Our Urban Times
By Eileen Coorens
Melissa Talaber Matwyshyn, Ukrainian Village resident and teacher at St. Nicholas Cathedral School, 2200 W. Rice St., was surprised Thursday morning when a parade of people walked into in her classroom.
Theresa Gutierrez, ABC TV presented her with a basket of chocolate apples as the recipient of the Golden Apple Excellence in Teaching Award. She is one of 10 to receive this 2014 honor in Illinois, during the 29th year of the awards.
Talaber Matwyshyn teaches 6 to 8th-grade science, reading, language arts and math. The Golden Apple writes that she, "embraces the word commitment. Melissa states that teaching is worth every minute of planning, sharing and seeing the students grow as young scientists and responsible human beings. She believes that it is through connections that learning can truly become meaningful and the goal of lifelong learning really attainable. Melissa cannot think of anything more rewarding than working with children. She loves to share what she does with her colleagues, to help them with tools. Together they share their struggles and celebrate their rewards. Melissa believes it is not one person who makes St. Nicholas students amazing but the strengths of those educators around her working together."
Theresa Gutierrez interviews Principal Kurland as students observe after the ceremony
“Being a Golden Apple winner is no small feat,” observes St. Nicholas' Principal Dr. Susan Kurland. “Melissa Talaber Matwyshyn is a joy to behold as a teacher. She inspires others and is a major catalyst for school transformation. She creates opportunities for students and staff to shine as team players. She seamlessly integrates the needs of students and uses her abilities to analyze trends, drive instruction and foster best practices.
Aldermen Waguespack and Fioretti congratulate Melissa
"In addition to inspiring students in the classroom, she engages on many fronts in and out of the school. She supports the annual science fair, which has a record of sending junior scientists to successfully compete in city and state competitions, the winter market, which welcomes local farmers and artisans to offer their wares, and the garden club, which constructed two flower beds and filled them with perennial local blooms to create an inviting green space.
Jozel Shwatal and Mary Farmar, Golden Apple evaluators
"Outside the school, she is an ambassador at the Field Museum, a Next Generation science teacher leader in cooperation with Loyola University, and a lead teacher at a summer science enrichment program sponsored by the Big Shoulders Foundation."
Melissa receives accolades as her husband Paul Matwyshyn looks on
This evaluation was confirmed by the two Golden Apple representatives who observed in the class room and interviewed the candidate's parents, school administrator and the candidate. "Once I was here for an hour, I knew this was special," said Jozel Shwatal, 1994 Golden Apple recipient who now works for Golden Apple. She and Mary Farmar, a 1984 winner, submitted their lengthy report. They are one of the 31 teams of two who evaluate candidates. They explained that reports, which are how winners are chosen by the final judges, give no indication of who the candidate is. No name, gender or school name is referred to in the reports.
Shwatal also explained that those who win are in then in the Academy of Educators and give forward through the education and mentoring of future teachers. "I think Melissa will be very good at that."
Melissa's dad, Frank Talaber (center) stands behind another daughter, Leah
At the event
While Melissa knew nothing about her big win, the School Board and Administration did, as did the Talaber and Matwyshyn families, other community leaders,Channel 7 and Our Urban Times.
All participants gathered in the cafeteria. While they had made the award to some of the recipients earlier in the week, one of the Golden Apple staff members said that despite their planning, each one ended being a little different.
Kurland acknowledged that she couldn't image that Melissa would not have an inkling that was something but most of those close to her felt she was clueless. Kurland warned that everyone should be prepared for her reluctance to accept attention. "At her bridal shower they had trouble getting her there because she wasn't happy about being in the limelight or having surprises. So be prepared!"
With Melissa standing at the front of the room and well behaved children in their seats listening to the lesson, the invasion of the outsiders began. Media and 2nd Ward Aldermen Bob Fioretti and 32nd Ward Scott Waguespack were first.
She stood somewhat transfixed with a surprised look on her face as more and more people streamed into the room. During the flurry of "setting" the scene, she appeared to be taking it in and struggling between pursing her lips to avoid crying and smiling broadly.
Students and guest cheered loudly
A long list of people spoke. They included priests, business people, bankers, organization representatives and Principal Kurland. Many were graduates of the school. In fact, Irene Subota, Vice President, Banking Center Manager, MB Financial Bank, said that she and her daughters graduated from St. Nicholas, "...proving that if you graduate from this school you can be a vice president."
In fact, according to the Golden Apple organization, research shows a high-performing teacher can boost lifetime earnings of a classroom of 20 students by more than $400,000. That’s a $2 million aggregate lifetime earnings increase from just five years of dedicated and quality teaching.
After the ceremonies Melissa is flanked (right) by her mother, Susan, and on the left by Leah and Libby as Dr. Kurland watches (right)
Though initially the students too seemed stunned by the onslaught of many strangers, they quickly melted into the excitement and joy that was dancing in the room. They were very good at joining in at the end of the ceremonies when Kurland asked everyone in the room to clap, holler and cheer.
It was later learned that some of the students were crying when they heard that she was to receive a sabbatical. They thought that meant that she would not be back in the classroom.
Elsewhere in the school, no one knew about the ceremonies that had gone on. Kurland made the announcement via the school intercom. Standing near the front door, one heard a sudden eruption of yells and clapping that rippled through the halls from all the classrooms.
The Golden Apple
Each of the 10 winners receives a tuition-free, spring quarter sabbatical to study at Northwestern University. Each recipient also receives a $3,000 cash award. They also become lifetime members of the Golden Apple Academy of Educators, which conceives, develops and supports programs for teachers to make them more effective in the classroom.
President and CEO of Golden Apple, Dominic Belmonte praised this year’s finalists, “We are inspired by the skill, enthusiasm and passion demonstrated by each of these amazing teachers. Each is a shining example of excellence in education.”
From a pool of 620 nominations of 4 to 8th grade teachers throughout the Chicago metropolitan area, 32 finalists were selected. The finalists included:
- Six National Board Certified Teachers
- 27 teach in Cook County representing independent/private, public and religious schools
- 2 teachers teach in DuPage County and 3 teach in Lake County
- 10 schools have previous Golden Apple Award recipients
- 2 Independent City School; 14 Chicago City Public Schools; 2 City Religious Schools; 12 Suburban Public Schools and 2 Suburban Independent Schools
- teachers in a variety of grades and subjects with English/Language Arts/Writing having seven teachers. Other subjects include Music and Science having five teachers each; four in multi-grade levels; three in Math & Science; two in Math, Music, and Social Studies each; one in Art and in 4th grade all subjects.
Since the program’s beginning, 280 teachers in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, and Will counties have earned Golden Apple Awards. McHenry is the newest county.
Collectively, the 290 (10 from Central Illinois) Golden Apple Academy members are directly responsible for helping over 5,000 teachers throughout Illinois to become more effective in the classroom within schools of need.
Martin J. (Mike) and Pat Koldyke founded the Golden Apple Foundation in 1986. Mike felt that excellent teachers did not receive adequate recognition for their contributions in building a stronger, better-educated society.
Golden Apple’s mission is to inspire, develop and support teacher excellence in Illinois. Golden Apple award recipients play a critical role in furthering the programs of Golden Apple, particularly as members of the faculty who help prepare the Golden Apple Scholars of Illinois to be future teachers within schools of need.
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