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Golden Apple 2018- Excellence Breeds Excellence

12/28/2018 9:50 am

Golden Apple 2018- Excellence Breeds Excellence

Dec 28, 2018 | Catalyst

Excellence breeds excellence

Five of Rockford University’s own received Golden Apple Recognition

Recently, billboards appeared around the Rockford area featuring the 2018 Golden Apple winners. The Golden Apple Foundation is a volunteer-driven organization that celebrates, inspires and supports educational excellence in the community. Since 1997, the Golden Apple Foundation has grown from honoring teachers in one school district to honoring teachers, principals and volunteers in more than 140 schools, both public and non-public, in Winnebago and Boone counties. Today, the Golden Apple Foundation continues its mission of inspiring, celebrating and supporting educational excellence in the community through four core programs: Awards & Recognition, Teacher Academy, Classroom Grants and Community Engagement.

Five teachers and one principal received the Golden Apple award for their excellence in teaching, their dedication to their students and the positive impact they make in the classroom every day. If you’ve driven around the Rockford area, you’ve probably seen the billboards, but what you might not know is that four of the five teachers recognized and the principal awardee are Rockford University alumni.

Of course, it really comes as no surprise that so many of the Golden Apple recipients are Rockford University graduates. Since our founding in 1847, we have been preparing education majors to be outstanding teachers. In fact, it’s safe to say that there are more than 1,200 teachers in the Rockford and surrounding area who have received their undergrad, graduate, or both degrees here. Since 2009, 29 alumni have been Golden Apple Award winners, two alumnae have been recognized as Illinois Teachers of the Year (2006 Jacqueline Bolger ’83 MAT, and 2008 Ruth Meissen ’98 MAT), one alumnus has been honored as 2015 North Carolina Teacher of the Year (Rockford native James Ford ’09 MAT) and one alumna, was named Wisconsin Teacher of the Year in 2014 (Anne Hasse ’96).

The 2019 group of Golden Apple nominees was just announced in early November. More than 420 nominees, with an estimated 25 percent being RU alumni, will go through a comprehensive process of evaluation, narrowing the field to just 20 finalists, and then to the final five awarded in May. All deserving and all inspiring, we are immensely proud of the amazing contributions made by these dedicated educators in classrooms throughout our region. We reached out to some of our most recent Golden Apple winners to find out how their time at RU prepared them for a career in teaching and gave them the edge they needed to excel in the classroom.

—As a mom of a special needs son, Rachel Huetson knew she needed to stay close to home as she pursued her degree in Education. Location and the fact that her sister, an RU graduate had a wonderful experience here, made it easy for Rachel to decide to enroll. From the minute she started classes, she knew she had made the right choice. “There is such a hometown and welcoming feel at Rockford University,” Rachel said. “The small class sizes were ideal and to this day, I meet regularly with my classmates who have become great friends.”

When she won the Golden Apple, Rachel was teaching first grade at Nelson Elementary in Rockford. This school year she has taken on a new role at Seth Whitman in Belvidere teaching math, science and English to second graders for whom English is their second language. It’s a new challenge for Rachel, and one she credits RU with helping to prepare her. “One thing I dreaded as a student was having to attend forums each semester,” Rachel said. But one particular forums changed Rachel’s perspective. “I attended the forum featuring Mark Zupan, one of the stars of Murderball,” said Rachel. Murderball is a documentary about quadriplegics who play full-contact rugby in wheelchairs and overcome unimaginable obstacles to compete in the Paralympic Games in Athens, Greece. “To this day I talk about that forum and his message about overcoming odds, it made such an impact on me and that will resonate with me always.”

Despite her initial reluctance to attend the forums, Rachel now credits them as part of her well-rounded education. That, along with the excellent professors and a student teacher semester program that allowed her to really immerse herself in the classroom. “The professors really value the students and wanted us to succeed,” Rachel said. “I stay in touch with them and love to have that connection.”

—Small class sizes, clinicals, and a small professor-to-student ratio are all things Katherine Koehler lists as helping her become the teacher she is today. Katherine teachers first grade at Ledgewood Elementary School in Roscoe. “RU prepared me through the clinicals I completed and the small class sizes which allowed me to build strong relationships with professors,” Katherine said. “There were multiple people who made a significant impact on my teaching career. Professors like Dr. Feroli who taught us with intention and prepared us on teaching reading methods in the classroom.”

Katherine also cites her student teaching supervisor, Wes Morgan, as someone who made the biggest impact in her teaching career. “Mr. Morgan pushed me, encouraged me, gave me the best advice and tips, and taught what it meant to be a quality educator,” she said. “Mr. Morgan continues to influence my teaching simply from the things I learned from him during my student teaching. He is an exceptional mentor and someone to whom I will be forever grateful!”

Support was also found outside of the classroom, on campus and in her role as a student worker in the Student Administrative Services office. “I loved the community feel,” Katherine said. “Classes were small and personal. I worked in the student admissions office which I LOVED. Stacey Simms and Daryl Bickford were a great support during my student-worker career.”

Overall, it was RU’s exceptional education program that Katherine said prepared and challenged her and other aspiring teachers. “I was provided a strong foundation of teaching practices and principles that I have carried with me throughout my career,” she said. “I will always be grateful to the staff at RU for preparing me to do what I love each day. I love everything about what I do and hope to give my students the best instruction and love they deserve!”

—For Ashley Schwabero, her master’s in teaching gave her the practical strategies she needed to provide excellent instruction in the classroom and one project really brought learning to life. “The teacher demonstrated how powerful instruction can be when students are fully immersed in an interactive project while practicing their skills,” Ashley said. “We were assigned to plan a party and we had to compare the prices for the supplies at several local grocery stores. Given that purpose for learning, all of the students were fully engaged. I think back on that lesson often when I am planning for my own classroom and try to incorporate that type of hands-on learning for my students.”

As a fourth grade teacher at Prairie Hill School in South Beloit, Ashley is always looking for ways to make a positive impact on her students and she credits RU as a place where she was able to hone her skills. “My experience at RU has added a huge amount of instructional strategies that I currently use in my classroom,” she said.

Katherine M. Koehler ’11 BS Elementary Education teaches First Grade at Ledgewood Elementary School in Roscoe

“Teaching has taught me how to love unconditionally, how to put others before myself, how to continually find new ways to get to know that student who is struggling in school, and how to lead by example. It is my hope that my students will remember their first grade teacher as someone who was committed, loving and a person who they could depend on. Teaching has brought me direction and purpose, and for that I am grateful.”


Rachel Seipts Huetson ’09 BS Elementary Education taught First Grade at Nelson Elementary School in Rockford and is now at Seth Whitman Elementary School in Belvidere.

“It is my job to allow my students to express their learning through a variety of multiple intelligences so that they become lifelong learners.” 



Ashley Schwabero ’08 MAT teaches Fourth Grade at Prairie Hill Elementary School in South Beloit.

“The field of education is one in which a teacher’s job is ever-changing. I will never stop adjusting, growing, and learning along the way. I believe I could not have chosen to dedicate myself to a more significant and rewarding profession, as it is educators who help build the foundation for the impact that each child will make in our world.”


Lance Tuula ’04 BS Elementary Education teaches Fifth Grade at Whitman Post Elementary in Rockton

“I want my students to know that no matter their performance level, the entire arena will always be cheering for them in the end. I try to stop at some point every day, take a breath, and realize that there’s no place I’d rather be than in our arena, on our stage.”




2018 Golden Apple Puri Outstanding Principal

Amber Miller ’05 BS Elementary Education

Maud E. Johnson Elementary School, Rockford.