctorate degree.   She leaves each day, tired, worn out and wondering…… but arrives each morning early to school, motivated and ready to face the day.  After all, isn’t everything you need to know in life, what you learned in Kindergarten?     Here, at Ojus she can interweave a fostering and love of life-long learning and an excitement to build upon educational success.  She feels teaching is a tapestry, spectacularly unlimited, always challenging, rich in color and never boring.