NAPLES — Sitting in the green chairs at the Philharmonic Center for the Arts, the audience, dressed in their finest clothes, could barely contain their excitement.
When the lights dimmed and the stars came on stage Tuesday, the screaming and cheering began. Some even waived signs that said “Jonas Rocks!” while others waived bouquets of flowers and pompoms.
They weren’t cheering for Jonas Brothers. There was someone better on the stage.
The Education Foundation of Collier County honored six of Collier County’s finest educators during the 19th annual Golden Apple Teacher Recognition Celebration Tuesday night.
They honored educators who are, in the words of Veterans Memorial Elementary School fifth-grader Megan Mosbach, “the teacher we will remember the most,” or in the words of Palmetto Ridge High School student Richard Graham, the teacher that “goes beyond his contract ... a person everyone can relate to who is always there for you.” A teacher who, in the words of Poinciana Elementary School second-grader Jett Ty Su, “makes learning fun” and makes him “like science, but not as much as I like Mrs. Crouse.”
Each of the six teachers had something to say about their students and the teaching profession.
Veterans Memorial Elementary School teacher Stephanie Jonas said she learns every day from her students — how to laugh, be passionate, empathize and even add background color and animated characters on PowerPoint presentations.
“But most importantly, my students teach me how to appreciate each and every one of them and their individual learning styles and needs,” she said. “I want all of my students to have fun while engaged in the academics of what they are doing. I strive for my students to become lifelong learners.”
Pinecrest Elementary School teacher Mia German told a story about one of her kindergarten students who repeated German’s lessons to her when she was having a bad day.
“That special moment between us reminded me that as teachers, our words are so valuable and powerful,” she said. “There is not a day that goes by that I don’t tell my students how smart they are, great job, you can do it and I love you. Teaching is not just my job. It’s my passion and my calling.”
Poinciana Elementary School teacher Anna Ruth Crouse said she vividly remembers the day her class received their Golden Apple. “I’ll never forget ... the way they carried it around like a precious stone that had just been discovered,” she said. “I know that each and every student feels they own a piece of the apple because they had helped in the process of earning it through their eagerness to learn and creativity in the learning process.”
She thanked everyone who believed in teachers.
“But most importantly, thank you for my past, present and future students who always make it a joy to come to work each and every day,” she said.
Palmetto Ridge High School teacher Brent Brickzin said his goal is to inspire his students to use their imagination, work hard to achieve their goals, have dreams and believe they can make them come true.
“I firmly believe that every student can succeed,” he said. “When I became a teacher, I wanted to do whatever I could to help my students achieve that success. ... In my classroom, I try to create an environment in which my students gain knowledge, confidence and the desire to succeed.”
He does that partly by using humor. He had some for the audience Tuesday night as well, joking that his wife Deann, a teacher herself, refused to answer the phone, “‘Home of Golden Apple teacher Brent Brickzin.’”
Calusa Park Elementary School third-grade teacher Sheila Buckner said taking on the challenge of everything there is to learn makes her excited to come to work each day. She said that reflecting on the school year made her think about the things that she has learned as a teacher.
“I have learned that teaching is so much more than teaching. It is creating, challenging, researching, nurturing and loving,” she said. “I have learned that being a teacher means that I have found my passion, my joy and my calling.”
Osceola Elementary School first-grade teacher Teri Maroon said receiving the Golden Apple at this stage in her career was especially sweet. She began her teaching career 12 years ago in Collier County, and her first students are getting ready to graduate from high school.
“As I look back, the 227 students whom I have taught — and, yes, I have counted all of them — have each left a fingerprint on my life,” she said. “They have filled my days with laughter, wonder and joy. There have been occasional moments of frustration, but those moments have made our successes all the sweeter.”
The Golden Apple process begins in the fall, when students, parents and community members nominate teachers from around the county for an Apple. Teachers may choose to apply for the award through a written application. A selection committee, which is made of former educators, parents and community members, narrows the field of applications to 100. The 100 teachers are then observed and scored by members of the Core Committee, which is a group of community volunteers.
The application and initial observation are scored and the field of 100 teachers is narrowed to the 40 Teachers of Distinction. The selection committee then interviews each teacher, conducts more classroom observations and scores them.
The six Golden Apple teachers are chosen from the 40 Teachers of Distinction and all 40 were honored Tuesday for their commitment to education.
In conjunction with the Golden Apple Awards and Teacher Appreciation Week, the Education Foundation has launched a “Tell Us About Your Teacher” campaign to encourage students to thank their teachers as the school year comes to a close. When students visit www.EducationForCollier.org to submit a form about why the teacher is special, that teacher is automatically nominated for the 2010 Golden Apple.
The Golden Apple Awards Celebration will be rebroadcast on WINK-TV at 7 p.m. Saturday, May 9, and noon Sunday, May 10.