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Highlighting Four of Our Golden Apple Award Finalists

12 April 2024

Meet our Golden Apple finalists from Marquette Elementary School, A.N. Pritzker Elementary School, Turner-Drew Elementary School, and Courtenay Elementary School!

Golden Apple Finalists

CPS has some of the best educators in the world, and we are incredibly proud of the 12 teachers who have been selected as finalists for the 2024 Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching. These educators represent schools from all over Chicago, and they each share a commitment to helping their students grow both inside and outside the classroom.

Below we profile Mr. Rogelio Aguilar, Dr. Jenai Jenkins, Ms. Alicia Carlisle, and Ms. Lauren Jensen. You can read all about our eight additional teacher finalists here and here.

Mr. Rogelio Aguilar 

Second Grade Bilingual Teacher at Marquette Elementary

What is your favorite part of teaching? 

I originally earned a bachelor’s degree in Communications, and it wasn’t until I got involved in a college readiness program that I learned I liked mentoring younger students. When I started my residency working in the bilingual classroom, I realized that I enjoyed helping students with backgrounds similar to mine. I love teaching bilingual students and allowing them to learn in two languages to set them up for the same opportunities people who study second languages in college get when they grow older.

What are your biggest priorities in your approach to teaching?

My classroom is Super Mario-themed. We often talk about what happens when Super Mario falls down and ends up having to lose a life in a way that encourages kids to try again. If you need to jump farther to make it to that next cliff in that video game, you'll learn that you have to jump from a different spot, similar to any reading or math lesson in class. Second graders often feel sad when they make mistakes, so my goal is to teach them that this is a learning opportunity and it’s more than okay to try again. 

If you could sum up your career in one word, what would it be and why?

The word is “transformational” just because it hasn't been the same every year in the last seven years of my career. As a teacher, you transform into this new version of yourself each year with better skills. It’s an amazing experience, and there's no other job like it.

Rogelio Aguilar in 2nd grade classroom

Dr. Jenai Jenkins 

General Music and Band Teacher at A.N. Pritzker Elementary School

What inspired you to pursue a career in teaching? 

I love children, and I love music, so becoming a music teacher was just a way for me to combine two of my loves. Over the years, I've realized that I truly appreciate the whole spectrum of education, and that's why I enjoy working with student teachers and why I once thought I wanted to work at the college level. But of course, I've realized over the years that I do have a special love for elementary school and just making music simple and fun for children.

What is your favorite part of teaching at Pritzker? 

My passion for integrating language arts, history, and music really fuels my teaching. When I landed at Pritzker, a fine arts school, I felt like I could really speak to that. The principal, Dr. Reese, really supports the integration of the arts in instruction, and that is why Pritzker became such a perfect match for me. 

What was your reaction when you learned you were a Golden Apple finalist?

I was in disbelief and started crying a little bit. I had to read the email a couple of times to make sure that I was reading what I thought I was reading. I am very humbled by the decision and feel very honored. 

Dr. Jenai Jenkins

Ms. Alicia Carlisle

First grade teacher at Turner-Drew Elementary School 

What is your favorite part of teaching?

I love the progress that I get to see over the course of a school year. At the beginning of the year, some students come to me and they're struggling readers, and by the end of the year, they're able to read books beyond the first grade level. Even with math, when I look at the IREADY scores, they grow hundreds and hundreds of points. It’s fulfilling to me to know that I did what I should have done and exposed them to what they needed.

What is your message to students for the rest of the school year and beyond? 

Believe in yourself. Whatever you feel like you're supposed to be doing in life, do it. My big motto is that nothing beats a failure but a try. Maybe it's not right now, but with practice and working together, you will get it and apply that same concept in life. You're going to work hard, you're going to strive, and you're going to succeed at whatever you put your mind to. 

If you could sum up your career in one word, what would it be and why?

“Fulfilling” is the word that first comes to mind. I’ve been to a ton of different schools before coming to Drew, and my journey before then didn’t always look hopeful, but I finally got to the school that I love now. When I look back at all of those placements, I realize that everything was put into my life for a reason, and everything built upon itself to put me where I am now.

teacher with students at table and students viewing eclipse

Ms. Lauren Jensen

Kindergarten teacher at Courtenay Elementary

What are you most well-known for in your school community? 

I am most well-known at Courtenay for engaging families and students in meaningful ways at the start of their educational journey to establish a foundation for a partnership that lasts throughout their elementary experience.

What are your biggest goals for your students? 

My biggest priority in my approach to teaching is for every student to feel safe, included, and to have a space for their voice to be heard. Students must feel this in their hearts before they can meet any goals. Another priority is to instill a sense of purpose and urgency in students’ mindsets about their learning. We talk about how everything we learn and practice is for the greater purpose of changing the world. This leads to my biggest goal for students - to empower them to be agents of change. I hope they positively use their power to inspire, invent, and disrupt.

What was your reaction when you learned you were a Golden Apple finalist?

I was shocked and humbled. It was also energizing to my practice. Ironically, this year has been one of the most difficult years for me, so to be recognized THIS year helped remind me I can face these challenges with grace and growth.

Ms. Lauren Jensen in her classroom

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