Gloria Harper, chief program officer of Golden Apple Foundation, right, presents the Golden Apple award to Carla Stone on May 9. At left are District 65 Superintendent Hardy Murphy and Nichols principal Sarah Mendez.

Carla Stone, a sixth grade math and science teacher at Nichols Middle School, was awarded a 2011 Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching on May 9. She learned of the award when Anthony Ponce from NBC, together with representatives of Golden Apple, District 65 School Board members and administrators, and the principal and vice principal of Nichols, made a surprise visit to her classroom at 9:30 a.m.

Ms. Stone, who knew she was one of 31 finalists being considered for the award, appeared surprised as she wiped away tears and was surrounded by her class of jubilant students.

“It’s really about the kids.” Ms. Stone said. “My kids are awesome. My teammates are awesome. My principal is awesome.

“I’m so grateful. Our school is truly a blessed place. I wish more kids in the United States of America could benefit from what we have going on in District 65.”

Mr. Ponce, asked, “What’s your philosophy to keep these students engaged? These kids seem to love you.”

“Fired up. Ready to go,” Ms. Stone responded. “What we do is we get them excited for math, excited for school. We challenge them to be excellent. Aristotle, baby. It’s a habit that we practice daily.”

In an essay describing her pedagogy that was presented to Golden Apple as part of the selection process, Ms. Stone said, “My favorite Confucian text, ‘Tell me and I will forget; show me and I may remember; but directly involve me, and I’ll make it my own,’ is the foundation of my pedagogy. I challenge myself daily to directly involve my students in their own education. My expectation for student growth is ambitious. … I expect my students to embrace my ideologies of hard work and discipline while being patient in the process of their academic growth.”

Ms. Stone joined District 65 in 2000. She previously played semi-pro basketball for the Canadian National Team, a career that ended after she suffered a knee injury.

Nichols principal Sarah Mendez told the RoundTable: “She’s an amazing teacher,” adding that Ms. Stone comes in early, gives up lunch and is often seen working with a student at 5 p.m.

“She teaches with her heart,” said Ms. Mendez, “and the results are amazing. Kids in her class grow academically, emotionally and socially. They’re happy to come to school. It’s hard to get them to leave at the end of the day. She’s so dedicated to what she does.”

When asked what they liked about Ms. Stone, a small group of students told the RoundTable, “She makes me want to get up and come to school in the morning,” “She always tells us to be ready to learn,” “She pushes us to be better.”

Eileen Budde, president of Nichols PTA and new School Board member, said, “My children have not had Carla Stone as a teacher, but as a PTA president, I have heard many wonderful comments about her from other parents. She is a warm and energetic teacher who inspires kids to love math and science. I am very grateful that we have her as a teacher at Nichols.”

Katie Bailey, a Nichols parent and D65 School Board president, said, ” She is an awesome teacher who gives so much to her students. I think the District is blessed to have so many great teachers. Our teachers and schools are great institutions. It’s great to see positive statements about our teachers’ making a difference.”

Superintendent Dr. Hardy Murphy said, “This is a great honor for Ms. Stone. Our District has long appreciated her talents as a teacher and as a thoughtful, caring and compassionate person. Ms. Stone is respected by her students and their families, her colleagues and the administrators with whom she works. We congratulate her on this great recognition.”

This year 10 teachers were awarded Golden Apple Awards for Excellence in teaching. Golden Apple, an advocate of advancing the teaching profession in Illinois for 25 years, selected the honorees, all teachers in fourth through eighth grades, from a pool of more than 600 nominees.

Teachers who receive the Golden Apple Award receive a tuition-free, six-month sabbatical to study at Northwestern University, as well as a $3,000 cash award. They also become Fellows of the Golden Apple Academy of Educators, which conceives, develops and supports programs for teachers to make them more effective in the classroom.

Toward the end of the celebration in her classroom, Ms. Stone shouted out, “No homework for a week.” Students cheered, but not as much when they heard Ms. Stone had won the Golden Apple.