Betsy Young

Have you had a teacher mark the birthdays of all her students on her calendar so she could sing to them on their special days? Betsy Young’s students have! The choir, piano lab and band teacher at Harlem Middle School with 28 years of teaching experience previously taught general music and English/Spelling/Literature. Her dedication to students and to music education is not limited to the music room. She received Peer Pride recognition at HMS for compiling digital music and adjusting sound levels for athletic and fine arts events; led a fundraising campaign to replace sound equipment; represents general education teachers in IEP meetings; and performs in local events with Rock Valley College Community bands and the Rockford Wind Ensemble. She provides help not just to her students, but also to all the Harlem School District’s music teachers so they can attend the ILMEA Middle School Band Festival. In his recommendation letter, RVC Band director, Erik Oberg said, “Betsy believes in teaching students more than just the notes; she strives to teach students the intrinsic value of learning and trying their best simply because it is the right thing to do.” Her efforts to communicate student highs and lows and ways parents can help don’t go unnoticed. One parent nominated Betsy, commenting that she makes Middle School a safe place to grow for students who love music. Clearly, what Betsy does makes a difference. Early in her career, Betsy felt she had found a school home where she was nurtured and could nurture her students. She created the music program. She was named Teacher of the Year. The school, parents and students were happy with her work. But, unbeknownst to her, this private school was on the brink of financial failure. At the end of the first semester of her third year, Betsy was told that because of finances, the school was cutting her position immediately. Two days later, an anonymous donor agreed to pay her salary for the remainder of the school year! “The lesson I learned was affirmation of my value as a teacher. Victories like this, along with all the smaller daily successes, keep me ignited to dream big for my students and what they can accomplish.” 

Rob Ullrich

To Rob Ullrich of Rockford, “commitment in education is synonymous with ‘never give up.’” His students sense his commitment, as one of them nominated him for being “always happy and ready to teach.” Ullrich has taught both special and regular education classes as well as multiple subjects. He has spent the majority of his eight years of teaching experience at North Boone, first at the high school, now at the middle school, where he teaches seventh grade social studies. Jamie Pearce, NBMS principal, says that the passion he shows for Social Studies is second to none. Through teaching special education classes, Ullrich’s strengths in collaboration, patience and empathy blossomed. Nicholas Augustine, a peer at NBHS, stated in his recommendation letter that Ullrich “is an honest and caring teacher who promotes a culture of learning all leaders in education strive to establish.” He added, “Students trust [him] to provide a safe and inclusive setting to learn the curriculum.” An example of Ullrich’s dedication to inclusivity was learning the hard way that his favorite book, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” told from the viewpoint of a young white Southern girl, was not going to work for his class which consisted primarily of Hispanic boys. They checked out. So he searched for a replacement that would resonate with them and found “The Circuit” by Francisco Jimenez, a story of a Mexican-American migrant family told through the eyes of the second-oldest son. “My students would laugh at certain passages as the humor soared right over my head. I felt as detached from Mexican folk-life as they had in Mockingbird.” But he learned the importance of heroes who look and talk like his students, not like him or Atticus Finch. Ullrich says, “I know that I will cease to make a difference if I lose my mentality that each day is new and that deep down, kids do want to succeed.” 

Stephanie Valderrama

Stephanie Valderrama of South Beloit, is in her fifth year at Rockford Environmental Science Academy, where she teaches Sixth Grade Multi-Language Lab plus Spanish for 7th and 8th grades. She has 11 years of experience teaching middle school. Stephanie “uses research-based best practices to challenge the students to meet her high expectations, but does so in a way that connects to their interests and learning styles,” according to fellow teacher, Annika Doering. Or, as students who nominated her see it, “She makes everything she teaches understandable and fun”! Stephanie’s first year of teaching was life-changing. Fighting, yelling, bullying and threats were daily events. Many students had been expelled from other Miami-Dade schools, lived with parental separation, abuse and gang activity. And despite being the neediest school, her school received little funding, to the point that the only books provided were those in such poor shape that the public schools had discarded them. No computers, supplies or curriculum were provided. After a hurricane destroyed this school, the students were relocated to the elementary campus, where teachers had to share rooms and create classrooms out of any space available, including a broom closet! Many teachers quit mid-year. Stephanie stayed until the school was closed at the end of the year.  She shared that she “left with many lessons, and a commitment to education that has kept me in the field fighting for students every school year.”

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“Not only did Mrs. Boyer contribute to my academic excellence, she helped me become the woman I am today.” A former student who’s since graduated from high school shared this praise in a letter of recommendation for Ashley Boyer, who teaches English and Reading to eighth graders at Poplar Grove’s North Boone Middle School. The Genoa resident has been at NBMS for nine years. She previously taught Social Studies at Dundee Middle School. Differentiation is a daily part of lessons; Ashley has found ways through technology to modify assignments without students even knowing that they're taking a different test. “At times, I have up to four modified assignments taking place, all with the same objectives, but written or presented differently to meet individual needs.” Acknowledging that middle school can be a challenging time, Ashley says, “Captivating the minds of teenagers so they are interested in reading and writing, rather than boring into the depth of YouTube channels can be an overwhelming feat, but with the understanding that commitment applies to more than just my lesson plans, it becomes a feasible task.” When Ashley observes a problem in the school, whether academic or emotional/social, she is committed to finding solutions. From one such issue, she developed an anti-bullying organization, FIRE (Friendships Include Respecting Everyone), in which students are the sole ambassadors. They help peers with problems, teach lessons to study hall classes, model inclusive behaviors and plan school-wide events such as “Start the Day with Hello” week. Increased inclusion, trust and confidence, as well as the breaking of stereotypes are a few of the results the FIRE group has produced. Beyond advising FIRE and connecting with a diverse group of middle schoolers to meet their academic, social and emotional needs, Ashley serves on the board of a nonprofit, is a Sunday school teacher, a park district sports coach, a leader for staff versus students events and mentor to two new teachers and three students.


Golden Apple Foundation has partnered with the family of Sunil Puri to recognize exceptional principals each year with the Outstanding Principal Award. This year secondary school principals are eligible and parents, colleagues and community members are encouraged to nominate their prinicpal. The selected principal will be be surprised in their school and they will receive $1,500 to be used in their school and $250 in Volcano Falls gift certificates to reward excellent students. Click here for the nomination form and a list of past principal recipients.  

Photos: Maud E. Johson Elementary Principal, Amber Miller, with Sunil Puri, CEO of First Midwest Group.

service award

The Golden Apple Foundation Jan Jones Service Award is named in honor of the late Jan Jones, who served the Foundation since 1998. Jan joined the Board of Directors in 2006 and served as Vice President of Awards and Recognition. When Jan passed away in July 2013, the Foundation renamed its educational service award in recognition of her service and commitment.

Jan was a tireless advocate for excellence in local education. After retiring from a successful teaching career, Jan inspired others by continuing to fight for and affect the education of our community’s children. She instructed future teachers as a Rockford University adjunct professor, mentored community educators and activists and participated in such education service organizations as Rockford Promise, Alignment Rockford and Golden Apple Foundation.

The 2019 Golden Apple Foundation Jan Jones Service Award will be presented to an individual, couple, organization, or business for demonstrating a deep commitment to Excellence in Education in Winnebago and/or Boone County through volunteerism. The nominees will be considered based on the following criteria:

•           Recipient will be considered for his/her volunteer work in fields relating to education or additional fields that serve teachers, students, and schools.

•           Recipient will have exhibited a deep commitment to excellence in education in Winnebago and/or Boone County.

Service nominations must be received by the Golden Apple Foundation office by 5:00 p.m. on February 28, 2019.

Recipients will be recognized at the 23rd Annual Golden Apple Banquet on Friday, April 26 at Giovanni's. Click here for you nomination form or contact Jennifer Stark at 815-226-4180 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information.

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

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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 2019 Golden Apple Awards for Excellence in Teaching.  These talented 6th - 12th 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….

Ashley Boyer
North Boone Middle School - Poplar Grove
8th Grade English and Reading

Jean Chambers
Hononegah Community High School - Rockton
9th grade English, World Lit; 12th grade British Lit

Candice Cortese
Hononegah Community High School - Rockton
Trig-PreCalculus and Algebra IIAB

Jeremy Edwards
Belvidere High School - Belvidere

Daniel Foster
Belvidere High School - Belvidere

Jessica Gerrond
Rockford East High School - Rockford
9th-12th grade Reading, English, Global Studies, Hard of Hearing/Deaf

Michael Manke
Rockford Christian Middle School - Rockford
7th Grade Physical Science

Amanda McCallister
Roosevelt Community Education Center - Rockford
Algebra, Geometry, Beginning Computer Apps

Sheila Morrall
Belvidere South Middle School - Belvidere
6th-9th grade Spanish

Amanda Newmes
Belvidere North High School - Belvidere

Jennifer Osar
Harlem High School - Machesney Park
HS Algebra and Trig

Mark J. Peterson
Auburn High School - Rockford
Reading, English, ESL

Jeff Pettera
Christian Life High School - Rockford
Anatomy, Biology, Chemistry, Physics

Molly Priest
Eisenhower Middle School - Rockford
6th grade Environmental and General Science

Chelsea Pruitt
Harlem Middle School - Loves Park
7th Grade ELA

Rob Ullrich
North Boone Middle School - Poplar Grove
7th grade Social Studies

Stephanie Valderrama
RESA - Rockford
6th grade Multi-Language lab; 7th, 8th grade Spanish

Melissa Wolf
Guilford High School - Rockford
9th-12th grades Theater Arts

Betsy Young
Harlem Middle School - Loves Park
7th and 8th grades Band, Choir and Piano Lab

Flori Zeqiri
Harlem Middle School - Loves Park
7th grade Social Studies


These teachers will be observed in their classrooms by trained community volunteers on three separate occasions between Jan. 15 and Feb. 15, 2019. 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 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 23rd 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 26, 2019, 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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During the past month, parents, students and community members submitted 1,156 nominations for 445 of their favorite secondary level teachers who exemplify excellence in the classroom. These are just some of the comments about the 6th-12th grade teachers in Winnebago and Boone counties nominated for the prestigious 2019 Golden Apple Teacher Awards.

"If I could nominate him 100,000 times, I would. He is a very inspiring teacher and helps his students when they are stuck. I couldn't have made it through my first day of high school without him." [She] is an amazing demonstration of a teacher who can teach a challenging class in a way that attracts students and pulls them into the fun." “He has been teaching for 44 years and he is still enthusiastic about it.” “She is a wonderful teacher and great coach. She is why I go to school." 

All nominees, regardless of eligibility, are encouraged to attend the Nominee Reception from 4:30-6 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 13, at Regents Hall in Burpee Center at Rockford University. Nominees will enjoy socializing, appetizers and networking with other teachers. Special thanks to our Nominee Reception Sponsor, Rockford University. 

Click here for a full list of nominees.

Golden Apple Foundation inspires, celebrates and supports educational excellence in our community. To learn more about the foundation, visit our website at

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Students, parents, faculty and community members are encouraged to express their gratitude to area teachers by nominating one or more teachers for the 2019 Golden Apple Award. 

Online nominations can be made at Paper forms are available in all area schools and participating community sites and can be submitted to Golden Apple Foundation’s office at 5050 E. State St., Rockford, IL 61108.

This year Golden Apple Foundation will award teachers of 6th – 12th grades. To be eligible the nominee must be a teacher in Winnebago or Boone county who teaches a group of students in a classroom on a regular basis. Nominations for the Golden Apple Teacher Awards will be accepted through October 15, 2018. 

For additional information or to display paper nomination forms at your business or organization, contact the Golden Apple Foundation office, at 815-226-4180 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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Help bring a smile to a teacher's face! Golden Apple Foundation is seeking volunteers to deliver fresh apples and thank you cards to more than 6,000 teachers in Winnebago and Boone counties. You select the school(s) of your choice and pick up apples anytime 7-9 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 13 at Schnucks Market E. State location and then deliver to schools. This special day is our way of thanking teachers for the impact they make on student's lives. We will also bring Golden Apple teacher nomination forms to school offices to remind students, parents and community members to nominate their fabulous teachers. Click here to register to help or contact us at 815-226-4180 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information. Special thanks to Schnuck Markets whose sponsorship makes this day possible. 


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Golden Apple offers professional develoment at KIDS each year. Our first session will be held 4:30-6:30 p.m. on October 16, 2018 and our topics will include classroom re-design, flexible seating and blended learning.


When: October 16, 2018 from 4:30-6:30 p.m.

Where: KIDS, 300 Heart Blvd. Loves Park      

Cost: $10 per session   PDC’s available

Register at or call KIDS at 815-636-3040


Classroom Re-design and Flexible Seating

- Explore ways to redesign your classroom to benefit both students and teachers.

- Learn ways to integrate progressive seating styles to enhance student focus.

          Presented by Meghan Hembrough, 1st Grade Teacher, Loves Park Elementary

Blended Learning and Flexible Seating

- Gain insight into the mindset of student and teacher blended learning.

- Discover a framework for implementing blended learning and flexible seating into your classroom.

- Learn how to create a more student centered system in your classroom and online.

Presented by Amanda Newmes, Science Teacher, Belvidere North High School