The Ocoee elementary school opened in 2002 with Danny Axtell as principal.
Thornebrooke Elementary School was opened 20 years ago to relieve overcrowding at Windermere Elementary. This year, the Ocoee school celebrates two decades as a true community school, said principal Korey Bawden.
The Bloom & Grow Garden Society recently planted a pink trumpet tree to celebrate the anniversary, Bawden said.
“When the kids are older and they drive by the school, they’ll be able to see the growth of that tree,” he said.
The school planned an anniversary celebration that has been canceled twice because of hurricanes Ian and Nicole. The milestone will be celebrated at the spring carnival March 3. Bawden said there will be a recognition ceremony for staff members who opened Thornebrooke and are still working at the school. Several former principals will return to the school and speak during the program.
Danny Axtell opened the school as principal in 2002. He was followed by Trevor Honohan, Kevin Kendrick, Christopher Daniels (who led the school for 15 years) and now Bawden, who is serving his second year as principal.
Eight current teachers and staff are Thornebrooke veterans who helped open the school and represent a combined 214 years in education: Coleen Chomanics, 36 years; Angel Bodiford and Terry Coons, 34 years each; Kimberly Coppola and Jaime Kentner, 24 years each; Ken Kentner, 22 years; and Felicia Robinson and Heather Stepp, 20 years each.
Other teachers share a special bond with Thornebrooke, as well. Mary Grant-Houghland was a college intern during the school’s first year, her children have attended the school, and she now is in her second year as a first-grade teacher. And former student Payton Allen, who was in Ken Kentner’s class, has returned to Thornebrooke to teach third grade.
A trophy case in the school lobby shows off Thornebrooke’s two decades of accomplishments. The most recent accolades are the trophies the school won in Odyssey of the Mind STEM competitions at the local, state and, for the past two years, world levels.
In 2016, the team won second place in the state competition. Two years later, the school placed 13th, and in 2019, the team placed seventh. In 2020, the team pulled off a world-champion win against 60 other teams in the Division 1, Problem 2 category and won the Ranatra Fusca Award, given to 15 of the 843 participating teams for exceptional creativity and risk-taking solutions.
Thornebrooke students also are avid readers and have participated in the countywide Battle of the Books.
Thornebrooke has received state recognition as a Five Star School every year of the program. The school also boasts several winners in the Modern Woodmen of America contests and the city of Ocoee’s Black History Month speech contest.
Bawden is proud of Thornebrooke’s reputation as an inclusive school, which mainstreams students with special needs into regular classrooms. When the PTO, led by president Jennifer Julian, held its annual fundraiser, the money was used to build an inclusive sensory playground on campus.
“The PTO has always been amazing, just over the top, always,” said Ann Dobson, who has served as media specialist for 19 of the school’s 20 years. “They give everything. They just commit so much to helping the school in so many ways.”
The PTO has a Guardian Angel Committee that helps Thornebrooke families in need, especially during Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“We know our families really well, and we know the ones in need,” Dobson said.
Thornebrooke has about 612 students and at one point had as many as 1,200 before Westbrooke Elementary was opened.
Thornebrooke draws students from Ocoee, Gotha and Windermere, and what makes it such a great community school is its families. Dobson said she routinely sees students and former students when she’s in places such as the grocery store, and they always run up to her to say hi.
Dobson has stayed at the school for nearly two decades, she said, because “it’s just home to me. Every year I have a new group of kids to work with. I’m auntie for a while.”
Bawden previously taught at Gotha Middle School, which is where Thornebrooke students go after fifth grade. That just adds to the community aspect of it, he said.
“The kids here are amazing; it’s such a great school,” Bawden said. “The sense of community, the sense of family is what drives the school.”
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