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Get to Know Our 20 Finalists!

Suzette Muck of Caledonia is a special education teacher with 14 years of teaching experience. She has taught for three years at Poplar Grove Elementary, currently teaching first-third grade special education (self-contained cross categorical). Her principal, Heather Walsh, says, “Suzette has worked to empower her student learners, thus creating an individualized environment for …her students to think and reflect, deepen their understanding, and test their ideas against those of their classmates at their level.“ She adds that Suzette is a sincere, thoughtful, compassionate team player who is always serving the best interests of her students and the school. With a classroom full of heavily individualized plans, Suzette’s students often start out complaining that it isn’t fair that one student could do one thing while another student could not. She proactively found a way to eliminate the word “fair” from her classroom with an exercise involving each student’s imagining an injury somewhere on their bodies. Each student was given a Band-Aid on the hand. The children recognized that while the remedy was “fair” to each of them, it did not necessarily offer what the person needed. Many of her students face struggles at home which greatly affect their learning and behavior. While she says that none of her students are ever far from her thoughts, she reflects that “strangely enough, I’ve never truly thought about how my commitment affects the children in my care. The simplistic version is that I have just always wanted to do right by all of them.” 




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Get to Know Our 20 Finalists

Katherine Koehler of Loves Park is in her seventh year of teaching first grade at Ledgewood Elementary in Roscoe. Katherine was homeschooled her whole K-12 education. No one in her family went to college, so lessons were often very frustrating for both teacher and student! Her family didn’t talk about, encourage or expect her to attend college, but Katherine determined that her path was to attend college and become an Elementary teacher, so she made a plan and made it happen. Katherine is certain many students have had more of an impact on her than she’s had on them. In her fourth year of teaching, a student made a significant impact, consistently reminding her that her commitment to her students was the only thing that mattered. Every day, he would throw himself on the floor screaming he hated her and school. He would spit, scream, throw objects and cry. She continued to research ways to help him be successful at school. “In the midst of my exhaustion one day, I felt a hand on my shoulder and heard him whisper, ‘You’re changing my life and I love you!’ This was one of the most defining and meaningful moments in my teaching career.” Katherine says that teaching is a fiber of her being, not just her career. “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.” 

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Get to Know Our 20 Finalists

Wendy Breit of Rockford has been teaching at Riverview Elementary in South Beloit for 18 years, the first 14 for fourth grade classes. Now she teaches second grade, all subjects except physical education and music. Wendy was nominated by the parent of a girl she taught last year, whose family experienced a lot of hardship that year, from broken bones to multiple deaths in the family. “Throughout it all, Wendy … let me know how she was doing physically … and emotionally.” Ryan Amendt, Riverview’s principal, observes that she “spends many hours planning lessons that challenge the second grade minds with high level cognitive thinking while incorporating Chromebooks, Internet, and online resources to extend the lesson.” She is involved in or has promoted successfully many projects at the school: Food Drive, Family Reading Night, Student Council advisor, Character Counts Coordinator, Yearbook Coordinator, Quarterly and Year-end Awards Coordinator, School Webmaster, Classroom Website, Great America and Magic Waters Read to Succeed programs. “Can’t” doesn’t appear to be a word in Wendy’s vocabulary. In fact, she says, “I establish high expectations for my students and on the very first day of school, we symbolically bury the word ‘can’t’ by pledging never to use that word in our classroom. We even create our own ‘Class Constitution.’ Additionally, we talk about how within life and learning, we make mistakes and learn from them … even teachers.”  

Look for Golden Apple's next "Get to Know Our 20 Finalists" teacher selection on Thursday.  

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Golden Apple Foundation is pleased to announce that 12 local teachers from Boone and Winnebago County were selected to receive nearly $12,000 in grants.  These talented teachers applied for literacy, science and mentoring projects to increase student engagement and learning.

Click here to learn about each individual project and the amount granted.  Golden Apple grants are are available to PreK - 12th grade teachers in Winnebago and Boone Counties and are awarded each year in December. Click here to learn about the grant program.

Since the program's inception, Golden Apple has provided more than $124,000 to classroom teachers to address student learning needs. Projects have included STEM and Robotics programs, literacy-building activities, conserving and cleaning up ground water, international business, leadershill skill building, peer mentoring, fine arts projects, improving student's self esteem and more.

If you are interested in supporting these efforts through a sponsorship or gift, please reach out to Jennifer Stark, Executive Director at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Photo:  Standing (L-R): Ashley Smith of Nashold Early Childhood Center; Tiffany Aurand and Kristin Schmidt, both of Marquette Elementary; Jeff Powell, GAF board president; Meg Hodge of Andy's Books for Kids (sponsor); Laura Benkovich of Whitman Post Elementary; and Anne Hart of Stephen Mack Middle School.Front (L-R): Meghan Hembrough of Loves Park Elementary; Amy Maier of Whitman Post Elementary; Suzette Muck and Carrie Norder-Pagan, both of Poplar Grove Elementary; and Cindy Maten of Capron Elementary.

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Golden Apple Foundation is pleased to announce the names of 20 teachers from Winnebago and Boone County who have been selected to move forward in the process for the 2018 Golden Apple Awards for Excellence in Teaching.  These talented PreK - 5th grade teachers were chosen by a selection committee of community volunteers who had the difficult task of selecting only 20 teachers from a large group of worthy nominees.

Please join us in congratulating the following excellent teachers….

AmyCarol Bedows
Rockford Christian - Rockford
Fourth Grade

Wendy Breit
Riverview Elementary - South Beloit
Second Grade

Allison Decman
Keith Country Day
Third Grade

Heather Geary
Whitehead Elementary - Rockford
Fourth Grade

Christy Grace
Manchester Elementary - Poplar Grove
Second Grade

Mary Haas
Holy Family - Rockford
Kindergarten - Eighth Grade Art

Rachel Huetson
Nelson Elementary - Rockford
First Grade

Ingrid Hyde
Machesney Elementary - Machesney Park
First - Sixth Grades General Art/Fine Arts Academy

Jean Johnson
Marshall Elementary - Rockford
Third Grade - Gifted

Laura Johnson
Nashold Early Childhood Center - Rockford
Early Childhood

Katherine Koehler
Ledgewood Elementary - Roscoe
First Grade

Sylvia Landreth
Fairview Early Childhood Center - Rockford
Early Childhood - Bilingual Spanish/English

Suzette Muck
Poplar Grove Elementary - Poplar Grove
First - Third Special Education

Gabriela Nunez-Reagan
Seth Whitman Elementary - Belvidere
First Grade Dual Language

Ashley Schwabero
Prairie Hill Elementary - South Beloit
Fourth Grade

Jennifer Stella
Rock Cut Elementary - Loves Park
Fifth Grade

Laura Stites
Caledonia Elementary - Caledonia
Fifth Grade Math and English

Lance Tuula
Whitman Post Elementary - Rockton
Fifth Grade

Amy Wright
Prairie Hill Elementary - South Beloit
First Grade

Fort Zackary III
Carlson Elementary - Rockford

These teachers will be observed in their classrooms by trained community volunteers on three separate occasions between Jan. 16 and Feb. 16, 2018. The next step in the selection process after observations is an interview. The process culminates with the selection of five teachers who will receive the prestigious Golden Apple Award in surprise classroom presentations featured by WREX-13 and the Rockford Register Star.

Each Golden Apple award winning teacher will receive a cash award; a professional development stipend; a Rockford University Scholarship and a laptop computer compliments of Entré Computer Solutions. In addition, they will be inducted into the Golden Apple Teacher Academy where, as members, they will work to increase public awareness of educational excellence in our schools, promote the profession of education and provide professional development training and mentoring to new and veteran teachers.

Golden Apple Foundation is celebrating its 22nd year of taking positive steps to achieve improved education in Winnebago and Boone counties. The Annual Golden Apple Banquet recognizing Excellence in Education and honoring the Golden Apple finalists will be held Friday, April 27, 2018, at Giovanni's, sponsored by Bergstrom Inc. Charitable Foundation.

Golden Apple Foundation inspires, recognizes and supports excellence in education in our community.

For more information, contact Jennifer Stark at 815-226-4180 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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Assistant Principals are encouraged to apply for the Golden Apple Investing in Excellence: Assistant Principal Development Program.  Golden Apple Foundation is parterning with area school districts and Rasmussen College to provide one Assistant Principal a unique professional development experience at the New and Aspiring School Leaders Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in spring 2018.  Assistant Principals in both primary and secondary grades are eligible.  For complete eligibilty requirements, application and additional information on the program, click here.  Deadline to apply is January 10, 2018.  Photo: Renee Schott, Asst. Principal at Jefferson High School, attending Harvard in the 2016.

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A Nominee Reception will be held to honor all nominees at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 14, at Giovanni’s located at 610 N. Bell School Road in Rockford. District superintendents and building principals will join Golden Apple Foundation board members and sponsors in congratulating the nominees.  This event is made possible by our sponsor, Olivet Nazarene University.

The nomination is the first stage of a search for teachers who represent excellence in primary school teaching in Winnebago and Boone counties. The next step is for teachers to respond to their nominations with self-reflective essays and letters of recommendation. Nominees must have five years of teaching experience and be teaching full time in a PreK – 5th grade classroom. A selection committee will complete a review of the teachers’ professional portfolios and choose 20 teachers to continue in the process of classroom observations and interviews, which are conducted by community volunteers. 

Five teachers will be selected to receive the Golden Apple Award and will be honored at the 22nd Annual Excellence in Education Banquet on April 27, 2018 at Giovanni’s. Each of the Golden Apple Teachers will receive a cash award, a professional development stipend, a Rockford University Scholarship, and a laptop computer. They will then be inducted into the Golden Apple Teacher Academy. 

Deadline to RSVP is November 9. Contact Golden Apple at 815-226-4180 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with questions.







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During the past month, parents, students and community members submitted more than 1,300 nominations for 591 of their favorite teachers who exemplify excellence in the classroom. "She taught us to believe in yourself and you can succeed. I took her advice and came to school every day and now I am very successful." “He makes learning fun and exciting but at the same time, my son grew academically and emotionally. My son struggles with anxiety and socializing and [he] brought the best out in my child. He continues to help my son today, by helping him with his middle school math, on his own time.  I have never met a more dedicated teacher.” “She is really nice and helps you whenever you need help. She makes math fun!” "Her ability to make children feel happy and excited to learn. She learns each child's strengths and weaknesses and guides them through both. My son says she makes learning stress free and fun!" These are just some of the comments about the PreK-5th grade teachers in Winnebago and Boone counties nominated for the prestigious Golden Apple Teacher Awards for 2018.

Click here for a full is of nominees.

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Do you have a great idea for a new literacy project or Robotics program in your classroom?  Golden Apple is offering Classroom Project Grants to Pre-K - 12th grade teachers.  Click for application and criteria.  Deadline to apply is Monday, November 6, 2017.


Nominate an outstanding PreK - 5th grade teacher for the 2018 Golden Apple Award.  Monday, October 16, 2017 is the last day to nominate. Tell us in a few sentences why the nominee is exceptional. Nominations can be mailed to Golden Apple Foundation, 5050 E. State St., Rockford, IL 61108 or submitted on-line at  

It’s easy, anyone can nominate, and it means the world to teachers when they hear that they have had an impact so great on someone’s life that they took the time to nominate them for an award.  Make a teacher’s day!  Nominate now!   

Nominations are also accepted online at

Five Golden Apples will be presented to select teachers in March and excellence in education will be celebrated at the 22nd Annual Excellence in Education Banquet on April 27, 2018 at Giovanni's.  But, first they have to be nominated!!

For more information,  contact Jennifer Stark at 815-226-4180 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Golden Apple Foundation inspires, celebrates and supports educational excellence in our community. 


Golden Apple has been selected to be a part of the Schnucks - Bags 4 My Cause program for the month of September and October.

Love reusable bags? For the whole month of SEPTEMBER, buy the Cause bag with the message “Giving is in the Bag” at Schnucks located at 6410 E. State Street in Rockford and Golden Apple receives $1!  Then, for the whole month of OCTOBER, buy the Cause bag at Schnucks located at 2462 Charles Street in Rockford, and Golden Apple received $1.