A good idea turns 25

Back in 1989, the only common belief about teacher preparation pathways in college was that its relation to relevance once entering the classroom was scant at best. Golden Apple was a young organization back then, striving to find a direction outside of offering the opportunity to give practicing teachers their deserved fifteen minutes. Those teachers wanted to use their newfound platform to create something meaningful. That second group of teachers so honored, of which I was one, talked with Golden Apple founder Mike Koldyke about their idea and his about creating a pipeline to teaching for young people unique to the nation. Wouldn’t it be cool, we thought, if young people interested in teaching would spend time with award winning teachers in classic apprenticeship manner, learn from their errors and strengths as they helped these young teachers-to-be patch together their teacher persona. The idea would exist side-by-side with university preparation. During the school year they would do their thing, and in the summer we would do ours—starting the summer before college began, where we could give them an esprit de corps and passion for teaching. And if we could get them some bucks for college—all the better. And in return for the tuition assistance and the professional development, they would promise to teach in a challenging school setting for five years—the quintessential paying it forward formula.

What surfaced from those conversations at Northwestern in the fall of 1987 became three summers later the Golden Apple Scholars of Illinois program. Starting with fifteen Scholars and $60,000 of private funding has brought 1,400 people into or towards teaching careers in Illinois, permanently ad positively impacting the quality and the diversity of the teaching force in Illinois.

Miraculously, the program, now bringing in next month 135 Scholars from across Illinois and receiving over $5 million in state funding, has continued on as a state-wide program since 1993, through the governorships of Thompson, Edgar, Ryan, Blagojevich and now Quinn; have continued on with respect and acclaim from both sides of the aisle and both houses of the Illinois legislature, and soon to be announced as a partner with Chicago Public Schools in providing new teacher talent to schools on the city’s south side.

This skeletal story doesn’t begin to touch upon the countless moments, the thousands of teachable moments that this program has achieved with its participants and those students taught by these inspiring young people. It doesn’t begin to touch upon the incredible moments of kindness and challenge presented by my colleagues to these young teachers (even while the oldest of them have been in teaching  for TWENTY-ONE YEARS) as they were meeting the travail of college and post-adolescent turmoil. Now these Scholars are reaching levels of education leadership as administrators, principals. Now we have empiric evidence that what was experienced by them has clear impact in their resilience and their students’ achievement.

This May 11 we will take time out and celebrate the accomplishments of these teachers and especial notice to Sr. Raeleen Sweeney, who has devoted a third of her life in service to their instruction and mentoring. It’s a proverbial homecoming, where all who have been part of this crazy quilt cult fondly referred to as “GA” can reacquaint, hug and weep, applaud and receive deserved thanks for retaining the honor of being a teacher in Illinois. Information about that event can be found here and on the web site. You might want to check it out if you need a shot of adrenaline based in hope and promise—promise achieved and promises kept.

The history of this program will one day be recorded. Be part of that history on May 11—with an open bar (how best to celebrate history!) with a sit-down dinner and memories relived. See what it means to be a Golden Apple Scholar first hand, in Tinley Park in May.

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