Teaching Kindness: Florida Teacher wins “Educator of the Year” Award at Operation Smile’s International Student Leadership Conference

Miami's Community Newspapers

With over 900 student clubs around the world, Operation Smile student clubs work to raise awareness and funds for free surgeries to children and young adults who are born with cleft lip, cleft palate or other facial abnormalities in low-and-middle income countries.

Shannon Perry-Martinez, a kindergarten dual language teacher at Gator Run Elementary School, has a passion for teaching students.  She encourages those who want to make the world a better place to do so through the Operation Smile student club she sponsors.


Perry-Martinez was recently recognized for her hard work and passion for Operation Smile at our 28th annual International Student Leadership Conference (ISLC) at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. At ISLC, she won the “Educator of the Year” award. This award is given to an educator who has devoted his or her time, effort and knowledge to supporting Operation Smile by spreading awareness and aiding an Operation Smile student club.


“I am so honored to receive this award. I feel like my little club is so small and to be honored this way makes me feel really proud but very humbled since there are so many rock stars at this conference and in this organization,” Perry-Martinez said.


The Gator Run Elementary School student club will enter its 3rd year this fall. Last year, the club members assembled over 100 smile bags for patients to receive after surgery, created No-Sew blankets and raised funds for Operation Smile patients.


Perry-Martinez not only helps her students with fundraising, but she also incorporates an educational aspect to the club’s itinerary. “We teach them geography, so we show them where the countries involved are,” Perry-Martinez said. “We also have a leadership board of students, so there’s the educational aspect of teaching them the roles of parliamentary procedures. It’s amazing how so many kids step up to be leaders,” she added.


Perry-Martinez says that it is her dream for Operation Smile student clubs in elementary schools to continue into the middle school grades. “There’s this strong desire from children to help and give back,” Perry-Martinez said. “It motivates me because I feel If I can give them an opportunity to have empathy and give to others, that’s the most powerful thing I can do as an educator, as a human being,” she added.


To learn more about how you can make a difference, reach out to Gemma Berry, Operation Smile’s southeast regional director at either gemma.berry@operationsmile.org or 757-839-2075.  Visit www.operationsmile.org and follow us on Facebook or Twitter.




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