Positive Influence

Over the past 30 years, Debi Vernon Portela has enjoyed watching St. Agnes Academy grow from a small establishment into the amazing institution it is today.
Words by Sandy Lindsey | June 24, 2021 | People

Longtime St. Agnes Academy teacher and Key Biscayne resident, Debi Vernon Portela, retired at the end of the current school year after 30 years of heartfelt service to the school and parish. A lifetime Key Biscayner, her parents Dick & Jane Vernon, moved to the island in 1951 and opened Vernon’s Sundries, which later became the famous Vernon’s Drugstore. Debi and her brother Robert (Buzz) were born just across Biscayne Bay at Mercy Hospital. She grew up on the island attending Key Biscayne Elementary and graduating from Coral Gables Senior High School. She married her high school sweetheart Jorge Portela, and they had three wonderful children, Jorge (J.P.), Christine and Jenna, all of whom grew up on The Key and attended St. Agnes Academy. Debi started out with 2-year-olds and then moved up to Pre-K 3, where her former students fondly remember learning the alphabet using The Letter People. Parents have appreciated her energetic teaching and nurturing ways, and throughout the years her colleagues have looked to her for leadership and guidance. After many years of teaching “the little ones,” she has more recently taught 1st, 2nd and 3rd grades. As for the future, she plans to relax and enjoy our island paradise with her family and 5 grandchildren;