With the annual Great American Teach-In coming up on Wednesday organizers are scrambling to put the finishing touches on their guest lists.
The Teach-In, a national program where professionals from all walks of life talk with students about their jobs, has become one of the most popular, widely-attended campaigns in the county.
Spurring that popularity are people like Sickles High School community relations specialist Theresa Aucoin, who leaves no business card unturned in her quest for a full slate of speakers.
"The Teach-In is one of those things that I'm on 24/7," Aucoin said. "I can't go out to dinner with my boyfriend without asking the manager of the restaurant, "Hey, do you want to come to our Teach-In?' "
Aucoin rarely takes no for an answer. On a recent visit to the school to cover a different story, North of Tampa photographer Mike Pease was cornered by Aucoin who convinced him to speak to the school's photojournalism students before letting him leave campus.
"The way I do it here is I get on the phone and start calling people," Aucoin said. "But also people that come every year start calling me. If they haven't heard from me, by golly, I'll hear from them."
Teach-In speakers blanket all grades from elementary to high school, exposing children to a wide range of careers that may one day appeal to them. The event expands on the old job fair model and puts kids face to face with professionals they could potentially emulate years later.
"You're always on the lookout for those that are intriguing," said Tampa Palms Elementary Principal Betty Lou Turner. "But we also love to be able to expose the students to what are all the possibilities of what they can do in the future. It's a neat way to see what are all of the opportunities available when you grow up."
Suzanne Powers of the Hillsborough Education Foundation, which sponsors the Teach-In, said last year more than 8,000 adults participated. "Everybody just loves doing it," Powers said. "They tell their friends and get their friends' friends involved."
That's sort of how Davidsen Middle School Teach-In coordinator Bonnie Kirstein got state Representative-elect Kevin Ambler to speak at her school. Ambler was going door-to-door passing out campaign literature when he came to Kirstein's house. If he won election, she asked Ambler, would he come to the Teach-In?
Ambler won, and although he'll be in Tallahassee all this week, he kept his Teach-In promise and spoke at the school on Thursday.
"He told us he had dinner with Jeb Bush (Wednesday) night and that they were going to play golf today," Kirstein said. "But he said, "I can't let down Davidsen because I promised Bonnie I'd be here.' "
Ambler wasn't the only professional Kirstein wrangled up off the street. She also got the man who sells sno-cones at her son's ball field to agree to speak at the school about his succulent art.
"It's an amazing opportunity for the kids to consider all kinds of careers they might not have thought of," Kirstein said.
Even though high school students are much closer to starting their careers than younger students, Sickles High's Aucoin said she thinks the Teach-In is a boon for all grades.
"I don't think it's ever too early to get a child's mind thinking towards the future," Aucoin said. "At any level you can introduce excitement for a profession and these students start thinking. The more knowledge they have, starting young, about what they can do, I think increases their thirst for knowledge."
Anyone can participate in the Great American Teach-In, and the presentation need not be related to a profession. Speakers can also discuss hobbies or avocations. To sign up, call a local school and ask for the Teach-In coordinator, or call School Enrichment Resource Volunteers in Education (SERVE) at 872-5254 and they will recommend a school.
_ Logan D. Mabe can be reached at 269-5304 or at mabesptimes.com
Marley, a Tampa Fire Search and Rescue dog from Station 14, walks the desks at Clark Elementary School during a visit to the third-grade class during last year's Great American Teach-In. Tampa Fire Rescue Lt. Mark Bogush, Marley's owner, explained to the students that as part of Marley's training she had to learn to walk anywhere without fear.