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OCPS Volunteer Named State Finalist

Courtesy of Orange County Public Schools

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Superintendent Ronald Blocker, Mary Ann Gavulic and Principal Danny Axtell

Mary Ann Gavulic, a volunteer at Thornebrooke Elementary in Ocoee, has been named the Region III Outstanding Senior Volunteer by the Florida Department of Education. She is one of only five state winners in this category.

Gavulic began volunteering at the school last year and spends an average of 15-20 hours per week there. Although she serves children in all grades, she has experienced great success helping exceptional education students. Kathie Suriano, a fifth-grade teacher, asked her to reach out to a varying exceptionalities student who was reading below grade level, and was not able to write or do simple addition or subtraction. "I begged her to help and she was most gracious to do that," Suriano says. After three months working with Gavulic, this 12-year-old student increased his reading level by two years, could do math problems and even wrote his very first story about Christmas time with his family!

Gavulic says she became a volunteer because her grandchildren, two of whom attend Thornebrooke, were happy in school and she wanted to share in that joy. "The children at the school are wonderful," she explains. "They're such little sponges for learning — anything you give them, they just absorb."

Gavulic also spends hours shelving books in the media center, assisting with the book fair and working with kindergarten students. But her caring goes beyond just school activities. With the onset of cold weather, Gavulic's heart went out to a little girl whose family couldn't afford to buy her a hat. In response to the need she saw, Gavulic knitted a hat for the student.

"Miss Mary has just been a godsend here at Thornebrooke," Principal Danny Axtell says. "She's been here every day, so dedicated — a volunteer like her comes along once in a lifetime."

Gavulic was honored at the annual statewide Florida Partners in Education Conference this month.