BRADENTON, Fla. - Over the last year, teachers and staff of the Manatee County School District adapted.
"Regardless of fear and the unknown, we had to unite to ensure our students were taken care of and they continued to receive an education," said Latrina Singleton, who was the principal of Blackburn Elementary School when the pandemic started.
At first, COVID-19 forced classes to go virtual. Singleton, who now works as the district's director of federal programs and grants, watched as her staff continued on.
"My fellow administrators, teachers, custodians and food service workers and many continued to show up every day because the fuel that drives us is our students," she recalled.
From serving nearly one million grab-and-go meals to setting up laptops for students, school buses were also outfitted with wi-fi for e-learning as schools reopened new ways to clean classrooms and buses were thought up.
"Every single one of these people put our students and or families and this community before themselves," said school board chair Charlie Kennedy.
Kennedy said employees became the driving force keeping schools running.
"We will never be able to thank you enough, but we will try over the next few weeks," he said.
The district, backed by community support, will recognize all 6,000 employees as champions of education.
The Manatee Education Foundation and nearly 60 sponsors raised more than $80,000. The money will be put towards a pizza lunch for every school, plus awards, presents and small ways to say 'thank you.'
Over the next two weeks, each school will hold its own special celebration.
"It's just to show gratitude to how much the community has really appreciated really the front-line workers stepping up, "said Superintendent Cynthia Saunders.
It’s a show of appreciation for hard work that isn't over yet.
"When I look over the audience today, I see our educational first responders, our champions of education," said Singleton. "The ones who were and continue to be the silent heroes during this pandemic."