NFL Fan Teacher of the Year Michelle Stone (left) was recognized on the field before the Pro Bowl
"I'm so excited. I've never been anywhere, so this is surprising to me. I'm going to have fun!"
That was L'Asia Maxwell, seventh-grade student at Stewart Middle School, reacting to the unexpected news on February 3 that she was headed to Hawaii in just a few days, thanks to a plane ticket provided by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The story begins with the NFL's Fan Teacher of the Year award, which was won by Tampa's Michelle Stone. Maxwell, a former student of Stone's, nominated her fifth-grade teacher for the award and Stone won from among a pool of 1,500 nationwide nominees.
As the winner, Stone received a trip for two to the NFL Pro Bowl in Honolulu, along with a $500 award and $5,000 for Sheehy Elementary, the school in Tampa where Stone is now a math resource coordinator.
The "trip for two" part, while wonderful, presented Stone with a difficult decision: Should she take Maxwell or her mother? Neither one had ever been to Hawaii. The problem was solved when the Buccaneers quickly stepped in to purchase an extra plane ticket, ensuring that Maxwell would not miss the opportunity to accompany her teacher on this fantastic voyage.
The trip was thrilling for all three. Stone recently recounted her time in Hawaii for the Buccaneers and reflected on what it meant to be recognized as one of the most outstanding teachers in the country.
The trip began with a party on the beach where Stone, her mother and Maxwell mingled with Pro Bowl players, their families and other invited guests. The party's huge buffet and live band were a great way to kick off the Pro Bowl festivities.
Stone wanted to be sure that Maxwell experienced the educational opportunities that Hawaii had to offer, so they made a point of visiting Pearl Harbor and the Polynesian Culture Center. Stone names the outing to the Polynesian Culture Center as one of her favorite parts of the trip. The center was both entertaining and educational while it taught the mentor and her student about the islands of Hawaii and the cultural differences between them. Stone and Maxwell also experienced the pleasure of meeting Linda Lingle, the Governor of Hawaii.
Before the actual Pro Bowl kicked off, Stone was recognized on the field as the Fan Teacher of the Year. Maxwell joined her on the turf for this honor, where they shook hands with NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue. Stone and her two guests then enjoyed the exciting NFL All-Star game from their fifth row seats on the 50-yard line.
Stone was glad that Maxwell was able to join her on the trip, since the touching words in her former student's nomination helped gain Stone the national award.
"I was very proud to have her there with me, and it was actually her first airplane trip," Stone noted.
The trip provided a life lesson for Maxwell that she could not have gained otherwise. Maxwell worked hard to improve her grades and her attitude with Stone's guidance, and for that she sought to thank Stone for her positive influence.
"I think L'Asia understood that if you work hard, good things will come to you," Stone said.
Good things indeed. Really, it doesn't get much better than a Hawaiian vacation.