By Heather Cherone
EDGEBROOK — Rozy Patel was deep into a lesson about Newton's law of motion as part of her eighth-grade science class at Edgebrook Elementary School Wednesday morning when Principal Chad Weiden burst into her classroom, trailed by a gaggle of cameras, reporters and beaming friends and relatives.
The look of shock and alarm on Patel's face quickly faded as she realized she was one of 10 Chicago-area teachers to win to win the prestigious Golden Apple award, which comes with a $3,000 cash prize as well as a tuition-free spring quarter sabbatical to study at Northwestern University.
"I'm blown away," Patel said, as she finally caught her breath after the announcement and the cheers of her students and fellow teachers died down.
Patel is a superior example of teaching excellence, Golden Apple president and CEO Dominic Belmonte said.
"She shows all of us what excellent teaching is all about," Patel said.
Patel thanked her students for their hard work in the classroom, and proudly noted that she is a "homegrown" product, having attended kindergarten through 12th grade in the Chicago Public Schools.
"I'm so grateful for how the students respond to how hard I push them," said Patel, who has taught for five years. "The students' excitement is contagious."
Weiden said the entire school was "was so darn proud" of Patel, who teaches seventh- and eighth-grade science, writing, art and sex education.
"This is what dedication looks like," Weiden said, pointing to Patel as she gasped for breath.
Patel, who completed four years of medical school, said she became a teacher after realizing being a doctor could not compare with the joy she felt at the end of the day after working as a substitute teacher.
"The students here at Edgebrook are so eager to learn," Patel said. "They are sponges and I just soak them in knowledge."
Patel's father, Hasmukhbhai Patel, said he emigrated from India so that his children could receive a top-notch education. He said he was overwhelmed with pride while watching his daughter being honored.
"Rozy was my dream," said Hasmukhbhai Patel, recalling how his daughter always earned As — and claimed the $100 reward he offered to all of his children for earning top marks.
Hitesh Patel, Rozy Patel's brother, said she brings her work home with her all the time.
"She puts in a lot of time and effort," said Hitesh Patel, a Chicago Police officer, while holding his nearly 2-year-old daughter Jhenna, one of his three children who have already become their aunt's favorite students.
Sarah Papirnik, 13, said she has learned more from Rozy Patel than any other teacher at Edgebrook Elementary School, a neighborhood school that serves students in kindergarten through eighth grade on Chicago's Far Northwest Side.
Edgebrook, 6525 N. Hiawatha Ave. is ranked among the best schools in the city by Chicago Public Schools officials.
"She makes it easy to learn," Papirnik said of Rozy Patel.
Hayley Bazarek, 13, said Rozy Patel's sense of humor makes understanding complicated concepts like Newton's laws fun.
Edgebrook Local School Council Member David Klevatt said Rozy Patel serves as an important role model to the girls in her classes who want to study science, math and engineering.
"She offers them equal parts inspiration, encouragement and prodding to do their best," Klevatt said.
Kristen Cabanban, who is also a member of the local school council, said Rozy Patel had "turned around" the school's science program, helping several students win awards at city and state science fairs.
The increase in the school's scores on standardized science tests are due to Rozy Patel's excellence in the classroom, Cabanban said.
The Golden Apple winners were selected from a pool of 620 nominations and 272 applications from Chicago-area teachers in fourth through eighth grades.
Founded by Mike and Pat Koldyke in 1986, the Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching honors teachers for "their contributions to building a stronger, better-educated citizenry."
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