2015 Chicagoland Golden Apple Award Recipients Surprised with Prestigious Honor

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Golden Apple celebrates 30 years of recognizing outstanding teachers and their work that transforms students’ lives

Golden Apple, a leading nonprofit committed to celebrating and developing great teachers with the ability and passion to make life-changing differences in the lives of students, today surprised four more teachers in the area with the highly respected Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching. The awards recognize and honor outstanding teachers for their roles in building a stronger, better-educated society. The 2015 recipients were selected from a pool of more than 600 nominations, and represent Pre-K-3rd grade teachers throughout Chicago and the surrounding suburbs.

Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching recipients surprised on May 12:

Dr. Sonya Fields, 2nd grade teacher, Arthur Dixon Elementary, Chicago (College degrees from Chicago State University and National Louis University)

Sonya Fields creates a nurturing classroom community with high expectations where students consider each other family. Ninety percent of her students come from low-income homes. She believes students perform better in the classroom when they feel that their thoughts and opinions are valued. She understands that home life can affect schoolwork, and she makes sure that parents have the resources they need to support their student’s learning at home. In fact, she gives parents her cell phone number to call at any time, and many reach out to her after hours for status reports and help with their child’s homework. She works with other teachers at her school to organize learning nights during the year to inform parents about the learning that is taking place inside the classroom. Her students especially appreciate how she brings lessons to life by showcasing via video, charts and PowerPoint presentations how skills are used by “real people” everyday.

Mr. Lee Parrott, 2nd grade teacher, Wesmere Elementary, Plainfield (College degrees from Illinois State University and University of St. Francis)

In his classroom, Lee Parrott is a role model for learning and believes that he needs to demonstrate the type of interactions that he expects from his students. As such, he fosters a very positive environment where students thrive on his optimistic thinking, and engage in several team-building activities. He promotes self-motivation and plenty of “think time” -- a chance for students to take a moment before answering a question and truly think about their answer. His classroom is goal oriented, and Parrott begins every lesson with learning goals. His classroom motto is, “The more you use your brain the more brain you will have to use.” Parrott started “Lunch Bunch,” which is one lunch period each week when he eats with a small group of students and they play games, and simply talk in a smaller setting. He also believes it is important for students to understand the value of fitness, and he has created a running club at his school.

Mrs. Lillian Tsai, early childhood teacher, South Early Childhood Center, Westmont (College degrees from Ohio State University and Lewis University)

Lillian Tsai believes at a child’s early age parents should be empowered to start good habits at home. She offers two family nights throughout the year, where parents learn educational and fun activities to practice at home. She believes early childhood should be collaborative--so parents in her classroom receive daily communication forms and emails are constantly exchanged. All of her students have Individual Education Programs, to address their unique needs and allow her to monitor and evaluate students effectively and often. They have severe delays in social, language, fine and gross motor skills. With this in mind, she works to empower her students to communicate their needs appropriately. Tsai says the most important thing that happens in her classroom is building a relationship with her students that will allow each student to freely learn and grow within the classroom. She builds student relationships through positive reinforcement and acknowledgement of a job well done.

Mr. George Vlasis, kindergarten teacher, Hough Street School, Barrington (College degrees from Loras College and Elmhurst College)

George Vlasis instructs and engages with his students, much like a conductor works with an orchestra. He’s an active listener and observer, and also serves as a guide, allowing him to be the model and springboard for learning. The foundation of Vlasis’s classroom is to create a warm, welcoming and family friendly environment for students to learn. He fosters relationships with his students' families, because he knows their classroom experience extends into the home. Each year before school begins, he spends at least one hour with each of his student’s families to discuss the upcoming year. He offers a monthly "Dad's Night"--a program tailored for students and their dads, with topics ranging from health and safety to helping out the local community. Vlasis also integrates the community into the classroom by bringing his students to the farmer's market and visiting local businesses. He’s the supervisor for the student council, which raises more than $3,000 each year that is donated to local charities.

Additional information and photos of award recipients can be found on social media:

“These teachers are shining examples of the dedication, perseverance, innovation and encouragement that empower students to grow and recognize their abilities to excel in life,” said Dominic Belmonte, president and CEO of Golden Apple. “As Golden Apple celebrates its 30th anniversary of recognizing remarkable teachers, I am so proud to honor the 2015 Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching recipients for all they do to educate and inspire young minds.”

For 30 years, Golden Apple has recognized outstanding teachers throughout Illinois each year. Created by founders Mike and Pat Koldyke, Golden Apple’s mission is to inspire, develop and support teacher excellence in Illinois. Each Golden Apple Award recipient receives a tuition-free, spring quarter sabbatical to study at Northwestern University, and a $5,000 cash award.

Golden Apple does more than just award those teachers who embody excellence; the nonprofit also supports them and creates ways for them to mentor new teachers. Golden Apple Award recipients also play a critical role in furthering the programs of Golden Apple, particularly as members of the faculty who help prepare Golden Apple Scholars of Illinois program participants to become future teachers in schools of need throughout Illinois. The Scholars program has prepared more than 1,500 college students to teach in schools of need in Illinois. Learn more here about the Class of 2015 scholars (200 total, largest class in program’s history) that recently was announced.

A tribute dinner gala honoring founders Patricia and Martin "Mike" Koldyke in support of and celebrating the 30th anniversary of The Golden Apple Foundation will take place on September 24, 2015 in Chicago, with special guest Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. The 2015 Golden Apple Awards for Excellence in Teaching recipients will be honored at an awards ceremony on October 30, 2015 at WTTW/Channel 11 Studios in Chicago. WTTW will broadcast the awards in a one-hour television program following the event.

Distinguished retired teachers, college/university professors, administrators, and former Golden Apple Award recipients serve on Golden Apple’s selection committee. Committee members applied research-based professional standards to identify teachers who exemplify the highest standards and practices of the teaching profession. The selection process included classroom observations of all award finalists and interviews with colleagues, administrators, students, and parents.

Nominations for the 2016 Golden Apple Awards for Excellence in Teaching will open later this month. The Golden Apple Awards for Excellence in Teaching concentrate on specific grade levels each year, and the 2016 Golden Apple Awards for Excellence in Teaching will honor teachers in grades 9-12. Teachers who are eligible for nomination must be full-time classroom teachers at public or non-public schools within Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry or Will counties.

Golden Apple also soon will be awarding the recipient of the 2015 Stanley C. Golder Award, which honors exceptional principals and heads of schools.

About Golden Apple
2015 marks Golden Apple’s 30th year of innovating teacher preparation to transform both the careers of teachers, as well as the lives of students in Illinois. Our focus is on advancing educational excellence for Illinois’ most under-served students. We begin by recognizing high school and collegiate talent with a passion for teaching and a drive to create positive change for students and their communities. We enhance their college education with exemplary advanced teacher preparation, game-changing resources and lifelong support, through our Golden Apple Scholars of Illinois program.

Golden Apple is composed of recognized superior educators, including Golden Apple Award recipients and finalists, leading a passionate team of devoted staff with technical and program expertise, as well as a connected and committed board of directors charged with overseeing our strategic vision. Visit http://www.goldenapple.org for more information.

Media contact:
Eileen Rochford
Ph: 312-953-3305

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Eileen Rochford
The Harbinger Group
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since: 02/2009
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