Influencer of the Week: Dawn Orlando, Summerlake Elementary

Dawn Orlando has taught at Orange County Public Schools for 10 years and currently teaches first grade.

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  • | 9:30 a.m. December 23, 2020
  • Southwest Orange
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Dawn Orlando’s teaching journey was inspired by her first-grade teacher, and it came full circle when she joined Summerlake Elementary as a first-grade teacher herself. Orlando’s passion for teaching and motivating her students to succeed is evident daily, and she enjoys watching them learn and grow. 


What brought you to your school?

I wanted to experience opening a school. Once I found out about Summerlake opening and that Ms. (Delaine) Bender was the principal, I knew I needed to be under her leadership. 

What do you love most about your school?

The energy. There is so much positivity and appreciation at Summerlake, not only from the entire staff, but (also) from our wonderful parents and community.

What is your motivation?

I know this may sound cliché, but “my kids” motivate me every single day. I am motivated when I see the sparkle in their eyes when they finally understand something or get excited about walking in our classroom. I really try to ensure that my kids know that our classroom is a safe place to be their own individual.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

The most rewarding part is not only seeing their growth academically, but seeing them be respectful, kind and independent. I have been teaching with OCPS for 10 years and am still in touch with former students. It is incredibly rewarding to hear how they are doing and the impact I made on them.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I hardly shut my brain off from teaching. However, when I do, I love to read a good book (preferably at the beach), I love going on walks and being outdoors, and I also love to play pickleball.

Who was your favorite teacher when you were in school? Why?

This is difficult, as I had many. The one teacher that stands out the most was my first-grade teacher, Ms. Terino. She taught me and a few of my siblings. I remember her being the most loving and caring teacher. She not only made a connection with me, she made a connection with my entire family. Every year at this time, I hang up a Christmas ornament she gave me. My name has faded off and a part of it broke, but that doesn’t matter. I still hang it up and smile.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? Why?

I always wanted to be a teacher, but my journey took me on a different path. I went to college and got my degree in broadcasting. I was lucky enough to work on the Sally Jessy Raphael show in New York City for 10 years. When the show ended, I knew I needed to go back to school to fulfill my dream. I will never forget an assignment I had to do in one of my first education classes I took. I was so excited to go back to my elementary school to observe three classrooms. As soon as I walked in the lobby, I saw my first-grade teacher. Ms. Terino recognized me immediately and gave me a hug. We cried, and I told her she was the reason why I want to be a first-grade teacher. 

What is your favorite children’s book and why?

I have two. The first one is “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein. When I first read this story, I thought the character was selfish. As I got older and understood the message, I fell in love with it. It is so important to remember to be happy with and appreciate what you have. The second one is “Oh, The Places You’ll Go” by Dr. Seuss. I tell my students how important they are and that they can do or be anything they want. 

Who would you say is your biggest inspiration and why?

Besides all my students, my biggest inspiration comes from one of my best friends, Kim DiMaggio. She unfortunately passed away Feb. 24 from breast cancer. Kim was an amazing educator; she was also one of my biggest cheerleaders. She had such a gift and inspired so many children. She was always nurturing, caring and funny. Whenever I feel defeated, I am reminded what a fighter she was and the difference she made in so many lives. 

If you could only listen to three bands or artists for the rest of your life, what would they be and why?

Jack Johnson, because of the human he is. Besides being an environmentalist, he has this chill vibe about him which comes through in his music. Pat Benatar, because not only is she from Long Island, too, she is a talented female rock star! I just love her voice. Growing up, I would make sure to see her every time she was in town. I still blast her songs when I hear them on the radio. ABBA, because some days you just need to dance.


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