After playing a rousing game of blob tag, Ashlee Hood and two fellow Golden Apple Scholars stood behind the table where their students decorated their crackers with a choice of cream cheese, pepperoni, ham or strawberries.
The procedure was repeated throughout the morning on Tuesday at the Quinn Community Center in Maywood where the college senior from Naperville was finishing up her onsite training as part of the Summer Institute with Golden Apple Scholars of Illinois.
Hood, who attends Illinois State University, applied for the Golden Apple program in college not only for the scholarship money, but for the mentorship and professional development Golden Apple provides. Hood said she is amazed by the inspiring authors and educators who are leaders in their field that Golden Apple brings in to speak to the scholars.
Each year Golden Apple Scholars identifies talented high school seniors and college sophomores who have the drive to be great teachers in high-need schools. Since its inception in 1989, Golden Apple has had more than 1,600 participants in the teacher training program.
Students who enter the Golden Apple Scholar program as high school seniors earn $2,500 scholarships in their freshman and sophomore years of college and $5,000 in their junior and senior years. hey also get $2,000 stipends each four years of the program’s Summer Institute, where scholars get hand-on training as well as professional development. The workshops include anything a new teacher might face including classroom management, lesson planning, differentiated instruction, handling performance reviews and dealing with bullying and emergency situations.
Pathway Scholars is open to college sophomores who receive $5,000 scholarships per year for the junior and senior years and a $2,000 stipend for each Summer Institute.
The only stipulation is that scholars teach for five years in an Illinois school of need within seven years of their graduation, said Jozel Shwatal, associate director of mentoring for Golden Apple and director of the Summer Institute 2014.
Shwatal said the goal of Golden Apple is to give scholars “strong roots and wings.” The roots are the foundation of a tree that branches out into all aspects of teaching. The wings are to fly off into a career with the hope that one day those wings will return to inspire a new generation of teachers, said Shwatal, a Golden Apple Scholar who returned to mentor students.
Shwatal said administrators and teachers can get caught up in numbers, assessments and performance evaluations. She said this often leads to teacher burnout.
Golden Apple, on the other hand, takes the approach of focusing on the individual needs of the student first.
“We like to say: it’s not a data point, it’s a heartbeat,” said Barbara Cataldo, assistant director of the Summer Institute 2014.
Hood, who didn’t learn about the Golden Apple until college, said one of the biggest challenges for her has been learning to adjust.
Hood, who wants to be a family and consumer sciences teacher, understands that not all schools — like the Maywood community center where she is working this summer — have kitchens and sewing rooms that she had when she attended high school at Neuqua Valley. So instead of cooking and sewing, Hood is focusing lessons on the health and wellness aspects of her future profession by whipping up recipes like guacamole, pasta salad and cracker sandwiches that are easy for kids to prepare without heating up a stove.
In addition, Hood tries to incorporate the science behind the food and why eating balanced meals is so important.
Antonio Contreras of Elgin became a scholar in the program in high school. A 2010 graduate of Larkin High School, Contreras said he knew he wanted to be a teacher, so a counselor showed him information on the Golden Apple Scholars.
He said he was surprised when he was accepted.
“Golden Apple … it’s like a really big family who support you in every way they can,” Contreras said.
Because Spanish is his first language, Contreras said he was struggling at Aurora University with basic skills such as grammar. Golden Apple provided the tutoring he needed to overcome that gap so he could continue in his quest to become a teacher.
He said the hands-on teaching he has done during the Summer Institute programs the last four years has been invaluable.
This summer, Contreras said he is working with gifted and talented students who love math and science at age 13 aand lready know where they want to go to college. Last summer, he worked with students in remedial geometry who really don’t like school or see the purpose of geometry.
“Golden Apple has given me the opportunity to see both sides of the coin,” he said.
He added that by seeing both sides, he has a better understanding why students who have the biggest needs require the best teachers.
It’s for that reason that his dream is to land a job either in Elgin or Aurora where he would teach mathematics at the high school level. Even better would be to return to Larkin and teach math to English Language Learners.
“I was an ELL student,” Contreras said. “When I went to Larkin, sometimes the teachers didn’t have enough resources or an understanding of their students.”
Contreras said he is hopeful his background as an ELL student and the extensive training he’s received through Golden Apple will make him a good candidate for a career back in his home neighborhood.
And that’s exactly what Golden Apple wants from its scholars.