The Van Wezel Foundation and the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall named three teachers from Sarasota County as recipients of the Appleton Outstanding Teacher of the Year award, which celebrates the best in arts integration strategies in the classroom. The educators were recognized during the foundation's 2020 Inspiration Gala held on February 21 at the Performing Arts Hall. The award is made possible by an endowment to the Foundation from the late Louise Appleton, a local philanthropist who had a passion for arts education and making a difference in the community.
The 2020 Appleton Outstanding Teacher of the Year award was given to Melissa Forsten, a first-grade teacher from Atwater Elementary in North Port who uses the performing arts to inspire her students to learn and educates other teachers on best practices and teaching techniques. With the award, Forsten is eligible to attend a professional development workshop in Washington, D.C., led by talented teaching artists at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. She also received a prize for an arts integration project and classroom teaching materials. Two additional educators were recognized for innovative applications of arts integration in the classroom, including Joanna Fox, a creative writing teacher from Booker Middle School in Sarasota, and Tatiana Ignotis, an ESOL instructor from Venice Middle School. Fox received funding for an arts integration project, and both teachers received prizes for classroom learning materials.