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 three 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 13:

Ms. Lauren Saliny, special education 2nd & 3rd grades, Washington Irving School, Oak Park (College degrees from Millikin University and University of Illinois at Chicago)

Lauren Saliny says her classroom is a microcosm of the multicultural community in which she works. She believes a positive learning environment leads to student achievement, which is what she strives for everyday by modeling positive, supportive and respectful social interactions. She starts each day with a “morning meeting” where students sing songs, play games, and set the emotional tone for the day. Her students have disabilities ranging from autism to speech to intellectual disabilities, and it is challenging for her students to express their communication preference with her. Therefore, she uses a variety of techniques, from sign language to physical gestures, to visual representations of progress. She learns about each student’s like and dislikes and incorporates that into lessons. Being a teacher extends beyond the classroom for Saliny, as she often attends students’ extracurricular activities and volunteers for school-sponsored events.

Mr. James Schamber, 2nd grade teacher, Orrington Elementary School, Evanston (College degrees from DePaul University)

Humor plays a big role in James Schamber’s classroom, as it bridges the gap between instructional goals and learning outcomes. He says that learners feel comfortable expressing themselves because in his classroom he understands that mistakes must be made in order to reach differentiated learning goals. He leverages technology, dancing and singing to create a fun, comfortable and engaging classroom environment. Schamber believes humor is a motivational tool and helps define the nature of expectations within academic periods. He says that learning does not stop at the end of the day, and is often found tutoring his students, mentoring students from a previous year, or watching a student’s performance from the audience. He says most importantly, he looks for a student’s potential rather than focusing on perceived challenges.

Mr. Fontane Thomas, Pre-K teacher, Stephen K. Hayt School, Chicago (College degrees from Arizona State University and National Louis University)

In order to engage his students in learning, Fontane Thomas emphasizes the need to establish a connection with his students -- the majority of whom are English Language Learners, and some have developmental delays. He spends a great deal of time with his students as they learn the language. The development of each child is Fontane’s top priority, and he often finds himself in the “advocate” role with a child that needs some extra help in one or more areas. He works diligently to create a classroom environment where students feel safe to open up and they have the courage to talk about some of the challenges involved with learning a second language. One way that he creates a positive atmosphere in the classroom is through circle time, where students sit together at the end of the day and review issues and events that took place. He reaches out to cultural organizations that can be resources to parents, and invites them to the school to connect. Thomas participates in the Parent Teacher Organization and the Instructional Learning Team for the school. Working with both of these groups gives him insights about what parents feel are important needs in the school.

Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching recipients surprised on May 11 & 12:

Mr. John Campbell, band & music teacher, Ravinia Elementary School, Highland Park
Ms. Phyllis LaCour, Pre-K teacher, Pulaski International School of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Ms. Monica Prinz, first grade teacher, Gillespie Elementary, Chicago, IL
Dr. Sonya Fields, 2nd grade teacher, Arthur Dixon Elementary, Chicago
Mr. Lee Parrott, 2nd grade teacher, Wesmere Elementary, Plainfield
Mrs. Lillian Tsai, early childhood teacher, South Early Childhood Center, Westmont
Mr. George Vlasis, kindergarten teacher, Hough Street School, Barrington

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
eileenr(at)theharbingergroup(dot)com

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