2014 Teacher of the Year

Saint Mary's Kalmanovitz School of Education and River of Words Celebrate our Teachers of the Year!

River of Words / Kalmanovitz School of Education 2014 Teacher of the Year  

Joanna Fox, of Booker Middle Visual and Performing Arts Magnate School; Sarasota, Florida

updated February 2018 by Ed Hirtzel

Joanna Fox. Courtesy of University of South Florida.Joanna Fox teaches Creative Writing at Booker Middle Visual and Performing Arts Magnet School in Sarasota, Florida. Her classroom is known as the “Dragonfly Café” and is furnished with dining room tables and chairs and soft lighting. She serves hot tea daily, organizes quarterly poetry readings in the "cafe," and also makes creative use of the pond behind the school, where there are snakes and poison ivy, evidence of an alligator, but also, as she points out, poetry awaiting discovery.

Her students' outdoor explorations have led to identifying 27 shades of green, the conversation of birds, and countless dragonfly musings. In fact, the hunting of dragonflies is called oding, a perfect pursuit for her young poets, who often recite their odes on the Poet's Rock and who recently held their first Sunset Beach Poetry Reading, replete with a picnic and percussion. Her classroom and her students' successes include several finalists and two River of Words Grand Prize winners. Joanna's work in the classroom also inspired a feature story on the local PBS TV station that received three Emmy awards. (see video below)

Joanna has always lived near the water, from the creek behind her childhood home in Indiana, to summers on Torch Lake in Michigan, to her current home near the Gulf of Mexico. She came to teaching in an untraditional manner, starting college at the age of thirty-nine. Her son, J.D., suggested she should become a teacher, and her daughter, Clare, encouraged her throughout her studies at the University of South Florida where she earned her BA in English Education. She followed that up with an M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction at the American College of Education. 

Since 2014 Teacher of the Year continues to follow her passion for teaching and writing poetry. She was one of ten Americans selected to study poetry at Charles University in Prague with poet James Ragan during the summer of 2012. She also studied with poet James Ragan during the summer of 2012 at the My Favorite Poem Teacher's Institute at Boston University. In 2015, "Booked" by Kwame Alexander - a novel in verse dedicated to Joanna about the troubles and triumph of a young student and soccer playing poet named Nick - won a Newberry Prize. She also joined the Hermitage Artist Retreat on the Gulf of Mexico as their poet/teacher fellow. In 2016, Joanna was a summer scholar in the Adirondacks with the National Endowment for the Humanities. In 2017 during her 17th year of teaching at Booker Middle School, Joanna was awarded the University of South Florida’s Dean’s Lifetime Achievement Alumni Award. 

In 2018, Joanna won a grant to have banners of her writers' poetry hung downtown Sarasota to create a poetry walk. Her plan is to invite the city officials on a the walk to hear the poets read their work to give them a glimpse of our city through the eyes and hearts of young poets.

Through an immersion in weather, water, words, and the River of Words curriculum, Joanna's students are encouraged to connect with the world, to clarify and strengthen their relationships to their environment, themselves, and others - and to proclaim those connections in poetry. Below, please find a poem by Dominigue Golder, a student of Joanna's who won the Poetry Grand Prize in Category III for ROW's 2014 contest. In addition, be sure to check out Joanna's recent interview with ROW, where she discusses her students' ongoing endeavors and more.


Celestial Guidance

The sun drifts down

And the moon struts up

With its cape full of stars.

The sweet fall wind

Pushes forward

Under blue silver rays

Lighting my smooth winding path

On this cloudless night.

A map carved only for me

That leads to the past

From the future

Into the present 

Continuous with celestial guidance

Beyond the horizon

Dominique Golder, age 12
Sarasota, Florida
Booker Middle School
Teacher: Joanna Fox
2014 River of Words Grad Prize Winner Category III

Joanna Fox's work in the classroom also inspired a feature story
on the local PBS TV station that received three Emmy awards.