Home News Local News ‘Golden Apple’ fellow, first from area in years, talks at local event

‘Golden Apple’ fellow, first from area in years, talks at local event

The point of the annual Golden Apple Award is not only to encourage and recognize teachers but to create a pool of top educators in the state to mentor less experienced teachers, encourage scholarship among each other and provide professional development to other teachers in their districts, said Brian O’Connell, executive director of the Golden Apple Foundation of New Mexico. He is shown with the 2018 Golden Apple recipient, Jessica Sanders, top left, a Berrendo Middle School science teacher; Diane Denish, bottom left, Golden Apple Foundation board president; and Licia Hillman, Berrendo Middle School principal. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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Roswell teacher Jessica Sanders thinks she might use the $4,000 professional development funds she received as a 2018 Golden Apple Fellow, the first awarded to southeastern New Mexico teacher in 17 years, to gather samples and data in the South Pacific showing changes in geological structures and the evolution of flora and fauna.

But that is only one idea she is considering, as she has about two years to use the money to deepen her own teaching and scholarship and share knowledge with other educators.

The Berrendo Middle School 6th and 7th grade science teacher talked Tuesday about the significance of receiving the recognition, officially given at an April banquet.

Having heard of the awards as a teacher in New Mexico for more than 12 years, she said she thought they only went to “rock star” educators and wondered if the nomination certificate was real. She was one of 142 teachers in 26 schools statewide to be nominated, which for some is enough of an honor. But Sanders, describing herself as very competitive, said she decided to go through the “rigorous” application process to explain why she chose to be a teacher and what she strives to accomplish in the classroom. And, when selected as one of the 16 finalists, she and her students did their best to shine during the site visit.

“To actually win, I almost fell out of my chair. I really did, it was so amazing,” she said. “But part of this adventure is that professional development, being a resource to our teachers and building that community.”

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Sanders has received other honors in the past, including the 2017 Science Teacher of the Year from the New Mexico Academy of Science.

The Golden Apple Foundation was formed in 1994 and has named 153 Golden Apple Fellows in the state since 1996, with past recipients belonging to the Golden Apple Academy that aims to improve teachers’ abilities and skills.

Seven teachers are chosen as fellows each year, with elementary school teachers honored one year, middle school teachers the next and high school the next. Nominations for elementary teachers to be chosen fellows in 2019 have already closed, and applications by teachers wanting to be considered are being evaluated. In December, nominations for high school teachers will be accepted for the 2020 awards. Nominations of teachers with at least six years of experience are accepted through the Golden Apple website from educators and community members.

Recipients receive professional development funds, a Golden Apple figurine and a $1,500 cash prize.

Golden Apple Foundation Executive Director Brian O’Connell encouraged people to nominate outstanding educators and get the word out about the Golden Apple Academy’s professional development efforts.

“There are 20,000 teachers in New Mexico,” he said. “We are able to touch the 150 or so that participate in our awards program every year and another 150 or so who participate in our professional development offerings. We are constantly working on community engagement to let people know what Golden Apple is and how to elevate the great teachers in their neighborhood and community. So that is a few hundred teachers a year, and we are very proud of our work to be relevant to them. But our goal is to get relevant to the other 19,500.”

For the 2019 elementary school teacher awards, 11 teachers from Chaves County were among the 320 nominated. Of those nominees, 70 people have chosen to apply for the award, with finalists due to be announced in November, O’Connell said.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.