Teachers honored with ‘Golden Apple’ awards

Published: March 22, 2007 | 5858th good news item since 2003

If it hadn’t been for a nasty dog bite, teacher Melinda Wilson would not have been standing in front of her dance class Wednesday holding a basket of apples.

That bloody bite—which made her faint a decade ago—convinced her she didn’t have the stomach to go to medical school. So she turned to another love—teaching dance—and spent the next nine years pushing students to new heights at Curie Metropolitan High School in Chicago.

The extraordinary academic rigor of her classes and her personal commitment to students made her one of this year’s 10 winners of the Golden Apple Award—an honor Wilson called the “Super Bowl of teaching.”

“She’s always pushing you to be the best, not only in dance, but in everyday life,” said Curie senior Dario Martinez, who nominated his teacher for the award. “When I came into her class, there was such a sense of relief and freedom where you could just be yourself.”

Six Golden Apple teachers were honored Wednesday—two from private schools, two from suburban schools and two from Chicago public schools. Three more will be named Thursday, and fine arts teacher Gina Williams of Lake Forest Academy was surprised last week with the honor because her school is on spring break this week.

“I value academics and discipline,” said Wilson, 45, whose students turn in 20-page term papers for their midterms. “I love my kids, and I want them to realize that there are no limits to what they can achieve in my room.”

Meanwhile, when Golden Apple presenters arrived at Evanston Township High School, Aaron Becker, 38, and his students were sitting on rugs and pillows, studying their lesson in a classroom filled with ornate drapes, maps and Middle Eastern memorabilia.

On some days, the students help themselves to hot tea that the history teacher has brewed, sometimes with tea leaves he had bought during a visit to an exotic locale.

Senior Peter Brody stopped by to give his teacher a hug and said the Middle Eastern-themed classroom is just one way that Becker makes students feel comfortable. “You can tell he absolutely loves the subjects he teaches,” Brody said.

At Fenwick High, a Catholic school in Oak Park, Rev. Joseph Ekpo leaped into the air when he learned of his award. The Nigerian-born theology teacher was forced as a child to fight in a rebel army, was ordained as a priest in 1986, and later fled to the United States after he was marked for execution.

“I am dedicating this to God, to Jesus, to America, to Nigeria and to Catholic priests,” said Ekpo, 45. “God sent me to make religion meaningful, for students to experience God and to help them relate to God.”

Published in Heroes, Teachers
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