Local students participate in Golden Apple seminars at St. Xavier University

  • Written by Kelly White

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Three local students participated in the Golden Apple Scholars of Illinois this summer at St. Xavier University. Local students who took part were (from left) Sarah Gregory, 19, of Palos Heights; Halee Barker, 20, of Chicago Ridge; and Gabriella Ramirez, 19, of Worth.

Local students have had the golden touch at St. Xavier University.

The Golden Apple Scholars of Illinois took over St. Xavier University this summer with 99 scholars from universities across the country participating in the program at the campus, 3700 W. 103rd St., Chicago.

The Golden Apple Scholars of Illinois is a scholarship program that identifies talented high school seniors and college freshman who have the promise and drive to be excellent teachers in high-need schools. All 99 members enrolled in the St. Xavier summer program were college students who just finished their first year. During the program, students are prepared for immediate and lasting success in the most challenging teaching environments.

“The program launched in 1989 to increase the numbers of resilient, effective, and underrepresented teachers for students in Illinois schools of need serving a lowincome population or at a school with belowaverage test scores,” said Jim Sorensen, program director for the Golden Apple Scholars. “The program strengthens university teacher preparation programs with extensive advanced teacher preparation and mentoring for Scholars, both during and beyond their undergraduate years.”

Every year as part of the Golden Apple Scholars of Illinois program, aspiring teachers attend a five week long summer institute session, where they receive 700 hours of classroom experience before college graduation -- three times more classroom experience than traditionally prepared teachers receive.

“Golden Apple has consistently shown me the positive sides of teaching. I am extremely grateful for all of the support from my peers, reflective leaders, liaisons, and cooperating teachers,” said Gabriella Ramirez, 19, of Worth, said. “Golden Apple pushes me to be the best teacher I can be. They truly want me to succeed and to change lives. The summer institutes rejuvenate my love for teaching because I am surrounded by positive and like-minded peers. I am forever grateful for this opportunity."

The program at St. Xavier was held in classrooms throughout the campus where the scholars were placed in educational training sessions and reflective seminars. The reflective seminars focused on special education, bilingual education and music education. The courses are taught by Golden Apple Fellows, Golden Apple Teachers of Distinction and Golden Apple Teaching Scholars and not St. Xavier teachers.

"My favorite part about Golden Apple is being a part of the classrooms,” said Sarah Gregory, 19, of Palos Heights. “I enjoy the experiences of watching expert teachers model what effective teaching is. I love the mentorships that the program offers throughout our journey."

“We look for individuals who exhibit a passion for teaching and potential to succeed in college,” Sorensen said. “Potential scholars must submit four well-written essays, transcripts reflecting academic effort, strong letters of reference, and must interview at the finalist stage. Additionally, we look for individuals who have shown an interest in community outreach and extracurricular activities.”

"I love the on-site experience but it's more than that. I've made a family here,” said Halee Barker, 20, of Chicago Ridge. “I've made so many fantastic professional connections that I would not have formed if I wasn't given this opportunity. Without Golden Apple going to college to further my educational career could not have been a possibility."

The program has been beneficial to future educators, according to Sorensen.

“Studies show that there is a shortage of qualified, enthusiastic teachers entering the profession, and a particular shortage of minority and bilingual teachers,” Sorensen said. “Students need teachers who have similar backgrounds and experiences to serve as role models and give them the hope of a promising future. Scholars gain essential exposure to the challenges and triumphs of high-needs classroom settings that is unrivaled by any other teacher preparation program. Through the program, Scholars build invaluable networks of support that guide them throughout their teaching years.”