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Are you the next 815 Rising Star? Are you the next 815 Rising Star? Enter the 2nd Annual 815 Rising Star talent show by submitting... More detail
Time to Apply For A Scholarship? Time to Apply For A Scholarship? The deadline to apply for the Golden Apple Don Zimmerman teacher... More detail
Excellence in Education Banquet 2022 DETAILS Excellence in Education Banquet 2022 DETAILS   Friday, April 22, 2022, at Prairie Street Brewhouse 4... More detail
Congratulations to our 2022 Outstanding Principal! Congratulations to our 2022 Outstanding Principal! Golden Apple Foundation is pleased to honor Ms. Melissa... More detail
Congratulations to the 2022 Golden Apple Teachers! Congratulations to the 2022 Golden Apple Teachers! On Thursday, March 10, five classrooms received multiple surprise... More detail
Get To Know Our 2022 Finalists: Lorrie Hill Get To Know Our 2022 Finalists: Lorrie Hill Lorrie Hill of PawPaw has been teaching for 29 years, the past... More detail
Get to Know Our 2022 Finalists: Michael Chiodini Get to Know Our 2022 Finalists: Michael Chiodini Michael Chiodini of Rockton has been teaching for seven years,... More detail
Get to Know Our 2022 Finalists: Monica Benolkin Get to Know Our 2022 Finalists: Monica Benolkin Monica Benolkin of Rockford has been teaching for 10 years,... More detail
Get to Know Our 2022 Finalists: Weston Brabeck Get to Know Our 2022 Finalists: Weston Brabeck Weston Brabeck of Marengo has been teaching for seven years... More detail
Get to Know Our 2022 Finalists: Rebecca Perry Get to Know Our 2022 Finalists: Rebecca Perry Rebecca Perry of Poplar Grove has been teaching for 11 years.... More detail
Get to Know Our 2022 Finalists: Brooke Harp Get to Know Our 2022 Finalists: Brooke Harp Brooke Harp of Rockford is in her sixth year of teaching. She... More detail
Get to Know Our 2022 Finalists: Anita Bond Get to Know Our 2022 Finalists: Anita Bond Anita Bond of Rockton teaches 11th grade U.S. History and 12th... More detail
Get to Know Our 2022 Finalists: Nicole Kroepel Get to Know Our 2022 Finalists: Nicole Kroepel Nicole Kroepel of Poplar Grove has been teaching for 20 years,... More detail
Get to Know Our 2022 Finalists: Adam Pusateri Get to Know Our 2022 Finalists: Adam Pusateri Adam Pusateri of Rockton has been a teacher for 12 years, the... More detail
Get to Know Our 2022 Finalists: Deanna Ballard Get to Know Our 2022 Finalists: Deanna Ballard Deanna Ballard of Algonquin is in her 23rd year of teaching.... More detail
Get to Know Our 2022 Finalists: Lovina Youngman Get to Know Our 2022 Finalists: Lovina Youngman Lovina Youngman of Rockford has been teaching for 18 years,... More detail
Get to Know Our 2022 Finalists: Chelsea Spinello-Johnson Get to Know Our 2022 Finalists: Chelsea Spinello-Johnson Chelsea Spinello-Johnson of Rockford has been teaching for... More detail
Jan Jones Service Award Nominations Due on Feb. 28 Jan Jones Service Award Nominations Due on Feb. 28 The Golden Apple Foundation Jan Jones Service Award is named... More detail
Get to Know Our 2022 Finalists: Mark J. Peterson Get to Know Our 2022 Finalists: Mark J. Peterson       Mark J. Peterson of Algonquin has been... More detail
Get to Know Our 2022 Finalists: Ashley VanSickle Get to Know Our 2022 Finalists: Ashley VanSickle Ashley VanSickle of Rockford has taught technology in Germany... More detail
Get to Know Our 2022 Finalists: Wendy Taylor Get to Know Our 2022 Finalists: Wendy Taylor Wendy Taylor of Poplar Grove has been teaching for 22 years... More detail
Get to Know Our 2022 Finalists: Jean Chambers Get to Know Our 2022 Finalists: Jean Chambers Jean Chambers of Rockton’s whole teaching career of 24... More detail
Get to Know Our 2022 Finalists: Matthew Green Get to Know Our 2022 Finalists: Matthew Green Matt Green of Rockford has been teaching for 18 years, the... More detail
Get to Know Our 2022 Finalists: Kelli Houghton Get to Know Our 2022 Finalists: Kelli Houghton Kelli Houghton of Roscoe started teaching at Willowbrook Middle... More detail
Get to Know Our 2022 Finalists: Hayley Gotzsche Get to Know Our 2022 Finalists: Hayley Gotzsche Hayley Gotzsche of Roscoe has been a teacher for eight years,... More detail
Carolyn Massier-Schile


East1Kathryn Linden
East High School, Rockford
9th Grade Honors English

M.A., Education, Curriculum & Instruction-Northern Illinois University
B.A., Elementary Education, Illinois State University

“I was young, but I remember feeling like a teacher. I didn't really have students. Stuffed animals didn't sit up too well, and oftentimes my dolls would lay back and their eyes would close. But I remember knowing exactly what kind of teacher I wanted to be...I wanted to be a teacher whose room was occupied with eager learners.”

Golden Apple teacher Kathryn Linden lives her childhood wish each day, and the students she once only imagined now fill the desks in her Honors English classes.

Considered a mentor to her colleagues, Katy is often solicited for her presentations on classroom management techniques, differentiated reading strategies and district writing expectations programs to teams of teachers during In-Service and Institute days. In her classroom, she utilizes contemporary offerings from her library of books, newspapers and magazines for both genders, and for a variety of ages and comprehension levels, to complement her teaching style.

Katy believes that “behind great students are great parents” and often invites them into the classroom to share the results of particular assignments. Her conviction is that a partnership among parents, teachers and administrators, which shares the same value for student achievement, will lead to academic success.

“My students inspire me to continuously educate myself,” says Ms. Linden, “so that I can not only provide challenging instruction, but also build rigorous lessons promoting their success. In return, student achievement is mastered. These moments are no longer in my dreams. They are now feats that I cherish and embrace.”

Guilf4Michael A. Lantz
Guilford High School, Rockford
World Geography/World History/Economics/Government

M.A., Secondary Education, Grand Canyon University
B.S., History, Illinois State University
Special Education Certification, Northern Illinois University

To help teach his World Geography students about poverty and lack of educational opportunities faced by many young people in other countries, Golden Apple teacher Michael Lantz once removed all the desks from his classroom and had students spend the entire period on the floor.

“They were uncomfortable, they were distracted, and they struggled to keep focused. They learned a great lesson.”

Exploring, recognizing, understanding and appreciating diversity in our world are major focuses of Mike's World Geography class. He likens his classroom to the world – full of people coming from different backgrounds, income and ability levels, and home situations, noting that “diversity is a fact of life and must be addressed, understood and celebrated when possible.” In the classroom, his teaching style varies from lectures to activities and service learning, and he heartily encourages students to take lessons home and involve their parents/guardians in shared special experiences, such as trying new foods and listening to the music of other cultures in our world.

Mike is recognized by colleagues and students alike for his extracurricular involvement, including the school's annual talent show which raises funds for additional student activities and learning experiences. Too, he's just completed his third year as head coach of the Viking's freshman football team.

Of his teaching style, Mr. Lantz says, “I make special efforts to be creative, foster an atmosphere in which learning together is fun, and remain firm in my commitment to ensure that students learn about themselves as well as how the world works around them.”

0-Luth3Bethany Pitman
Rockford Lutheran Jr/Sr High School-Rockford
8th & 10th grade English
B.A. Education—Concordia University, Nebraska

Comparing Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 to football and having a “spa day” to do a paper “makeover” are exemplary of daily studies in Bethany’s class. A simulation game on an island presenting team struggles is part of the Lord of the Flies study. While reading The Hunger Games, Pitman’s students experienced survival techniques, and then attended the opening midnight show together. In mythology study, Bethany teaches collaboratively with science teachers. Such is the stuff of Bethany’s English classes, based on her extensive study of Nancy Atwell’s interactive Reading/Writing Workshop and Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion.

According to her principal, “Mrs. Pitman . . . shares her contagious passion for reading and writing. . .by developing students’ academic knowledge and changing their lives through the gift of language. Through her student-lead one-on-one methods, Pitman engages the hearts of the students while shaping their character. . .with strong self-discipline and engaged critical thinking.” A parent writes, “My daughter learned to voice her opinion. . . in a classroom where the pace is fast, reading is abundant, and participation is mandatory.”

Selected Rotary Teacher of the Year in 2011, Bethany also heads the English department, mentoring new and experienced teachers alike. She schedules weekend writing workshops for seniors, coaches volleyball, tutors at-risk children for Upward Bound, and established Poetry Café for students and their parents.

reintsJilian Reints
Belvidere High School & Belvidere North High School-Belvidere

M.S. Art Education—Northern Illinois University
B.S. Art Education—Northern Illinois University
A.A. Art Education—Joliet Junior College

Art relates to everything in life, and Jilian guides her students to experience awareness through drawing, painting, photography, and computer art, all life skills. Her classroom is “an inviting climate made beautiful by displays of student work and murals in the hallways” where students of all talent levels feel at home in her classroom. Jilian instructs a range of students from those who are experiencing art for the first time to those establishing a competitive portfolio. She exhibits deep compassion for her students, and uses art for therapy when a student is grieving. She embodies a “talent that is always growing, giving, and creating”. She stays current with artists, trends, sub-cultures, and styles, on which her students base their life stories told in an art medium.

“I lead my students to understand that the things we see are designed to achieve a special effect, . . .that they can be moved by art. . . to take a stand, get angry, or get involved.” Student projects are deeply seeded in thought process, and student-lead critiques are a regular exercise. Ms. Reints plans collaborative teaching, merging art with other disciplines likegeometry, weaving math concepts into the structure for subjective interpretation. Jilian’s students are active in global causes, one of which is to restore photographs for families who felt the loss during Hurricane Sandy.
A frequent speaker at professional conferences, Jilian also exhibited at the Art Institute of Schaumberg Educator Art Show, Brick Gallery, and Rockford Art Museum’s Midwest Art Show, to name a few.

winebrennerMichael D. Winebrenner
North Boone Middle School, Poplar Grove
8th Grade Social Studies

M.A., Curriculum, National-Louis University
B.S., History, Northern Illinois University

“I begin each day with the same goals: To be an effective teacher and have a positive impact on those around me that particular day, including teachers, administrators, parents...and especially my students.”

Whether it's in his Social Studies classes or on the track field, Golden Apple teacher Michael Winebrenner credits organization through thoughtful, well-planned lessons and activities for increasing the potential for student learning and more enjoyable teaching. His designs for student-oriented and differentiated lessons, cooperative learning techniques and a classroom environment that encourages risk-taking, all challenge his students to reach high standards and expectations.

“My students need to know that I'm not just there to teach facts. I desire to be a mentor, a source of support, to teach them life skills and to teach them the meaning of integrity.”

Family involvement in all aspects of his students' education is important to Mike. Invitations are often extended to parents/guardians to join in on school field trips and special classroom activities, and to participate in other family-friendly community events where Mike is a frequent volunteer.

Electronic technology is embraced by Mike who encourages its use by his students, and offers presentations to staff on its capabilities as well. He is a life-long learner and continues to take advantage of information opportunities to improve his teaching methods.

“I am committed to be an advocate for young adults,” say Mr. Winebrenner, “because I believe there is no other time in a person's life when it is so vital to receive love, support, recognition and discipline.”

Sonia O. Belmontes

2nd Grade, Spanish – Barbour Language Academy 

M.A., Arts Education – Aurora University
B.A., Education – Rockford College

When Sonia arrived from Mexico at age 10, speaking only Spanish, her sixth grade teacher became the glue in her new life in America. Because her teacher had high expectations and believed in her, Sonia has spent her professional teaching life repeating that same commitment, and she does so daily with great fluency in both English and Spanish. At an early age, she learned from her social worker mother to be empathetic, helpful, and nonjudgmental. Sonia’s infectious energy, respect, humor, and positive style encourage former students to volunteer their free time to help in the classroom. She writes, “Making genuine connections with my students opens the door to good communication, trust, and ultimately learning” and lifetime friendships as well.

Whether her students are singing a song to remember math or donning gloves, goggles, smocks, and stethoscopes to become scientists and hear each others’ heartbeats,

Sonia constantly engages her students to problem solve and be critical thinkers. She teaches the “whole” child, and they are excited to learn. With two dozen diverse learners, Sonia subtly teaches independent and collaborative learning, cooperation to the highest degree, and peer helping. Her students write their autobiographies from home interviews, publish their works in hardback, and include their families in Readers’ Theater, Scary Story Time, and celebrations.

Sonia is a strong advocate and constantly continues to build a community with her class, parents, colleagues, and former students, inspiring others to love learning for a lifetime.

Bev Cicolello4Bev Cicolello

Early Childhood- Fairview Early Education Center
M.A. Speech-Language Pathology-University of Illinois
B.A. Speech-Language Pathology-Adelphi University
A.A. Liberal Arts-Nassau Community College

Professional colleagues write, “Pioneer in her field” and “cherished educator” in remarks about Bev. She inspires others to do their very best. She smiles all the time. Her face lights up, as does anyone else in response to her, including all her parents lured into her wise influence. As her days are spent inspiring pre-schoolers, thirty percent of whom are special education eligibles, Bev lights up young lives with her attentiveness and care.

As music, art, drama, and movement amend all learning processes, children in Bev’s classroom take in information on all levels. This is their first experience with a group in a cooperative atmosphere. Bev plays guitar and sings, and her students sing, drum rhythms, clap, dance, and learn words, numbers, shapes and colors. She is a storyteller, using child experiences to help her little Shakespeares relive stories with heroes and heroines, teaching about courage, strength, love and doing what is right. Even the most timid become brave. Bev is an artist, as her photography is evidenced in her classroom with student faces on walls, accompanied by student art. Bev is a naturalist, celebrating beauty while hatching chicks in her room, unfolding butterflies from cocoons, caring for the courtyard flowers, and watching red maple leaves and gentle snows.

In the bigger picture, Bev is a highly skilled speech/language pathologist and a staunch advocate for the pre-school child. Recently, she was key in saving the Rockford Early childhood Program by educating the community and politicians in Springfield about the importance of continuing to award the $8.8K grant for young children of Rockford . Her principal writes, “Without her passion for saving the preschool program, our community would have suffered.”

Jennifer Egen1Jennifer Egan

2nd Grade – Rockford Lutheran Academy
B.A., Elementary Education, Concordia University - Wisconsin

As a little girl, Jennifer played teacher with her sister in their basement. It made her happy then, and it still does. Whether she dresses as Mrs. Frizzle from The Magic Bus Series in her homemade solar system sweater or writes her weekly “What’s New in Grade Two” to parents, Jennifer has become a master teacher among colleagues. She anticipates every need and moment in the classroom, avoiding wasted time getting out materials or finding websites. To do this, Jennifer is tireless, spending countless extra hours, weekends and summers making manipulatives, setting up science projects, rebuilding entire subjects, creating self-instruction math centers and studying endless new techniques for differential reading and math. In her classroom, all transitions from Antarctica to subtraction to writing letters or melting Skittles to demonstrate erosion weave seamlessly throughout the day. She has a “passion and drive for educational excellence”, writes her principal.

Whether her students dress as Civil War characters in their traveling Wax Museum, participate in the Ancient Olympics or attend school in Ancient Egypt, Jennifer’s classes are engaged on all levels – to touch, to hear, to see, to present, to critique, to record, and sometimes to act a part. She constantly encourages critical thinking and mastery of concept. That must be why Jennifer was asked to chair the School Improvement Plan – responding also to the school’s initiative to the nationwide problem of bullying, supporting RLA’s philosophy of mutual respect for educational diversity.

Another colleague writes that “clarity is her biggest strength” adding that Jennifer’s “less is more” orderliness in her uncluttered classroom and quiet, positive teaching style reinforce student focus and constant engagement. Jennifer’s childhood dream of being an influential teacher has been nurtured in future generations, as former students are now entering college and the field of education.

Deb LecuyerDebbie Lecuyer

4th grade – Kinnikinnick Elementary School
B.S. Elementary Education – Illinois State University

“I believe that success breeds success,” writes Debbie. Her classroom is a home away from home, and she constantly strives to push students beyond their comfort zone while noticing every little change that needs complimenting, from new glasses to haircuts. As a child, Debbie says, she loved school and always wanted to be a teacher. Now a veteran of thirty-three years, she teaches children of former students at their request.

Students in her classroom become history detectives, silhouette bodies for digestive system mapping, book characters, and proficient in Hands on Equations at the sixth grade level. Furthering her collaborative techniques, Debbie successfully follows her latest goal of partnering with special education teachers and some of their students into her classroom, combining students in a science project that asks descriptions of a mixture from one group, then classification of that description from the other group. Concrete and abstract ideas are melted together. Debbie builds rapport with parents and community by inviting guest visitors to speak on space, circulatory system, and nature. Her fourth graders collected bur oak acorns for reforesting and won a trip to Nygren Wetlands in Rockton.

One colleague calls Debbie a “star educator”, affecting her young students as well as potential teachers. Among her many mentored student teachers, one was voted Rockford College ’s Student Teacher of the Year. Her Superintendent writes that Debbie is “something special” as she encourages creative and independent thinking, “seeks to understand, asks critical questions, and strives to find solutions that will help her be the best she can be for her students”.

“Retirement, when it comes, will be a challenge for me” says Debbie. “I am a Teacher – it is what I do and who I am.”

Gina Tuula1Gina Marie Tulla

5th Grade – Whitman Post
M.A. Administration and Supervision – St. Xavier University
M.A. Teaching and Leadership – St. Xavier University 
B.S. Elementary Education (Minor: Psychology) – Rockford College

“Gina is the kind of teacher and human being that raises the bar for all of us in a way that constantly brings to mind how much difference one person can make,” says her principal.

She is a “peacemaker” with the skills of a foreign ambassador, a role model for fellow teachers and students. As a trained mentor, Gina was asked by the Rockton Induction Committee to mentor new teachers, because of her expertise in the teaching process and “amazing” personal characteristics.

The Quantum Teaching Approach is Gina’s constant mantra. She follows those tenets faithfully, particularly three that dictate that all moments are purposeful teaching moments, leaving no room for wasted “fillers”, providing enrichment and re-teaching; every student effort deserves recognition, and a wrong answer is important; and “if it’s worth learning, it’s worth celebrating”, which means her students dance, stand in awe of their accomplishments, or celebrate with “Elvis” (hunka, hunka love) or “Cheese Grater”. Celebrating learning is positive reinforcement and encourages more seeking of knowledge, a personal tenet for Gina. “My passion is that my students will become lifelong learners,” she says. Each of her fifth graders is a mentor and “book buddy” to a third grader in Gina’s co-teaching/collaboration efforts.

Collaboration with parents is also crucial. Gina creates a weekly newsletter, a website with parent portal, online resources, and a Twitter widget link to communicate reminders. She implements after-school reading andn math programs, is the District's math coordinator, supervises the Forensics, organizes the environmental overnight trip to Timber-lee, oversees the newspaper, presents an Assembly on Character Education, and extends her time in numerous community activities. "Each child leaves a lasting impact on me," says Gina. "This is why I teach."


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