Hayley Gotzsche2

Hayley Gotzsche of Roscoe has been a teacher for eight years, the past three at South Beloit’s Willowbrook Middle School. Principal Dr. Michael Plourde shared, “When we interviewed Hayley, I had her teach a live class of students. It was evident from the beginning that she was special. I still recall students telling me after class that I HAD to hire her. Unfortunately, nothing could have prepared her for teaching choir through a pandemic. Despite all the logistical challenges, she and her students thrived, using music as an outlet for the additional stress and anxiety of the last year and a half.” Gotzsche was nominated by several students, one of whom wrote that she’s inspired her to become a music teacher. Gotzsche wrote, “While I have had a handful of students over the years who have gone on to study Music Education or entered the world of music performance, the most significant goal of my teaching career is to create lifelong lovers and appreciators of music who will seek out music throughout their lives even beyond their schooling years.” Another nominator shared that, “I used to not be able to read music at all and had barely any background, but now I can read music, count beats, see measures.” Other students praised her for being understanding and for making class fun. Another one wrote, “Every single day I look forward to going to her class. Even when I am having a bad day, I always have a smile while I'm in her class.” Gotzsche includes students’ families with opportunities such as fundraising, a “bring your family to choir” event, event assistance and communicating class highlights. Having initially taught at a school with a higher rate of students living below the poverty line, Gotzsche learned quickly that beside teaching music, she’d be working “to fulfill the basic needs of my students while also helping them focus on their own future and goals. Because my choir students had to trust me in the classroom in order to exhibit their voices, a very vulnerable experience for many, they were also able to see me as a trustworthy authority figure who was as likely to provide a gift card to purchase groceries as I was to help fill out a college application.” The introduction of COVID presented another challenge. In March 2020, as schools were shutting down, Gotzsche had been coordinating a school play. Opening night was four weeks away. Not wanting to disappoint students or their families, she decided the show must go on! With a supportive assistant director; door drop-offs (props, scripts & schedules); and lots of editing, she pieced the play together for everyone to watch at home on Zoom. “Though the play certainly did not very closely resemble a live production, we were still able to provide some normalcy (and deliver some opening night presents) for the cast. Students were able to watch their performance with family from the comfort of their own homes, which brought some much-needed comfort and sense of accomplishment during a difficult time.” Gotzsche considers herself lucky to “have the opportunity to teach my students and to hopefully enrich their lives through music.”

H.Plourde HCHS

Heather Plourde of Rockton has been teaching for 17 years, 15 of them at Rockton’s Hononegah High School. She was nominated by her students, one of whom said, “I am grateful for Mrs. Plourde because she makes class fun instead of just straight lectures.” Principal Chad Dougherty shared that Plourde often uses activities involving movement, based on her knowledge of adolescent brain development. She teaches state-mandated health classes to Sophomores, Juniors and Seniors, which enables her to get to know at least half the student body! Her classes of 30-34 students per semester may consist of severe needs students, several “Top 25” students and students with IEP/504 plans. To reach everyone appropriately, she collaborates with the special education team, uses her ESL background and tries to engage all students in subject matter they find interesting. She includes students’ families in their studies. She says, “In high school, students typically don’t enjoy having health-related conversations with parents. In both my health courses, I open doors for parents to talk with their child about nutrition, drugs, healthy relationships, family medical issues and many more topics.” She added, “A teen’s connection to family and community may be the one thing that keeps them from making a poor decision and falling into drugs or other risky behaviors.” Plourde’s students engage with community members by earning CPR certification from the fire department and visiting local colleges to learn about health careers. Former student, Lauren Wedig, who submitted a letter recommending Plourde, confirmed that learning CPR and how to tie a tourniquet came in handy in her senior year shortly after the lesson! The need to address diversity was evident when Plourde found herself in the minority when teaching in Las Vegas, so she leads students to examine other races and cultures. One day, students bring in foods from various cultures to share. Classes discuss the inequality of healthcare based on race and income level, as well as how one’s diet or ethnicity contribute to disease. During sexual health units, Heather’s objective is to present “current, accurate and relevant material to the straight and gay community.” Students who identify as LGBTQ+ give a presentation and share what it’s like for them to be gay students in society, including how word choices affect people. The school social worker and psychologist from Student Support Services to discuss careers, stress management and suicidal awareness with her classes. She wants students to feel secure enough to reach out when in crisis. COVID, of course, brought new issues requiring new solutions. Plourde works with the SSS department even more now. And classes may include both students in-person and virtually now, but she ensures that all students are welcomed and participate. Ultimately, Plourde says, “if my students end up living successful and fulfilling lives, I feel there is no greater measure of success as an educator.” Wedig seems to be on her way, crediting Plourde. She wrote, “She was there for me all throughout high school, whether I had her as a teacher for the semester or not. Mrs. Plourde has influenced my life in a positive way and helped me achieve everything I put my mind to.”


Executive Director Jennifer Stark joined the Morning Crew at WTVO17/WQRF39 to announce the Top 20 Finalists who will continue in the next step of the selection process to determine five Golden Apple Teacher Award recipients for 2022.

The Golden Apple Teacher Award is a community selection process with three primary goals:

  • To support, motivate and honor great teachers
  • To involve the community in our schools
  • To pass forward a legacy of excellence

In the next step in the process, these teachers will be observed in their classrooms by trained community volunteers and evaluated on classroom atmosphere, rapport with students, classroom management, lesson content, teaching techniques and professionalism. Then, the 20 Finalists will be interviewed. Five will be selected as the Golden Apple recipients based on all their evaluations.

The five recipients are presented in March with the prestigious Golden Apple Award in a surprise classroom presentation. Then on April 29, 2022, they will be honored at the annual Golden Apple Award Banquet and rewarded with scholarships, stipends and resources to enhance their classrooms.

Golden Apple Teachers are inducted into the Golden Apple Teacher Academy and are committed to enhancing the Academy’s mission by mentoring student teachers and sharing their knowledge with other educators. More than 187 teachers have already been rewarded and participate in this wonderful program.

Please join us in congratulating these 20 excellent educators:


Deanna Ballard
Guilford High School


Monica Benolkin
Rockford (Ill.) Lutheran
3rd-12th Orchestra


Weston Brabeck
Guilford High School
Band and Choir


Anita Bond
Hononegah High School
History and Sociology


Jean Chambers
Hononegah High School


Michael Chiodini
Belvidere (Ill.) North High School
Social Studies


Hayley Gotzsche
Willowbrook Middle School
South Beloit
5th-8th Choir


Matthew Green
Roosevelt Community Education Center


Brooke Harp
Holy Family School
6th-8th Literature


Lorrie Hill
Eisenhower Middle School
Special Ed.: Math, LA, Reading, Social Studies, Science, Life Skills


Kelli Houghton
Willowbrook Middle School
South Beloit


Nicole Kroepel
Belvidere (Ill.) North High School


Rebecca Perry
Belvidere (Ill.) South Middle School
8th Grade Science


Mark J. Peterson
Auburn High School
ESL, Literacy Intervention


Heather Plourde
Hononegah High School


Adam Pusateri
Durand (Ill.) High School


Chelsea Spinello-Johnson
Thurgood Marshall Middle School


Wendy Taylor
Belvidere (Ill.) North High School


Ashley VanSickle
Harlem Middle School
Loves Park
Social Studies


Lovina Youngman
Belvidere (Ill.) Central Middle School
7th & 8th Dual ELA

Collins STEM GRANT recipients with Kristin Smith 

Golden Apple Foundation is pleased to announce the selection of educators who received a total of more than $23,000 for classroom, school and community projects. The 25 teachers were recognized Dec. 13, 2021, at Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford by sponsors Collins Aerospace, Rasmussen University, Meg & Rob Hodge and Golden Apple Foundation of Rockford. The 23 projects selected focused on the effects of trauma; the environment; communication; STEM skills; critical thinking; comprehension; student engagement; literacy and parental involvement. All projects feature creative ways to encourage student achievement.Golden Apple Foundation opened the application process to enhance the learning of PreK – 12th grade students throughout Winnebago and Boone counties for projects that would go unfunded by school budgets. Since its inception, Golden Apple Foundation has provided funding to 285 educators for 260 projects totaling more than $206,500.The complete list of the grants funded this year is here. 

Photo: Kristen Smith of Collins Aerospace presents STEM grant checks totalling $10,000 to James Hotchkiss, Rohini Gupta, Chris Noble, Dan Hallstrom and Lori Granite.

Golden Apple Foundation of Rockford has partnered with City Tins to offer a unique item perfect for foodies or for gift giving! The Rockford City Tin features coasters providing $10 off any in-house purchase of $25 or $5 off carryout purchases at 19 local restaurants (Alchemy at Aldeen; Alvarez Restaurant; Baci's Kitchen; Backyard Grill; Fiesta Cancun; Fozzy's; Franchesco's Ristorante; Greenfire Restaurant Bar & Bakery; House of India; Jax Pub; Joe's Casa Di Amici; Josef Barbados; Oscar's Pub & Grill; The Pomodoro; RBI's; Rascals Bar & Grill; Rock-Pho'd; Sam's Ristorante and Sisters Thai Cafe). And bonus: $10 off purchases at Porch and Roxy Carmichael Boutique shops, too! This is up to a $210 value for just $30! Staff and board members can sell you some but the best way for you to find a tin would be to head over to Roxy Carmichael's Boutique, located near Fairview/Alpine or Porch, located near Woodman's. If you would prefer your tin shipped to your home click here to order online. Proceeds benefit our programs supporting local teachers and classrooms. We have a limited supply of these amazing coaster gift card sets -- get yours now!City Tins photo

apple trophies

During the past month, parents, students and community members submitted more than 1,000 nominations for 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 2022 Golden Apple Teacher Awards.

"I chose this teacher because no matter what subject I need help in she is always willing to walk me through it. I am very glad she chose this school to teach a subject she is passionate about." "I never liked English but she made it ten times better!" "This teacher is an outstanding teacher because she is very good at teaching me chemistry. She always works around her schedule to help her students, even if she has to stay after school. When I am confused on something, I can always count on her to help me by explaining it better. She also is a very nice teacher and person."

All nominees, regardless of eligibility, are encouraged to attend the Nominee Reception from 4:30-6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 9, 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 and booth sponsor Redd Insurance Group. Please RSVP to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.or 815-226-4180. 

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 www.goldenappleofrockford.com

 Deborah Mateika Beyer diverse books

 PreK-12th grade teachers of Winnebago and Boone Counties are invited to apply for Grants from the Golden Apple Foundation. Grants will be awarded to meet needs that enhance the classroom experience but are typically not funded in regular school budgets. Certified, full-time classroom teachers of grades PreK-12th in Winnebago and Boone County Schools are eligible.

Since 1998, Golden Apple Foundation has distributed grants to classroom teachers on an annual basis. The educational experience of thousands of students has been energized with nearly $183,000 through this grant program.

The Golden Apple Foundation Grants Program affords teachers the opportunity to develop and implement creative educational projects that enhance the learning experience of their students.It provides teachers a resource for expanding and enhancing the curriculum for the benefit of their students.

Last year, with teachers holding class virtually, classroom needs were much different and more immediate. Golden Apple Foundation funded several grant requests for items such as plastic partitions; ring lights; headsets or earbuds; webcams; laptop desks; laptop stands; and whiteboards, markers and erasers; in addition to books.

This year, we are pleased to be able to assist with in-person classroom needs again and have some different grant options available thanks to grant sponsors Rob and Meg Hodge, Rasmussen University and Collins Aerospace.

Simple grants are available for up to $300 for equipment, technology or books. Large grants are available for up to $1,500 for a single classroom or $2,500 for a school-wide, multi-classroom project. Up to $2,500 may be awarded for addressing a community need or problem through a Rasmussen University Community Reinvestment grant and up to $1,500 for Collins Aerospace STEM grants for a single classroom or up to $2,500 for a school-wide, multi-classroom project.

Grant applications must be received by the Golden Apple Foundation office no later than 5 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021. Golden Apple Foundation is located at 5050 East St., Rockford University-Scarborough Hall- room 9, Rockford, IL 61108-2393. The grant application form and details are available here. For additional information, call Jennifer Stark, Executive Director at 815-226-4180.



This year, Golden Apple Foundation will award teachers of 6th - 12th grades. Nominations for the Golden Apple Teacher Awards will be accepted through 5 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021. Paper forms will be available in 6th-12th grade schools starting Sept. 16 and can be submitted to Golden Apple Foundation’s office at 5050 E. State St., Rockford, IL 61108. Nominations may also be submitted online here: http://goldenappleofrockford.com/goldenapple_nominationform.asp.To be eligible, the nominee must be certified and teach a group of students in a classroom on a regular basis.

(Formularios de nominación en español pueden ser obtenidas en nuestra oficina localizada en 5050 E. State St., Rockford, IL 61108; en las oficinas de La Voz Latina; o en las escuelas bilingües.) Nominations in languages other than English and Spanish will also be accepted.


Golden Apple Foundation volunteers will be delivering more than 5,000 apples donated by Schnucks and thank you cards to classroom teachers in all public and non-public ISBE recognized schools in Winnebago and Boone counties on Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021. This annual event kicks off the nomination selection period for the Golden Apple Teacher Awards and is a great way for community members to express gratitude and appreciation for area educators.

This year, Golden Apple Foundation will award teachers of 6th - 12th grades. Nominations for the Golden Apple Teacher Awards will be accepted through 5 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 14. Paper forms will be available in 6th-12th grade schools beginning Sept. 16 and can be submitted to Golden Apple Foundation’s office at 5050 E. State St., Rockford, IL 61108. Nominations may also be submitted online here: http://goldenappleofrockford.com/goldenapple_nominationform.asp.To be eligible, the nominee must be certified and teach a group of students in a classroom on a regular basis.

(Formularios de nominación en español pueden ser obtenidas en nuestra oficina localizada en 5050 E. State St., Rockford, IL 61108; en las oficinas de La Voz Latina; o en las escuelas bilingües.) Nominations in languages other than English and Spanish will also be accepted.

Volunteers can register online at https://2021applefortheteacherday.eventbrite.com or by phone at 815-226-4180.

Louies Logo

Golden Apple Foundation is holding a Celebrity Bartender fundraising event from 4:30-7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021, at Louie’s Tap House, sponsored by Associated Bank. 

Join us for a night of fun with your family or friends to support 2021-2022 Golden Apple Foundation programs by buying a beer from our bartenders and sharing big tips with them! There will also be karaoke; $5/hour in the Pixel Paradise Arcade; $2.50 mini-putt games; and 815 Rising Star performer Zak Percell showing off magic tricks from 6-7 p.m.

The event features WTVO-17/Fox-39's Whitney Martin and Elliot Grandia; Golden Apple Academy members, Megan Forsythe (Prairie Hill School, 2008), Amanda Newmes (Belvidere North HS, 2019), Nikki Gallentine (Prairie Hill School, 2020) and Heidi Milner (Ledgewood School, 2020); Golden Apple board member Lynn Gibson (Retired Hononegah District #207 Superintendent, NIU Clinical Assistant Professor); Glenn Terry, Superintendent of Rockton School District; and Mike Pura, President of the Rockford Community Market of Associated Bank as Celebrity Bartenders.

Contact a board or staff member for a ticket to a meal of a burger, chips and any drink (up to a $7 value) for $20 ($5 of each ticket goes to our non-profit). MEAL TICKETS WILL NOT BE SOLD AT THE DOOR. The Golden Apple Foundation is a volunteer-driven organization that celebrates, inspires and supports educational excellence in our community. The Golden Apple Foundation honors teachers, principals, assistant principals and volunteers in more than 150 schools, both public and non-public, in Winnebago and Boone counties through four core programs: Awards & Recognition, Teacher AcademyClassroom Grants and Community Engagement. Louie's Tap House is located at 5689 Elevator Rd, in Roscoe. For more information: 815-226-4180 or goldenappleofrockford.com.


The 2021 Excellence in Education Banquet was held on June 14 and we are excited to offer a video of the entire event online thanks to Eric Wilson and the WTVO/WQRF team! Click HERE to watch!

Congratulations to 2020 Golden Apple teachers, Nikki Gallentine of Prairie Hill Elementary, Heather Geary of Whitehead Elementary, Tui Harned of Nashold Early Education Center, Heidi Milner of Ledgewood School and Tiffany Russey of Welsh Elementary who presented their speeches along with 2020 Outstanding Principal Erin Salberg of Nashold Early Childhood Center. K-FACT was presented with the 2020 Jan Jones Educational Service Award. In addtion, the 20 Finailsts were announced and local excellence in education was celebrated during this historically challenging year!
Special thanks to our sponsors who made this event possible: Banquet Presenting sponsor; Bergstrom; Grove sponsors: Rockford Register Star, Rockford University, WTVO/WQRF; Tree sponsors: Associated Bank, Collins Aerospace; Branch sponsors: Meg & Rob Hodge, GrahamSpencer, LAMAR, Rasmussen University; Apple Barrel sponsors: BMO Harris Bank, Entre Computer Solutions, First Midwest Group, McDonalds, OSF Healthcare, Schmeling Construction, Schnuck Markets, SwedishAmerican Health System; Golden Sponsors: Blue Cross Blue Shield, Crusader Clinic, Illinois Bank & Trust and Reno & Zahm.