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Five Lehigh teachers named Golden Apple finalists

January 30, 2019
By MEGHAN BRADBURY (news@breezenewspapers.com) , Lehigh Acres Citizen

Last Friday 30 Golden Apple Award finalists were surprised in their classroom, beginning the next stage of the process of selecting the final six winners for 2019.

"It's my favorite time of the year," The Foundation for Lee County Public Schools president and CEO Marshall Bower said. "I have three favorite times with respect to Golden Apple. First to walk into the classroom, not only to see the teachers, but really to see the students because they are so happy for the teachers. (Second) when we do the actual six recipients I load the bus up with a bunch of business people and bust into the classroom and then (finally) the big banquet when we shine the light on the teachers.

"Each teacher picks a student to introduce them. We also honor all of the 30 finalists at the event. They are escorted on the stage by various sponsors and introduce them to the greater audience. We also invite all the 100 Teachers of Distinction to the benefit too."

Bower said they received a new record of applications this year with 350.

Nomination forms are sent out at the beginning of the school year with hard copies given to elementary and middle schools, and some to the high schools due to many of the students preferring to fill it out online.

The foundation received more than 6,000 nominations, which nominated more than 2,100 teachers, some of which were duplicates. The teachers were nominated by students, among other community members.

Bower sends an email to all of the nominees and shares that they have been nominated for the Golden Apple and explain the next steps in the process.

"The application is a long process," he said, adding that the questions are changed every year.

Out of the more than 6,000 nominees, 350 took the next step. The applications are then given to the Golden Apple Selection Committee and ranked.

Bower said it definitely sends them a positive message when the number of nominations goes up every year.

The 30 finalists will now be visited by all 12 Golden Apple Selection Committee members. The visits will be unannounced.

After the classroom visits, each finalist will also be interviewed over a two-day period at the foundation's office.

"All 30 of the finalists and 100 Teachers of Distinction are great representations of what we have here," Bower said of the teachers.

Finalists provided answers to a series of questions for The Lehigh Acres Citizen.

Michelle Start:

Lehigh Acres Middle School

How did you feel when you were surprised in your classroom? Is this your first Golden Apple experience?

I felt proud of the hard work my students have put into this year as none of this would be possible without them. They are creative and innovative and push me to be a better person each day. This is my second time as a finalist - the last time was in 2015.

What do you teach?

I teach eighth grade English language arts and seventh/eighth grade global perspectives.

How long have you been teaching?

Sixteen years.

Where do you find your inspiration to continue to engage your students attention?

My students inspire me. When my lessons are subpar, they let me know it and when they are engaging, you can see it in their actions and how well they learn the material. When they ask me if we can do an activity again, I know it was a successful strategy.

What do you enjoy most about teaching?

Every day is a new day, an opportunity to improve my lessons and reach my students.

Michelle Smith:

Lehigh Senior High School

How did you feel when you were surprised in your classroom? Is this your first Golden Apple experience?

Sadly I was not surprised in my classroom as I was off campus on a community-based educational trip to the Six Mile Slough. This is the second time I have made it to this level and missed being surprised the first time as they had confused me with another Michelle Smith in the county.

What do you teach?

I teach students with intellectual disabilities. I help teach a variety of subjects, but most enjoy providing them with career experiences.

How long have you been teaching?

This is my 22nd year teaching with all but three being at Lehigh Senior High School.

Where do you find your inspiration to continue to engage your students attention?

My students are my inspiration and help drive my teaching career. Getting nuggets of their AHA moments makes me want to pull more from them and show them how much they are capable of accomplishing.

What do you enjoy most about teaching?

There are so many aspects I enjoy about teaching that it's hard to really narrow it down. I love that my students always remind me to go with the flow and yet be ready for anything. Since I have my same students for several years, I really enjoy building relationships with them and their families. Overall, I think the aspect I enjoy most is seeing my students succeed at becoming more independent in their personal lives.

Jennifer Grida:

Tortuga Preserve

Elementary School

How did you feel when you were surprised in your classroom? Is this your first Golden Apple experience?

I was so surprised when they came into my room! I was a Teacher of Distinction last year and a finalist five years ago.

What do you teach?

I teach exceptional education (ESE) grades 3-5 in a self-contained classroom. My students have Autism, speech and language impairments or intellectual disabilities."

How long have you been teaching?

This is my 10th year all here in Lee County and always a Title 1 school with students with disabilities.

Where do you find your inspiration to continue to engage your student's attention?

I get a lot of ideas from the other wonderful teachers in our county. Attention spans are very short in my class so I always have to change things up.

What do you enjoy most about teaching?

I really enjoy my students. They are so unique and I love the challenge of figuring out how to best reach them each year.

Sara Kizzire:

Harns Marsh Middle School

How did you feel when you were surprised in your classroom? Is this your first Golden Apple experience?

This is the first time I have applied. I was shocked to be selected, as I feel that I always can improve my teaching craft. It is a great honor, and there have been many extraordinary teachers who have been selected before me, so I am trying to fill very big shoes.

What do you teach?

Currently, I teach eighth-grade science.

How long have you been teaching?

I have taught for seven years. Four years in Bonita, and three years here at the Marsh.

Where do you find your inspiration to continue to engage your student's attention

Overall, I feel like my students are the ones that inspire me. If they are not actively involved in their own learning, I am missing the mark. I try to stay tuned to what interests them, and keep my teaching culturally relevant by pulling their interests into the lesson.

What do you enjoy most about teaching?

Observing the "ah-ha" moments every day: the excited look, the feeling of pride, and the joy of success that students experience when they finally understand something new. It is my reason for teaching, the one thing I hold on to when testing, behavior, and the day-to day routine bring me down. It is the moment when you know all the hard work is worth it.

Kim Cabrera:

Varsity Lakes Middle School

How did you feel when you were surprised in your classroom? Is this your first Golden Apple experience?

"This is my first Golden Apple experience. The visit was the last thing I expected to happen that day- so I was very surprised. When the group first came into my classroom, I thought I was being observed, so I kept teaching until my principal interrupted me. I was really moved by my students' excitement! There are so many wonderful teachers investing their heart and soul everyday, it is an honor to be a finalist."

What do you teach?

"Sixth grade reading and an Acts of Kindness elective."

How long have you been teaching?

"This is my 4th year teaching."

Where do you find your inspiration to continue to engage your student's attention?

"I was the first to graduate from college in my family, so I draw inspiration from that experience. I wholeheartedly agree with Nelson Mandela, "education is the most powerful tool we can use to change the world." It is my aim to inspire as many students as I can to dream big, develop their gifts, and encourage them to attend college."

What do you enjoy most about teaching?

"I enjoy inspiring kids to apply what they have learned, by involving them in authentic service projects that meet a need in the local or global community."

 
 

 

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