Five Evanston teachers were named finalists in the annual Golden Apple Foundation awards. They are Aubrey Chang and Sherri Kushner of Chute Middle School; Anthony Laera and Michael Likhite of Orrington Elementary School; and Tawana Stiff of Nichols Middle School.

The Golden Apple Foundation describes itself as the leading Illinois nonprofit committed to preparing, honoring and supporting educators who advance educational opportunities for students. It also supports scholarship as well as problem solving in the education arena. 

The highly competitive award process resulted in the selection of 30 area teachers. This year’s award highlighted middle school teachers, fourth through eighth grade, who “demonstrate in their teaching and results – significant, positive impact on their students’ growth and learning,” the news release explains.  

Ten of the 30 teaching finalists will receive the award, which has come to be a top honor for area teachers. The winners will be surprised sometime in the first two weeks of May. They will receive $5,000 as well as a spring sabbatical at Northwestern University.

“The impact of a great teacher reaches beyond the classroom and these finalists are proof of that,” said Alan Mather, president of Golden Apple.

“Their dedication to providing an engaging, high-quality learning experience for their students and commitment to creating positive outcomes in their school communities is impressive. We are proud to highlight their important work.”

The awards finalists are nominated by anyone in their school community including fellow teachers, colleagues, principals, superintendents and parents. The nominating person or group writes the applications as well as letters of recommendations.

Here is the complete list of finalists. Below are a few excerpts from each Evanston teachers’ application sent to us by the Foundation. 

Tawana Stiff
Nichols Middle School
She teaches eighth grade algebra.

Tawana Stiff, Nichols Middle School teacher. Credit: Submitted

As an educator, Stiff starts with the understanding that every student is a unique individual with unique and individual needs.

“Recognizing that there is no “one size fits all” for her students, she tailors her mathematics lessons to each student’s learning style. No matter a student’s preferred way of learning, their background or identity, Stiff encourages her students to be authentically themselves and to reflect on their identities. 

“Stiff is described as a lifelong learner by her colleagues, who strives for excellence in her classroom, throughout the school and in her community.”

Anthony Laera
Orrington Elementary School

He teaches fifth grade reading, writing and math.

“For Laera, incorporating real-life examples into teaching is important. This way of teaching allows students to use the content they are being taught outside of the classroom and in the real world. 

Anthony Laera, Orrington Elementary School teacher. Credit: Submmitted

“When teaching decimal points and place values in his math courses, he included conversations about gas stations, fuel costs, and reading signs and allowing students to connect decimals with sports clocks. After the lesson, students were told to converse with their parents regarding decimals and their use within their community.

“While instructing writing lessons, Laera pushed his students to question nationwide issues that could affect these students and their communities such as: Should students wear uniforms in school?, should kids be allowed to drink chocolate milk in our schools? and should plastic bags be banned in our community? By incorporating these teaching practices in his curriculum, Laera is helping his students in practical ways that extends learning outside of the textbook and into the real world.”

Michael Likhite
Orrington Elementary School
He teachers fifth grade math, reading, SEL, science, social studies, writing, vocabulary and executive functioning.

Michael Likhite, Orrington Elementary School teacher
Michael Likhite, Orrington Elementary School teacher. Credit: Submitted

“Working with diverse students with different needs, Likhite understands that to lead his students to success, he must first know how they learn. Setting the standards for an inclusive classroom, Likhite guarantees that students ‘see’ themselves and the cultural background they come from in their lessons because they need to understand that who they are as people is valued by their teachers and peers.

“When choosing a book for reading, Likhite selects literature with divergent characters to bring awareness and acceptance into the curriculum. For example, each month they celebrate a different group to honor to show students that being different is a positive thing.”

Aubrey Chang
Chute Middle School
She teaches sixth grade science.

“An important way Chang ensures her students are engaged in initiatives that can make huge differences in the world and their community is by allowing them to participate in an interactive project. The district and her students decided to promote sustainability to normalize the idea of taking care of the environment.

Aubrey Chang, Chute Middle School teacher. Credit: Submitted

“Therefore, she worked on teaching the importance of composting. Students volunteered to hold the rest of the student body accountable in the lunchroom by successfully separating compost, recyclables, trash, and liquids. After each month, students would meet with the District Sustainability Coordinator to provide feedback, discuss data, and determine if any improvement was needed to increase the success rate.

“Projects like this led students to become innovative leaders. They focused on different ideas to increase their efforts. For example, they created a  ‘share table’ where they encouraged other students to leave unopened food items so that staff and students in need could take additional food, overall eliminating even more waste. Teaching students how to make change with a topic they are passionate about is the first stride in becoming socially responsible and engaged citizens.”

Sherri Kushner
Chute Middle School
She teaches media arts to sixth through eighth grade students.

Sherri Kushner 
Chute Middle School 
She teaches media arts to sixth through eighth grade students.
Sherri Kushner, Chute Middle School teacher. Credit: Submitted

“As a media arts teacher, Kushner implements creative projects students are passionate about to express different ideas, experiences, and feelings.

“The latest assignment she administered was challenging her students to write about an important issue and then convey a message using images and text. 

“Students choose topics which sparked conversations and debate. This lesson taught students how to communicate a problem effectively, their opinion, and hear others’ ideas behind why they either agree or disagree.” 

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Susy Schultz

Susy Schultz is the editor of the Evanston Roundtable. She has been a journalist for more than 20 years, and is the former president of Public Narrative, a nonprofit dedicated to teaching journalists and...

Les Jacobson

Les is a longtime Evanstonian and RoundTable writer and editor. He won a Chicago Newspaper Guild best feature story award in 1975 for a story on elderly suicide and most recently four consecutive Northern...

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