2022 Golden Apple Award Winners

Ashley VanSickle

Ashley Vansickle
Ashley VanSickle of Rockford has taught technology in Germany and in an elementary school, but the past four of her nine years of teaching has been at Harlem Middle School, where she teaches Social Studies. Of the pandemic, VanSickle wrote, “My students have faced unprecedented challenges – academically, socially and emotionally …. I have always been committed to creating a safe and supportive classroom family environment. Now more than ever before, our classroom provides stability and safety that some may not have at home or feel as often as before.” She says her “classroom doors are open for discussions about current events, policy changes and life as they navigate their adolescence during such a tumultuous time period.” On Day One, VanSickle assigns homework. To students’ parents! She asks them to describe their child in one million words or less to emphasize what they want her to know. Some families are bilingual, so she provides the homework in both English and Spanish. She even offers translation assistance to those who speak other languages such as German, Serbian and Albanian. Despite her students finding this assignment funny, the information VanSickle gets through it is extremely valuable, as is the door of communication it opens. Getting to know each student and forming trusting relationships helps her create lesson content that keeps them interested and engaged. One parent who’s been thrilled with VanSickle’s efforts is Erikka Coletta. A past Golden Apple teacher award recipient, Coletta wrote a recommendation letter raving about her own children’s experiences. “Whether the students were remote or in person, there was a genuine joy, excitement and appreciation for the humor and engagement presented.” Middle school can be difficult! Coletta says, “it takes a very special person with a specific heart for these quirky, awkward, but well-intentioned students.” Despite the awkward stage and the challenges of the pandemic, Coletta shared her belief that because of VanSickle’s support and instruction, her children lost nothing academically. Many teachers and students have been struggling to remain motivated during these times of uncertainty, but VanSickle‘s goal “to ignite my students’ passions remains unchanged. Reading the nominations from students is beyond humbling, but this year, it was life-affirming. To read that you are the reason students come to school each day … showed me just how much my work matters. It is now our job to help reignite other educators to see the impact each of their lights has on their own students and schools.” A classroom observer wrote, “Anyone who can keep all 26 seventh graders on task and engaged for this length of time has to be outstanding”! At least two of Coletta’s TRIPLETS agree. In her nomination, one wrote, “Ms. VanSickle is an ‘outstanding teacher’ because she doesn’t just care about her students as just ‘students;’ she cares about them as individuals. For example … when I had her in 7th grade, I wanted to run for student government, but I didn’t have the confidence to go for the gold and run for president. I … asked if she thought I had a chance. Her response was, “I really do think you’d have a good shot if you went for it. Always.” I still have that email saved. Those two short sentences were all I needed. I ran and was elected president. Without her, I wouldn’t have had, or taken that opportunity, that same opportunity that made me want to make this world a better place …. I believe that she doesn’t just deserve a golden apple, but “a tree” of them, for each student like me that she “sprouted” hope in.”