2024 Golden Apple Finalists

David Bardwell

David Bardwell of Oregon, Ill., biology teacher, has taught at Rockford’s Jefferson High School all 13 of his years teaching. A student nomination said, “Mr. Bardwell has made a lifelong positive impact in my academic life. It has been through the example he set for me that has motivated me to continue pursuing academic achievements even after high school.” David’s co-teacher praised him for being “someone who has spent many years as a special education teacher … his life experiences allow him to extend lessons far beyond the scope of the average biology teacher …. even students who do everything they can to escape the work expected are given the same respect and encouragement as students who do everything asked of them.” David opens each class with a social-emotional question. “It helps me take attendance and allows them to share something of pride or interest to them. Sometimes a silly question like, ‘who makes the best pizza in town’ is enough to open a shy student up to participating in more academic discussions.” To further give each student a voice, he has a coffee can in class for students to drop notes to anonymously ask or tell him anything. To help these teens, who are going through physical and emotional changes, he provides “scientific facts and nonjudgmental or condemning answers.” Contacting families of students to share both highs and lows of what’s going on with their child is so important, but that can be challenging when parents or guardians are not English-speaking. David found a way through the TEXTNOW app to achieve this communication though, and has texted in Arabic, Spanish, Swahili and other languages to promote parental involvement. He encourages discussions about diverse heritages, abilities and disabilities. By opening up to students about his own dyslexia and hearing loss, David has shown students how these things influence his life and promoted acceptance of everyone’s differences. He looks for scientists from the students’ cultures “to highlight when we are learning about relative parts of biology. When I get excited about these inventions and inventors, it makes the kids get excited about them and proud of their heritage also.”