2024 Golden Apple Finalists

Ariana Sanders

Ariana Sanders of Rockford has taught Social Studies the entire 7 years of her career at Belvidere High School. She tells students that it isn’t her “job just to teach them social studies, but it’s [my] job to make them good humans and community members through social studies.” Having been the only black girl in honors and AP classes in high school, Ariana is determined to create a safe place for students to be themselves, feel they belong there and be successful. She also says, “it is important to me that students go beyond memorizing the facts; they should be using those facts to analyze and interpret history through their modern-day lens.” When she was in high school, though there were other students of color, representation in staff and learning topics was very limited. She wanted to learn about more than just Rosa Parks, MLK Jr. and slavery. “I deserved better then, and my students deserve better now.” When she first started teaching, Ariana was the only African-American high school teacher in the district and students didn’t know what to expect. She knew she had to expose them to diverse topics. Her students learn about “diverse groups of people that include but are not limited to African Americans, children, LGBTQ+, immigrants, Native Americans and women,” covering a wide range of perspectives. Though her classes often contain ESL students and students with IEPs, Ariana creates lesson plans that will reach each individual no matter how they learn. Classroom observers enjoyed her energy and positivity. One said, “she teaches with energy and humor.” They noted what a great encourager she is, telling students she is proud of them and that they can do it. Her students are clearly loved and supported. They admired how she treats all students with respect and gets respect in return. She uses students’ own words and answers to help explain concepts, making sure everyone understands and is comfortable participating. Ariana also teaches a dual-language class, requiring an extra level of coordination between two teachers using English and Spanish. Another observer shared that Ariana’s goal is “learning no matter how.”