Sunday, December 17, 2017
Education

Wesley Chapel High senior earns award for volunteer work

WESLEY CHAPEL — Helping people was a part of Shelby Thompson's life from the beginning, as much as teething and drinking milk.

From a baby carrier strapped to her mother's shoulders, Shelby got a front row seat as her mother helped the homeless at Metropolitan Ministries or patients at H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center.

Later, it was the school PTA.

"I just took her along with me," said Sandra Thompson, who remains active in the organization at the high school level.

The exposure wore off on her daughter, who has spent countless hours organizing teams for the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life events, standing in front of supermarkets asking for pledges, helping with Special Olympics, collecting items for Toys for Tots, or putting up a fence for Habitat for Humanity.

Last year, the Wesley Chapel High School senior's good deeds won her the Anne Frank Humanitarian Award. Created by the Florida Holocaust Museum in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the award is given to a junior at each of the area's high schools who consciously chooses to spend time improving the lives of others.

Recipients get a glass plaque and a year's free family pass to the museum.

"She always thought about others and keeping them safe, even though she wasn't safe herself," Shelby said of Anne Frank, the 13-year-old Jewish girl who hid with her family in an attic during the Holocaust and later died in a concentration camp.

Surrounded by a culture that is often obsessed with fashion, dating and who just got booted off American Idol, this 17-year-old would rather be helping a kid master math or wrapping gifts for a nonprofit agency.

"The greatest thing in the world is helping people," she said. "I like to make their day better. I like to make them smile."

Shelby has spent much of her last year in high school bringing smiles to the faces of Hillary Wankelman's first-graders.

For her senior project, she worked with the 16-member class at Watergrass Elementary School. Each month, she had each child decorate an 8-by-8-inch construction paper square according to a theme. In September, it was All About Me. In the following months, it was pumpkins, a cornucopia, snowmen, a story about mittens, the 100th day of school, following directions and Earth Day.

The squares all tie into lesson plans that she developed and taught to the students.

"Shelby has a natural ease when it comes to working with children," said Wankelman, who taught Shelby's younger sister, Lyndzie. "She is very organized, can think on the spot and adapt to unexpected changes. I know Shelby will be an amazing teacher, and I think with so many good teachers leaving the profession, it's positive to see there are still individuals excited to join the profession."

Shelby's favorite part is hearing the first-graders talk.

One girl, who had just returned to school after her grandfather died, responded to an offering of sympathy with "It's okay; I have another one."

Another time she overheard a heated debate on the tooth fairy.

"No ... the tooth fairy is REAL," a student insisted to a skeptical classmate.

"They are so funny," she said.

Shelby is taking all the decorated squares home and is tying them together with ribbon to create a paper quilt for each student. Each square shows how much they have progressed since they started the school year. The last square is themed "My Favorite Moment with Miss Shelby."

After graduation on June 1 and a summer job, it's off to the University of North Florida, where she plans to major in elementary education and minor on special education.

Ana Weeks, one of the students at Watergrass, isn't too happy about that.

"Are you still mad at me because I'm going to college?" Shelby asked.

"Yes," the pony-tailed first-grader nodded.

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