The surprise announcement was accompanied by balloons, flowers, cameras, family members, small children — and tears.
Andrea Beaty learned she was named one of the Chicago area’s top teachers when a parade of well-wishers burst into the gym at Serena Hills School on Friday.
“You’re a Golden Apple winner,” Principal Shari Demitrowicz told Beaty, who had been conducting a teaching session. Her fourth grade students had just finished practice interviews with board of education members, Flossmoor’s mayor, the village’s deputy police chief and other local notables.
Pandemonium briefly broke out as the well-wishers cheered, Beaty hugged her husband and children and students broke into huge smiles. Many in the room wiped away tears. Moments later it was clear – everyone in the gym knew that Beaty’s winning the Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching is an enormous, important accomplishment.
Beaty is one of 10 winners of this year’s Golden Apple Award. Earlier in March, she learned she was one of 34 finalists for the award. The finalists, all teachers in fourth through eighth grade in schools throughout the Chicago area, were honored at a reception. About 600 teachers were nominated for the award.
Golden Apple is a nonprofit committed to celebrating and developing great teachers. The awards recognize and honor outstanding teachers for their role in building a stronger, better-educated society.
Serena Hills, one of four school buildings in Flossmoor District 161, is located in Chicago Heights.
Friday’s ceremony was also remarkable since a number of people, at Serena Hills and elsewhere, knew Beaty had won the award. Demitrowicz told the Homewood-Flossmoor Chronicle that she heard the news about a week ago. Since then, there was a great deal of planning ways to both honor Beaty and keep the award a surprise.
Beaty was the last of the 10 award winners to be told about the honor, Demitrowicz said.
At the ceremony, Beaty thanked her fellow teachers, her family and the administration at Serena Hills and acknowledged that they have enabled her to blossom as a teacher.
“I know that I am at the right place at the right time,” she said.
Her father, Ken Bender, a retired teacher, told the crowd about how proud he is of his daughter. As he spoke, Bender got choked up and fought back tears.
In a press release issued Friday, Golden Apple listed some of the reasons why she won the award.
“Beaty’s fourth grade class starts each day with a warm-up song that she leads while standing atop her desk, followed by a Peace Circle during which students share feelings and discuss the ‘mountains’ they are working to overcome,” the press release states. “On the walls are photos and goal statements of each student and written atop each of their desks are personal ‘power words’ to remind them they are empowered to conquer personal challenges.”
At the start of the school year, students apply and interview for specific jobs in the classroom such as photographer, writer or classroom store manager, the statement says. Through the interviews, Beaty learns her students’ strengths, interests and needs, which she builds upon through the year.
“She fosters a community of learners who value each other as Ohana (a Hawaiian word for ‘family’) and who believe that no one should be left behind or forgotten. She frequently reminds her students not to ‘hurt another’s heart’ and to ‘have a grateful heart for what you do have,’” the release says.