Michelle GorhamRich RowlettThurmond

The board of directors of the Golden Apple Foundation of Rockford voted in new members at its last meeting. They include Rich Rowlett, Remote Operations Team Leader at Field Fastener; and Rockford Police Resident Officer Thurmond, Resident Officer Community Keeper with the Rockford Police Department. Martha Kaiser will be the new Golden Academy representative on the board, replacing Megan ForsytheMichelle Gorham, Chief Advancement Officer with YMCA of Rock River Valley, was elected board chair, replacing Jeffrey Powell, who will remain on the board.


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Ride the Rock from 2:30-4:30 p.m. on Sunday, September 16, 2018 for a fun riverboat excursion and icecream social benefitting Golden Apple Foundation. Come enjoy breathtaking views of the Rock River and the Blackhawk Statue on The Pride of Oregon - An Authentic Paddle Wheel Riverboat!

Limited seating...get your tickets early! Ice cream and desserts will be served. Boarding begins at 2:00 p.m., with boat departure promptly at 2:30 p.m. from Maxon Riverside Restaurant located at 1469 Illinois Route 2, in Oregon. Tickets are $50 for adults; $20 for ages 5-12 years old and under 5 years old are free. Contact Golden Apple Foundation with questions at 815-226-4180 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  Click here to purchase tickets online. 

Golden Apple Foundation is a volunteer-driven organization that inspires, celebrates and supports educational excellence in our community. Proceeds from this event will help to fund Golden Apple programming in the 2018-19 school year. 



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Golden Apple project grant applications are now available for the 2018-19 school year. This program gives teachers the opportunity to develop and implement educational projects that enhance the learning experience for their students. 

The annual grants range from $150 to $1,500 each. PreK - 12th grade teachers in Winnebago or Boone County Public or ISBE recognized non-public schools are encouraged to apply. The deadline to apply is 5 p.m. on November 5, 2018. Click here for further details, including the applicationcriteria and a list of past recipients. Contact Jennifer Stark, Executive Director, at 815-226-4180 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with questions.  

PHOTO: 2017-18 Grant recipients: Standing (L-R) Ashley Smith, Tiffany Aurand, Kristin Schmidt, Jeff Powell (Board Chair), Meg Hodges (Andy's Books for Kids) Laua Benkovich and Anne Hart. Front (L-R) Meghan Hembrough, Amy Maier, Suzette Muck, Carrie Norder-Pagan and Cindy Maten.


Join Golden Apple and eat pancakes for a good cause! Shortstacks for a Tall Cause will take place from 8-10 a.m. on Saturday, June 30 at Applebee's located at 2126 Gateway Center Drive in Belvidere. (near Wal-Mart)  Purchase your $5 ticket in advance or at the door. $4 of every ticket supports Golden Apple programming. Hope to see you there! Contact GAF at 815-226-4180 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with questions.


The 22nd Annual Excellence in Education Banquet is coming up on Friday, April 27, 2018 at Giovanni's.  Red Carpet begins at 5:30 with a cash bar cocktail hour. The program portion starts promptly at 6:28 p.m., followed by dinner. The deadline to register is April 13. To purchase your ticket or table, click here. (If it is after the deadline, check in at the office, we still may be able to accommodate your request.)

Golden Apple is proud to be celebrating our exceptional Top 20 teacher finalists, our 2018 Outstanding Principal Amber Miller, 2018 Jan Jones recipient Officer Eric Thurmond, Asst Principal Program recipient Linda Colson. This year's 5 Golden Apple teacher award recipients are Rachel Huetson of Nelson Elementary, Katherine Koehler of Ledgewood Elementary, Gabriela Nunuz-Reagan of Seth Whitman Elementary, Ashley Schwabero of Prairie Hill Elementary and Lance Tuula of Whitman Post Elementary.

To learn more about our Top 20 teacher finalists, see our news feed on this website which includes a bio on each of these exceptional educators.

Cocktail attire is recommended. For more information about the Banquet, call the office at 815-226-4180 or email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.





Get to Know Our 20 Finalists!

Sylvia Landreth of Rockford has 16 years of experience teaching dual language. This is her fourth year at Fairview Early Childhood Center. With parents who didn’t speak English, she was playing the teacher role from an early age, helping siblings with homework and translating for her mom during school conferences. Her journey to a formal teaching degree was not a direct one, however. She served as an aide in Head Start and church preschool classrooms, then took mail-order courses for state licensure to run an in-home daycare. After moving to Rockford and sending her third of four children off to school, Sylvia realized she missed working with children. She found a job at La Voz Latina, helping new moms understand the development of their children. Her training through the agency motivated her to begin degree coursework. She started a job with the school district, working with young moms and their children, and then moved into a family support and screener position for the preschool program. Sylvia’s original plan upon graduating was to be a resource teacher for a few years, but she quickly fell in love with being a classroom teacher. The parent of one of her students shared that while her kids learned a lot from Sylvia, she also learned from her. She learned how to support her children’s learning processes and to never give up on them. On the autism spectrum disorder, with a speech delay and an auditory process disorder, this woman’s son was challenged yet supported every day in class. “Under Mrs. Sylvia’s guidance, my son started putting words together and finally he was able to ask for things that he wanted or needed.” Sylvia says that her teaching and community work experience and her formal education have taught her that “all children can learn and they have different ways to acquire knowledge. With the planning of each lesson and classroom station, I strive to provide the kind of environment and activities that engage their learning and their wonder.”  And every day before meals, the class recites a poem by Mexican songwriter Jose Luis Orozco. Sylvia says it reflects how she sees each child: “In this great big beautiful world, I am unique, I am special, full of love and intelligence.” 

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Get to Know Our 20 Finalists!

Fort Zackary III of Rockford, a teacher for 21 years, was initially an urban studies and planning major in college. He didn’t think he had the patience to teach. However, a teacher strike landed him in a kindergarten classroom for a week, which he describes as “the most rewarding experience of my life to that point.” A year and a half later, he had his own kindergarten classroom.” Fort has primarily taught Kindergarten, but he’s also taught fourth grade. This is his first year as a Kindergarten teacher at Carlson Elementary. Taren Turner, Ellis Elementary principal, commented that, “it is not the duration of years in the field alone that makes him stellar. Rather, his natural character, compassion, and professional evolvement over time, which have greatly impacted students, families, and school staff, are what make Mr. Zackary unparalleled.” His teaching experience has ranged from “the incredibly affluent to homelessly poor, suburban to hardcore urban, all white to all black, all English speakers to years where I was the only English speaker and everything in between.” At each school, Fort has advocated for, collaborated with and coached new, veteran and student teachers as well as students. The parent of one student wrote that her child was well behaved but quiet and shy. “Mr. Zackary was just what the doctor ordered! He not only helped him come out of his shell, he now excels as a student and a person. I can only thank Mr. Z for that.” Fort has done much reflecting and changing since being named a Golden Apple finalist 10 years ago. Sensing impending burnout, he rededicated himself to teaching by attending conferences and implementing what he learned. He added technological tools to better reach students and their families. He listened to Golden Apple Academy mentors. He brought the fun back into his lessons. And he changed schools. He says, “while I miss being the champion for so many underprivileged children, I have saved myself from burnout and can continue teaching and shaping young lives for the better.”

Gabriela 2

Get to Know Our 20 Finalists!

Gabriela Nunez-Reagan, another past nominee, came to the U.S.  at age 15, not knowing any English. She’s now been teaching for 19 years. She’s been at Belvidere’s Seth Whitman Elementary for 11 years, with the last five years as the First Grade Dual Language teacher. She helped develop the district’s dual language framework and created the first grade dual language curriculum, which focuses on biliteracy, bilingualism and biculturalism. All her students are second language learners, with 10 speaking Spanish at home and 12 having English as their first language. She shares with the students that she has made and continues to make mistakes in English and it is OK to correct mistakes. “I tell them that learning a second language is hard, but we need to take risks, be positive, and keep trying.” Gaby emphasizes that though everyone has different backgrounds, they can all learn from each other. “We work, learn, laugh and sometimes we cry happy tears together.” She realized what a family she has built in her classroom when talking about slavery and segregation during a lesson about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “My students did not think segregation was fair. While I was reading several books on the topic, I noticed how, little by little, all of my students were getting closer and closer to my only African American student, as if they were trying to protect him.” Jennifer Jacky, CEO of the Belvidere Family YMCA, a community partner with Seth Kids, was thrilled her daughter was in Gaby’s class. “Gaby not only instilled a love of learning in my daughter, but also the importance of being kind to others and a love of giving back to the community.” Gaby is one of the head advisors for Seth Kids, a group  of third-fifth graders whose goals are to be school leaders and give back to the community. One service project she coordinated emerged from her knowledge of and care for students. When Gaby learned about a student’s struggling family, she stepped up to ensure that the family would not miss out on a special Christmas time. She created a themed-tree for which the Seth Kids made the decorations, organized a present drive and even delivered the tree herself. Donating a Christmas tree and gifts to a needy family is now a school tradition. 

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Get to Know Our 20 Finalists!

Jean Johnson of Rockford has been teaching for 11 years. She teaches Third Grade Gifted at Thurgood Marshall Elementary.  She started her career as a student teacher under the mentorship of a Golden Apple Academy member who impressed upon her that, “The children are the most important thing. Teachers can cover a textbook, can have fancy borders and posters, can know subject areas inside and out, but what matters most is the children and my ability to know them.” A parent of one of Jean’s former students shared an example of how Jean succeeds at this. This student has autism spectrum disorder. At back to school night, Jean asked about books or resources to learn more about his challenges and how to bring out the best in him. “Jean was the first teacher to ever ask; she remains the only teacher to have done so. Asking us for ideas was a plus in our book, but she actually did the research and worked to really understand how the diagnosis affected him.” Jean was able to tailor lesson plans for him and even helped him develop friendships with classmates, a connection he had struggled with in the past. Jean truly fosters the sense of community in “their” classroom – never calling it just “her” classroom. Students are empowered to make decisions, express opinions and work toward solutions that affect them. She encourages them to express what they want to learn and how they want to learn it. Last year, her students expressed that the playground, originally designed for Pre-K students, was not meeting their needs. Instead of just complaining, they used their STEM skills to think critically, problem solve and do the research. They looked at the equipment’s pros and cons, costs, space limitations and requirements and more. They even found a potential funding source! These students took their findings to the principal, who listened, then went to the PTO. The group agreed to pay for the playground project, which will be built this spring. The parent further stated that, “A teacher can learn the technical aspects of being a teacher – writing lesson plans, selecting appropriate materials, grading homework, etc. It is the unique and special connection that a teacher makes with a student that you cannot teach. It is that trait that makes a good teacher a phenomenal teacher. Jean Johnson is a phenomenal teacher." 

Mary Haas

Get to Know Our 20 Finalists!

“I have the best job because I make art all day, every day, with the most beautiful people, my community’s children, and your children.” Mary Haas of Rockford clearly still loves her job after 35 years of teaching. She’s been an art teacher at Holy Family School since 1985, during which time, she has received many honors: member of curriculum committee that created the Fine Arts Curriculum for the Dioceses of Rockford 2004; nominated for Golden Apple and Outstanding Catholic School Educator several times; and recipient of the Advisor’s Award for Leadership/ Catholic Role Model in the Athletic Program 1993. If you can imagine it – when Mary started teaching, it was without computers. She used floppy disks and learned to search the Internet efficiently. To one of her fellow Holy Family teachers, Mary’s best talent is “her ability to see the silver lining in everything and everyone. She sees each individual child’s potential and is willing to work with them, before, during and after school to help them reach that potential.” Mary tells her students, “we don’t do easy, we do our best.” And she does her best to encourage them. “When a student has a fun new idea, or takes the time to do something that requires extra effort, we all celebrate their achievement with the classroom clap.” Though her art classes include lots of singing, giggling, creativity and fun, through her positivity and guidance, Mary has helped many children learn not just about art or history, but also about life. Students who are faced with personal troubles know she is there for them. When her class was grieving a student who had passed away, Mary was right there to respond to their request for chalk so they could make drawings on the playground that she could see from Heaven.  A former student shared that while he learned many things in Mary’s art classes over nine years, what he remembers most was her presence. “Every day, Mary offered me the gift of being seen.  What more can a teacher do to foster healthy psychological development in her students than to offer them the gift of being seen”?  


Get to Know Our 20 Finalists!

Rachel Huetson of Rockford has seven years of teaching experience with grades K-2. She’s been teaching first grade at Nelson Elementary the past two years. She’s on the district’s math curriculum and the school’s leadership teams. Amy Huftalin, who worked with Rachel as her literacy coach in her first teaching assignment with RPS205 wrote that Rachel “worked diligently to set up her classroom to be inviting yet challenging for students … she even removed her teacher desk to provide more space for the kids!”  Rachel is committed to being a lifelong learner, seeking knowledge to bring the best practices to her classroom. In fact, in 2012, though newly married, raising a child with special needs and expecting another child, she went back to school to work on her master’s degree. Rachel focuses on the learning process and sets high standards and expectations for her students, yet also teaches that mistakes happen and are learning opportunities. During math, her students sit on the carpet to discuss how to solve number problems. The activity helps Rachel monitor understanding, but also helps students encourage and learn from each other. “We ‘kiss our brain’ and embrace all new learning,” she says. She believes that “teachers need to promote democracy and self-discipline in the classroom by setting limits and using praise… it is my job to allow my students to express their learning through a variety of multiple intelligences so that they become lifelong learners.”  To further demonstrate the importance of education, Rachel enlists the help of her students’ families, regularly sharing lesson content and tips to help them work with their children at home. She has found that when families support and share in the educational process, the students tend to be more successful.