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Highlighting Four of Our Golden Apple Award Finalists

12 April 2024

Meet our Golden Apple finalists from Skinner West Elementary School, Nettelhorst Fine and Performing Arts School, Mary Lyon School, and Namaste Charter School!

Golden Apple Finalists

We are proud to feature the 12 CPS teachers who were 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 finalists Michelle Reeves-Twine, Melitza Rodriguez, Yasmin Romero, and Karen Vargas. You can read all about our eight additional teacher finalists here and here.

Mrs. Michelle Reeves-Twine

Kindergarten Teacher at Skinner West Elementary School

What do you love most about teaching?

It’s very rewarding to know that you make such a difference in the lives of so many people. You get to play a vital role in students’ development. There’s also a lot of built-in reflection—every school year comes to an end and you get to think about what worked and what didn’t. Then, the next school year comes around and you get the chance to have a fresh start and take the lessons that you’ve learned with you.

How would you describe your approach to teaching?

I’m data-driven and all about differentiation. Kids come into kindergarten at all different levels, and my goal is to always make sure I’m meeting the needs of all of my kids so that they’re consistently growing. I want my students to understand that it’s okay to make mistakes, because that is how we grow. I want them to develop the confidence to push themselves, try their best, and give it their all!

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

Humbled, grateful, and overwhelmed with joy! I’ve been doing this for 30 years, and it’s so rewarding to be recognized in this way. The fact that a parent thought highly enough of me to nominate me—it’s an incredible feeling.

Ms. Melitza Rodriguez

Second Grade Teacher at Nettelhorst Fine and Performing Arts School

What originally made you want to become a teacher?

My third grade CPS teacher, Ms. Lisa Bonet, was a huge inspiration to me. She was so innovative and engaging, and she really took the time to get to know students and our families. I knew education needed more teachers like Ms. Bonet, and I still strive to be like her in my own classroom!

What do you hope your students learn from you?

Of course I want them to be successful readers and mathematicians, but I hope that they learn to be empathetic, curious, and brave. I hope they learn how to embrace their creativity and apply what they learn in the classroom to everyday life. I want them to know that my classroom door is always open to them—it doesn’t matter if they’re eight or 25. I will always be rooting for them.

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

Overwhelmed! I was excited, of course, but also a bit bashful. We don’t teach for glory, and every teacher deserves to be recognized like this. My colleagues are amazing, and I have learned so much from them. 

Ms. Yasmin Romero

Bilingual Pre-k Teacher at Mary Lyon School

How would you describe your approach to teaching?

I am very passionate, and I use a lot of different teaching methods including play-based learning, kinesthetic techniques, extensive language support, exploration, visuals, and music. It’s very important for me to get to know my students and understand their specific learning needs in order to tailor my approach effectively. I love pre-k because students are always so curious, engaged, and enthusiastic to learn something new. 

What message would you like to send your students?

You can succeed. We always have areas of improvement, but if you put your heart and mind into something, you will accomplish it. Failure is a part of life too, but it serves as a valuable learning experience. Our struggles help us grow and we learn from our mistakes. I want my students to understand that none of us are perfect, and that “practice makes permanent!” As well-rounded citizens, we can always contribute to this world and be the best we can be. 

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

I was so happy and felt very blessed. It was an honor to even be nominated for such a prestigious award. It’s such a nice thing to be recognized and acknowledged—educators are so dedicated and work so hard!

Ms. Karen Vargas

Third Grade and Dual Language Teacher at Namaste Charter School

How do your students and colleagues describe you?

When I started my teaching career, I absolutely fell in love with it. I still love waking up to go teach every morning, and I’ve been told that people can tell how much I care. People also tell me that I’m very positive and bring peace and joy into a space, but that is rooted in the people that surround me. I have been blessed to be surrounded by positive and passionate educators.

What do you hope your students learn from you?

Beyond me teaching them about history or how to become better readers and writers, I want them to become amazing people. I tell my students: “When people say your name, I want them to say beautiful things about you.” And I want them to know that someone outside of their home loves and cares about them.

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

It was a whirlwind of emotions. My dad passed away in September, and it was really difficult that I couldn’t call him and give him this news. However, the love and encouraging messages I have received from my previous and current colleagues, families, and students have uplifted me. To be seen and valued is a beautiful thing I have at Namaste.

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