By Dawn Krebs
ST. LUCIE COUNTY -- On the morning of Jan. 9, three St. Lucie County school employees were surprised when an entourage of district staff led by Superintendent Michael Lannon informed them they were finalists for the district's 2013 St. Lucie County School-Related Employee of the Year award.
Stephanie Ludwig at Floresta Elementary School, Patricia Sorrell at Oak Hammock K-8 and Eric Henik of Palm Point Educational Research School, all in Port St. Lucie, were in the middle of their work days when the group surprised them with balloons and hugs.
Ms. Ludwig is an exceptional student education paraprofessional and has worked for the district for 12 years. In addition to helping teachers, she also serves meals to families at her church and is the co-captain for the Floresta Elementary Relay for Life team.
"We're so pleased you represent so many people so beautifully," said Superintendent Lannon as he presented her with a plaque and balloons.
"Stephanie and I have worked together for a long time," said Floresta Principal Debbie Iseman. "She is just the most thoughtful person, a ray of sunshine."
Ms. Ludwig was thrilled to hear the news she was a finalist.
"I'm blessed to have such wonderful friends and coworkers," she said. "I couldn't be happier."
At Oak Hammock K-8, Ms. Sorrell works as hearing- impaired interpreter for students and teachers. Outside of work, she volunteers as a basketball coach and also works with hearing-impaired students at Indian River State College.
She teared up when she found out she was named a finalist.
"This is a real honor for me to accept," she said. "There are a lot of people who work very hard every day and love their job as much as I do."
"I have the pleasure of working with her," said teacher Lindsay Kane. "I've learned so much from her, and she makes our lives so much better."
The final visit surprised Mr. Henik, plant manager at Palm Pointe Educational Research School in Tradition. He was in the middle of a meeting when the crowd walked in and surprised him.
"All the things you have done, not just in this school, but your work in the entire county, makes you truly an ambassador," said Superintendent Lannon.
"I couldn't be more proud of him," said Principal Debra Snyder. "He plays so many roles here, and has a passion for the kids."
"The whole idea of Palm Pointe is that we're a family," Mr. Henik said. "We support each other and the attitude and moral here is phenomenal."
The School-Related Employee of the Year is a statewide program and is sponsored by the school district's St. Lucie County Education Foundation.
They were nominated by the schools they worked for, and were selected by a committee of former winner, principals and district administrators.
The three finalists will attend the annual "Night of the Stars" recognition on Feb. 23, where the winner for the district will be announced at a ceremony to be held at Lincoln Park Academy.