DOWNERS GROVE – Meg Van Dyke stood momentarily in shock May 7 morning as fellow O'Neill Middle School faculty and Golden Apple Award representatives flooded into her seventh grade science classroom.
Selected from a pool of 620 nominations and 272 applicants representing fourth through eighth grade teachers throughout the Chicagoland area, Van Dyke, 48, was surprised with a Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching on May 7 in her classroom.
Van Dyke, who is in her 12th year at the school, was one of 10 teachers in the area to receive the award, which includes $3,000 and a tuition-free quarter to study at Northwestern University.
"We are honored to have such a great, great teacher at O'Neill Middle School," Downers Grove District 58 Superintendent Kari Cremascoli said. "She is an inspiration to her students and all the teachers at O'Neill."
Tears of joy streaming down her face, the Golden Apple Award winner humbly thanked the efforts of the O'Neill community.
"I'm completely blown away," she said, holding a tributary basket of apples. "I could not have done this without the help of every single person in this room. So, thank you for helping me and enabling and encouraging me to do what I love.
"This has been a trying year, but with your support we have and will continue to accomplish great things."
In 2013, Van Dyke was diagnosed with cancer. While chemotherapy treatments have forced her to spend more time than she would like at home, it has not destroyed her spirit or love for teaching.
During a sabbatical earlier this school year, she assembled a Power Point presentation about her cancer, eventually sharing it with her class, according to former Chicago Public School teacher and Golden Apple selection committee member Marilyn Havlik.
"She used something that would crush other people as a teaching tool in her science class," Havlik said. "Meg is always thinking about others and the well being of her students. She is so dedicated to this class that when she has been out of the classroom for extended periods, she emails her students, asking if there is anything they need."
Holding a doctorate in educational technology, Van Dyke worked as a paralegal before transitioning to teaching a dozen years ago.
At O'Neill, she has used her paralegal background to apply for and win more than $37,000 in grants for O’Neill from a variety of sources, including BP, the District 58 Education Foundation, and the Kinder Morgan Foundation.
Additionally, Van Dyke founded the O’Neill Energy Kids Club, which visits District 58 elementary schools to talk about energy conservation and brings along a special bicycle that lights up light bulbs.
Her efforts have not gone unnoticed as Van Dyke was also awarded the 2013 Teacher of the Year by the Downers Grove Elementary Education Association and was named one of three state level finalists for the Presidential Award in April.
Although the awards are a testament to her hard work and continued dedication, Van Dyke's primary concern is for her students.
"To accept a Golden Apple Award in front of the class and students that I love so much is an extraordinary gift," Van Dyke said. "I am just so blessed to be able to come here, do what I love and help these students learn."
GET TO KNOW Meg Van Dyke
Profession: O'Neill seventh grade science teacher
Education: Doctorate in technology; previously worked as a paralegal
More: Brought in over $37,000 in grants, founded O’Neill Energy Kids Club
ABOUT Golden Apple Awards
Golden Apple has recognized outstanding Chicago-area educators annually since 1986. The Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching recognizes and honors outstanding teachers for their contributions to building a stronger, better-educated citizenry. Golden Apple’s mission is to inspire, develop and support teacher excellence in Illinois.