815 Rising Stars talent search 2022

Enter the 2nd Annual 815 Rising Star talent show by submitting your video before the deadline: May 31, 2022. You could win up to $500 and receive tons of local recognition! Information and submission form are available at goldenappleofrockford.com/talent.

Tips and Tricks to filming your routine

 • Give yourself enough space to perform your talent routine. Make sure the area is free of anything that may affect your performance.

 • Make sure the background of the video is clean and tidy and does not include anything that you do not want to be in the video. A plain wall as the background is best.


 • Light the area that you will be performing in. If the area is too dark, the video will not come through for prime viewing by the judges. Try lighting from directly in front of yourself, or slightly off to one side to prevent shadowing.

 • Test your camera/video and volume prior to recording. Make sure your volume is all the way up.

 • If recording on a smartphone or tablet, put the device in "do not disturb mode" to avoid interruptions.

 • For best results, record the video in horizontal mode.

 • Check the video prior to submission and re-record if needed.

 • Be thoughtful about your submission. The video uploaded will also be used for the final show if you are selected as one of the top 20.


For more information, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Good luck!

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The deadline to apply for the Golden Apple Don Zimmerman teacher scholarship is fast approaching. We must receive your application no later than 5 p.m. Friday, May 20, 2022. To be considered, you also must have already applied to the masters in education program at Rockford University. This scholarship provides free tuition for this program for teachers in Boone or Winnebago counties who do not yet have a masters degree. Our first scholarship recipient, Meghan Baylor from Boylan Catholic High School will graduate with her tuition-free masters this spring! Spread the word! Look under the Teacher Scholarship tab on the website for more information and to apply. It's hard to beat free and we know that having a masters degree can open a lot of doors, as well as increase your earning potential. Don't wait! 



Friday, April 22, 2022, at Prairie Street Brewhouse

4 p.m. WTVO/WQRF Live interview with Matthew Green

5 p.m. Doors Open. Check out the Bar and the Silent Auction. WTVO/WQRF will go live to interview Executive Director Jennifer Stark.

5:30 p.m. Cars from Hamblock Ford Lincoln arrive at the North Side of the Brewhouse bringing the 2022 Recipients to their Red Carpet Arrival. Bring the kids and the signs and the cheering sections! WTVO/WQRF will be doing a Facebook Live!

6 p.m. WTVO/WQRF Live interview with Jean Chambers

6:27 p.m. Guests to take their seats

6:30 Program Begins

7 p.m. Dinner is served

7:30 p.m. Back to Our Program!

8:10 p.m. End of Program. Check the silent auction before it closes at 8:40 p.m. and enjoy socializing and dancing!



Golden Apple Foundation is pleased to honor Ms. Melissa Yuska, principal at Windsor Elementary School in the Harlem School District, as the 16th Golden Apple Outstanding Principal sponsored by McDonald’s Corporation. Hired as principal on June 24, 2019, Melissa previously served as the assistant principal at Windsor and Olson Park Elementary Schools for two years. Before that, she was a supervisor of special education in the Rockford School District for three years and a teacher for 10 years before moving into her administrative roles. She graduated from Northern Illinois University with a B.S. in Communicative Disorders and an M.S. in Education.

Melissa asks staff what they need to “be the best educators we can be,” then works with professional development specialists to make sure P.D. is designed to meet the needs. That goes for all staff, not just teachers. “She has worked with district bus drivers to provide training on helping some of our neediest students. She makes it clear that every person who works with our students is important, and, as such, they deserve the support and direction to further their skills.” Another teacher wrote, “She frequently shares … that without the relationships with our students, we will not see their achievement and success.” Yuska’s relationship building skills are solid. Students see her all over the school daily: in hallways, lunchroom, playgrounds and classrooms. She knows their names. And when they see her, they smile and ask for hugs, high fives and fist bumps. This does not mean she doesn’t hold them to high standards, though! In a nomination letter, we learned she “wants our lowest performing students to make as much progress as possible and she wants the higher performing students to be pushed to learn even more.” Dr. Terrell Yarbrough, Superintendent, commented, "In my first year as superintendent, I have been impressed with Melissa's ability to lead her building through a very difficult year. Despite staff shortages, she found a way for Windsor Elementary School to still provide a culture of support and care to students, often times subbing in classrooms herself to make it work. Melissa is very deserving of this award!"

Yuska received an award and $1,500 to be used in her school. She will be further recognized at the Golden Apple Excellence in Education banquet on April 22, 2022.


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On Thursday, March 10, five classrooms received multiple surprise visitors who invaded with flowers, balloons and cameras. Golden Apple sponsors, staff, board members, Academy members, school administration and friends/family of the teachers in those rooms gleefully entered to see them receive the Golden Apple award after months of hard work and evaluations.


The recipients, shown in photo here are: (Front, L-R) Rebecca Perry, who teaches science at Belvidere South Middle School, and Jean Chambers, who teaches literature at Hononegah Community High School in Rockton. (Back, L-R); Ashley VanSickle, who teaches social studies at Harlem Middle School in Loves Park, Matthew Green, who teaches English at Roosevelt Community Education Center in Rockford, and Kelli Houghton, who teaches literature at Willowbrook Middle School in South Beloit.


These teachers received nominations for the award last fall, submitted portfolios including a self-reflective essay and letters of recommendation, taught in front of several volunteer classroom observers and were interviewed as well. Now they get to celebrate! They will be recognized further on April 22, as we hold our Excellence in Education banquet at Prairie Street Brewhouse.



Lorrie Hill

Lorrie Hill of PawPaw has been teaching for 29 years, the past two at Eisenhower Middle School, where she teaches students in the special education program. Hill says, “I will never teach mathematical equations to my class like I would a regular educational class,” but she does teach the concept of money. “Reading and writing for my students does not consist of reading novels, writing essays,” but her students will learn how to communicate, write their names and answer questions to the best of their abilities. An observer of Hill’s classroom remarked, “The lesson content makes all the difference in the present and future life of the students”! Molly Priest, a 2019 Golden Apple teacher award recipient and fellow Eisenhower teacher, says Hill inspires her to be a better teacher. Priest wrote, “Miss Lorrie has taught me a great deal about love, compassion and commitment through a form of pedagogy that demands all your heart, soul and courage.” Hill says, “Things that we do easily are struggles for my students. I hope to help them overcome these struggles. Small steps in my classroom lead to great victories.” One activity vital in our pandemic-era world is one that some might take for granted but often causes sensory problems for her students: hand washing. Hill’s students practice daily. A popular activity Hill has initiated is a student-run coffee cart business, “Beans and Chow.” Students learn about communication, acceptable social behaviors, patience, counting and how to succeed while they offer refreshments for administration, teachers, staff and other students. Hill said, “I have one student who started off last spring looking at the floor when she talked and needed step by step prompts on what to do and say as she ran the cart. This fall, this student is independently making coffee, loading items on the card, is more confident with her money skills and interaction with peers and staff.” Non-verbal students participate using personal technology devices. The skills students learn through the coffee cart are also practiced during community outings when they go shopping or interact with people they don’t know. One volunteer observed, “With every interaction, she was teaching critical thinking, problem solving and how to build relationships and life skills.” Another observer noticed that “with each student, Ms. Hill has a warm and fun rapport. She holds them accountable while maintaining a great relationship.” Assistant Principal Stephanie Hess wrote of other opportunities Hill provides. “This past fall, her class organized the school’s uniform closet that is used for any student in need. Her class was responsible for sorting, laundering and stocking the closet by clothing size and type.” She also shared that Hill has taken the students to an orchard where they picked apples, shopped for ingredients then baked pies. Several observers admired the environment in Hill’s classroom. One said, “She has created an environment of order, acceptance, calm and fun for these students.” Priest wrote, “General Education students are often seen giving high fives and words of encouragement to Ms. Lorrie’s students. Our hallway is a family with empathy and compassion, thanks to the teachings of Ms. Lorrie. These students are a large part of Eisenhower’s culture. When Ms. Lorrie’s students were quarantined, we all had an off week because we were missing a part of our day.” Hill’s dedication and methods are best seen through the successes of her students, one of whose mother wrote, “You worry about how your child will adjust and participate in school. From day one of meeting Miss Lorrie, she assured me that my son was in good hands.”

Michael Chiodini

Michael Chiodini of Rockton has been teaching for seven years, all at Belvidere North High School. Assistant Principal Matthew Fry commended Chiodini for being very solution-oriented: “any issue he brings to the table is paired with ideas or additional discussion for improvement.” To tackle the issue of differentiation, Chiodini gives students pre-tests, interest surveys and assessments. The information he gathers helps him determine each student’s level of knowledge and skills regarding the curriculum and helps him better understand each of them personally, as well. He wrote, “Ultimately, students take responsibility for their learning and become motivated to continue to learn because of their power of choice and differentiated practices that are unique to them.” Observers of Chiodini’s classes commented that it seemed like he valued his students’ thoughts and ideas, which resulted in a great deal of respect back from the students. One observer wrote, “He is warm and engaging but also professional. Also, confident and well-prepared. I learned a lot!” Chiodini puts a lot of energy into his lessons, which his students respond to in kind, with a high level of engagement. His student-first philosophy is shown in his goal that “each of my classes is to support students socially, emotionally, and academically while differentiating their learning to the best of my ability.” Chiodini gives students choices in how to develop learning projects. Chiodini says that in his classes, “students choose topics that are meaningful to their lives in terms of government involved or deregulation of government. This also makes students more engaged in civic practices they will experience in their communities.” Many observers noted how Chiodini starts each of his classes. He addresses the class with a few current events for the school, district and community. This introduction provides a way to share that he is in touch with what is going on and cares about his school and community. He invites students to be part of these events. In his essay, Chiodini wrote that, “by taking a few minutes a day to help students sign up for clubs, provide information on important meetings and provide them with opportunities for experiences that would be beneficial to their lives, students have become more engaged with their peers and have made new friendship connections.” Supporting students and encouraging them to support each other is Golden! William Heller, who has been friend, mentor, teacher and coach, shared that, “Mr. C is not only well-liked by his students and fellow staff members, but has earned their respect as well. He has earned the moniker of a ‘veteran teacher’ in his building after only seven years and is the ‘go to guy’ with his students and fellow teachers.”

Monica Benolkin

Monica Benolkin of Rockford has been teaching for 10 years, the past six at Rockford Lutheran, where she teaches orchestra for students in third through 12th grades. Before landing on this career, however, she had already graduated with a bachelor’s degree in music. It wasn’t until she was teaching a young boy a song on his violin that she realized she needed to earn her teaching certificate. Since then, she has “tried to provide the best music education to my students, in order to help them learn and grow not only as musicians but as individuals, and to help them find joy in their successes.” Classroom observers enjoyed how she encouraged critical thinking by recording performances and asking students to evaluate it both verbally and in writing. The mask mandate was lifted on the day of one of Benolkin’s classroom observations. One observer commented that she “handled a tough situation with ease. She acknowledged it and had students write down their emotions. She played music to calm them as they expressed their emotions. Professional to the core.” A challenge Benolkin faces as an orchestra teacher is how to reach students at so many different skill levels. Benolkin says, “It is not unusual for there to be an all-state musician in the same group as a player who is in their second year of playing.” She uses several methods, including small group work, sometimes by instrument, sometimes by skill level. She also arranges for mentorships between advanced high school players and junior high players. “The junior high students are receiving more help and challenges as needed and the high school students are gaining valuable insight into teaching and helping others.” Donald Kortzke, Academic Dean of Rockford Lutheran Junior/Senior High School, has seen Benolkin’s students’ IEP test results. He wrote, “Most schools would not allow a student on so much medication for ADHD to go near a fragile musical instrument, let alone expect them to draw from it such beauty and creativity. She does it on a regular basis … they now have a gift otherwise undeveloped. They now have a new set of skills and disciplines that will help shape their entire future. They have an opportunity to perform and shine for parents and peers alike. Most of all, they have developed a new sense of self and a new concept of who they are as an individual, a new aspect of school and life in which to excel and along with that, a self confidence that will empower them to venture into new avenues that will reshape their life.” Benolkin recently assigned students to read about the group Black String Triage and write about them. The Milwaukee musicians go to “the location of shootings, often at the same time as first responders and plays music by Black and Latinx composers. Their goal is to tend to the spiritual needs of the community during a time of crisis … I hope students will see … musicians currently at work in the world, using their gifts to serve others and they will see how what they are learning in the classroom could be relevant out in the world.”


Rebecca Perry of Poplar Grove has been teaching for 11 years. She’s taught 8th grade science at Belvidere South Middle School for the past four. A classroom observer commented, “You can tell Rebecca enjoys her job and science. This teacher changed activities six times in 40 minutes. If you know middle school students, changing tasks throughout is important.” In her essay, Perry wrote, “Early on in my career, I made a commitment to do whatever is necessary to stay student-centered and to always try to find the good in the day. This has … allowed me to shut out a lot of the noise and negativity that can consume people in the current atmosphere. This last year of pandemic teaching has taught me there is so much that I cannot control. This year, that has looked like setting speaking goals for a student that was remote for 18 months and would not coherently form sentences during the first month of school, prioritizing relevant content with truant students and creating as many hands-on learning activities to get students excited about learning.” Her classroom potentially consists of IEP, 504, EL, honors, virtual and culturally diverse students, each needing to be met where they are, yet also challenged to grow. Perry says, “I love teaching the physical science content, but I love teaching my students even more. I encourage students to be their best self whether we are working on science knowledge, work habits or social skills.” She surveys families and students about their language, after school commitments, strengths, struggles and who, if anyone, helps with homework. She plans lessons in both English and Spanish for students to teach their parents how to find and read grades on a new platform. Her classroom door features posters of well-known scientists of all genders and races so students see themselves every time they leave. One of those students wrote, “Mrs. Perry was an outstanding teacher because she always had her students in mind and planned interesting experiments. I felt I grew in my skills in science, and I will use what I learned throughout my entire life. The way she taught was effective and explained assignments carefully and productively. I will definitively always remember this teacher.” Perry also loves supporting peers. She wrote, “My passion the last three years has been recognizing the need to support others for the greater good of students. It is wonderful to have a highly performing teacher in a classroom, but ultimately, we all need to work together to improve student achievement for the entire building. The greatest professional development can be the teacher down the hall.” This teacher created “Fri-Yay” sessions during the pandemic because “during remote learning, staff morale was low, and teachers struggled navigating how to even stay afloat instructionally. It created a wonderful space for collaboration and joy during a time where there was a lot of isolation and worry.” Dr. David Carson, assistant superintendent for Belvidere CUSD100 commended her, writing “Last year, to support teachers navigating the new realm of remote teaching, she hosted Fri-yay sessions during which teachers could share and celebrate the successes they experienced. During our school district’s transition to a Proficiency Based Grading system, Rebecca has repeatedly developed and shared resources with her fellow teachers to grow their capacity and to support their conversations with students and parents.” Principal Ben Commare says “she is a once-in-a-lifetime staff member. She can do it all and do it all exceptionally well.”

Weston Brabeck

Weston Brabeck of Marengo has been teaching for seven years and has been Guilford High School’s band teacher the past four years. He makes a difference throughout the city though, as Curriculum Implementation Leader for the music curriculum for Rockford high schools. You’ll also see him directing marching, pep and jazz bands, the musical pit orchestra and the district competitive marching band. Principal Gus Carter commended Brabeck for having taken a non-existent program (Guilford’s marching band program) to a district-recognized marching band. Additionally, he wrote that he “has a passion for helping students realize their own potential in the classroom.” In fact, one of those students nominated him. She wrote, “Mr. Brabeck is a dedicated teacher who makes class interesting. He wants his students to succeed and will help anyone that needs it. He spends all his time trying to make his students better or himself. I remember him helping me a lot in 7th-8th grade (when he wasn't my assigned teacher) on very difficult band pieces for the district competitive marching band. Later on in high school, he was actually my teacher. I was so excited. When I got something down, I was trying really hard on, he'd congratulate me for my persistence. This goes for every student of his. Mr. Brabeck cares about what he does. Which is shown every day in how he teaches.” But how does one teach band during a pandemic during which students may not be in your physical classroom? Brabeck wrote, “Teaching during the pandemic was difficult for many, but also provided an opportunity to reflect on how I can support students day in and day out without them being in a typical school environment.“ After much trial and error, he wound up with “five different screens, a smartboard, ring lights and four different camera angles” to best serve them. Brabeck works hard to provide diversity in his music program through music representative of different cultures or through diverse composers. His students notice. Students have said to him, “Mr. Brabeck, I was listening to more pieces by (so and so) and I found more composers like me”! Brabeck says, “Where they come from matters in my class.” So much so that when given the opportunity, he likes to learn from them in their languages. He has spoken Spanish, German and Polish phrases so far. Brabeck is also a huge proponent of collaboration. He collaborates with other directors, students, community members, parents and families to develop his craft and help his students through support, education and motivation. Brabeck is part of learning communities through social media sites from Facebook to TikTok and has been on fellow educators’ podcasts to talk about teaching. “Whenever I can find an opportunity to collaborate, I take it, because that is some of the best professional development an educator can get.” During class, he encourages reflection and feedback by his students. They also help set class expectations. He asks them to find “one thing to fix” and has them work on it. “This quick self-reflection has led to the students’ embracing the idea that improving in small increments does add up and help them reach their goals.” Visitors to Brabeck’s classroom observed his patience, giving one-on-one attention to every student and teaching several different levels at the same time. One observer commented, “He addressed musicality – not just playing the notes correctly.” Brabeck’s passion for teaching and music is clear. He says, “I just want students to be excited to play music and create an environment that is safe for them to play and collaborate with each other.”

Harp Brooke

Brooke Harp of Rockford is in her sixth year of teaching. She teaches literature to middle schoolers at Holy Family Catholic School. In a student nomination, we read, “Miss Harp is a great teacher because she makes all of her students feel comfortable with her, she lets us do fun activities and supports us, she can get us to laugh if we are having a bad day, and she makes me motivated to read.” Colleague Sarah Fey is also the parent of current and former students of Harp. She recommended Harp, writing that as “a literature teacher, Ms. Harp inspires her students to love to read and to read with passion. Her expectations are high; the students work diligently to achieve her goals.” Harp believes that “viewing my students in the context of their own individual stories rather than just as the next student here for schooling affects my students for the better. Treating them as individuals allows them to feel comfortable enough in the classroom to focus on their studies and do their best. I also strive to challenge, monitor and manage their learning, so they reach high standards and expectations.” Just as she gets to know the students individually, Harp also tries to relate to their parents as individuals. She asks them about their children’s interests, background, learning habits as well as about their own preferred communication styles, cultures and interests. Harp attends a lot of extracurricular events such as games, plays, service projects and Scholastic Bowl meets. Showing students and their families how invested she is in them tends to boost family cooperation and participation in their children’s education. To present options for students to tackle that help them feel in control, yet also allows them to demonstrate their level of understanding in the manner that works best for them, Harp created a book report assignment that looks a bit different. It was presented in the form of a menu. “Each quarter, students choose and complete one of many options from each category (appetizer, side dish, main course, dessert, and specials). The appetizers focus on defining and finding examples of figurative language. The side dish, main course and dessert all focus on different literary elements and in-depth analysis of the plot. The specials are where the students show their understanding of the book in a more creative way.” Classroom observers liked how she posed questions at stop points during a read-aloud session that elicited analytical responses. They noticed her use several different techniques to engage a variety of learning styles. Observers also noted that her classroom environment was warm and structured. “The teacher brings in warmth and fun while keeping students focused and on task.” She also provides a great deal of positive reinforcement to her students. Ultimately, Harp wants to “help my students write the best stories for their lives that they can.” She says, “Although I have a passion for reading and I love the stories we read about in class, my favorite stories are those from the students sitting in the desks of my classroom.”