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Golden Apple recipients recognized

Teachers from four Cape schools among those honored

March 15, 2018
By MEGHAN McCOY ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

The 31st Golden Apple Teacher Award recognized six outstanding educators in the Lee County School District last week, four of whom teach at schools in Cape Coral.

Those receiving Golden Apples for 2018 were Matthew Bourbina, Fort Myers High; Dr. Patrick Hanrahan, Ida S. Baker High; Samantha Hutchinson, Island Coast High; Esteban Jaramillo, Mariner High; Brooke Przespolewski, Gulf Elementary and Maria Rose, Edison Park Creative & Expressive Arts School.

It's Lee County's top public school honor but don't call them "winners."

Article Photos

Dr. Patrick Hanrahan, Ida S. Baker

"I never refer to the teachers as Golden Apple winners. (They are) Golden Apple recipients. All teachers are winners. The recipients are representative of the fine teachers we have in the school district," Marshall T. Bower, Esq., president and CEO of The Foundation for Lee County Public Schools, said.

The Golden Apple Teacher Award provides the foundation with the opportunity to "shine the spotlight on the teaching profession."

"The vast majority of what is going on in our school system is nothing but positive stories," Bower said.

This year, the foundation received 4,500 nominations with more than 2,000 teachers nominated individually. Once the teachers received details of what the Golden Apple process entails, more than 400 teachers decided to go further in the process and apply.

The first step is filling out an application with such information as their teaching philosophy, history and what kind of development they have achieved since they started teaching. The application is reviewed by a 12 community and business leader selection committee. The committee reads the applications and ranks them over a couple month time span.

The top 30 teachers are then observed in the classroom unannounced, providing the committee members with the opportunity to see the teaching style and how they engage their students.

The final part of the process includes a two-day formal interview. The committee is divided into two selection groups, each of which interviews the candidate.

Based on the ranking, the top six are chosen.

Bower said year after year the business and community leaders that become involved in the process share how much they learned about what is really going on in public schools.

Personally, his two favorite parts of the process include surprising the teachers in the classroom and students introducing their teachers at the Golden Apple banquet.

"I love to see the students react to their educators," Bower said.

Seeing the students react to the news of their teacher being named a Golden Apple recipient is something to watch, he added.

"It's cool watching that and seeing just how much they admire their teachers and what a big difference they make in the life of their students," Bower said.

Bower said they have a good representation of teachers, four of whom are high school teachers.

"If you are going to be good at what you do, you have to reflect on what you've done," he said. "This gives teachers an opportunity to reflect on their teaching style and their love of teaching."

Educators teaching in Cape Coral schools shared their experiences:

n Ida Baker High School:

Dr. Patrick Hanrahan

"I was shocked and excited and thrilled. It's a staggering honor. I can't believe it," Dr. Patrick Hanrahan, Ida Baker High School, said of being named one of the Golden Apple recipients. "It was pretty wild. I had no idea that it was going to happen. When I opened the door there was a mob of people that came in."

He has been a finalist twice before, as well as being nominated five times, he said laughing "because my kids have no taste." This year he "convinced people that I was deserving" and is excited beyond belief.

The nomination of the Golden Apple gave him the opportunity to step back and take a look at what he had been doing and challenging himself more on a daily basis.

"I try to show them what to do by example. I joke with them all the time, mostly about me. I do things that some other folks might think is a little off, unconventional because it helps the kids realize that this guy laughs at himself. He doesn't take himself seriously," he said, adding that it helps students become more conscious about what they are talking about.

The Golden Apple process was also a learning experience due to the essay questions that have word limits, the observation and interview process.

"It makes us, as teachers, improve our writing skills.; to use word choices correctly, be direct and concise and don't wander off track. Writing responses is a great way to hone my own writing skills and remind me of what I need to be doing with my kids in class when I ask them to write something," Hanrahan said.

The observation portion was a great teaching tool because it reminded him that he needs to continuously challenge himself at making the classroom better for his students.

Hanrahan said the interview process makes you think on your feet because you have to instantly take in the question, process it, analyze it and organize a response before spitting it back out five or six seconds later.

"The whole process is a mini teaching teachers experience," he said.

Ten years ago Hanrahan moved from Ohio to Florida to escape the cold weather. Once he arrived, Hanrahan decided to substitute teach and instantly thought it was a "cool" job. He began working at Cape Coral High School as an English substitute teacher where he filled in for a teacher who was on maternity leave.

"When she came back, I applied for a position at Baker to teach English," Hanrahan said, adding that when he was interviewing for the position, the principal said he was going to hire him as a Criminal Justice teacher.

"That was in February 2009. I have been here ever since and having a great time every time I walk through the door," he said. "Whatever it is you're passionate about, that is what you need to do."

Before moving to Florida, Hanrahan practiced law for more than 38 years.

"I get to talk about something that I am passionate about. Here, kids actually listen to me," he said, laughing. "It's so much fun and they get good at arguing. Some of them are really good at it. It's a huge challenge to stay on the mat with them. That is what I want them to be able to do."

The four-course program is offered to sophomores, juniors and seniors. Once the program is completed they have the option of becoming certified.

The classes include the criminal justice process, trials and punishment; policing, patrolling, safety issues and parking enforcement; the third semester includes crime scene investigations and forensics and the final semester deals with traffic crash investigations.

If a student take all four courses and meets the cut scores, 80 percent on state exams, Hanrahan said they have the opportunity of receiving such certifications as a civilian traffic crash investigator, public service officer and a civilian traffic control officer.

n Island Coast High School:

Samantha Hutchinson

"It's an honor knowing that 12 community members came in my classroom and saw something special that I do with my students teaching and helping them," Samantha Hutchinson, Island Coast High School, said.

When 40 adults came into her classroom on Golden Apple Friday, she was very surprised, to say the least. Hutchinson said she had an inkling that the Golden Apple recipients were going to be announced, which was confirmed when she saw a media post that they were surprising teachers that day.

"Forty-five minutes later they were in my room," she said. "Being a Golden Apple recipient is overwhelming, surprising, something I did not expect, but I am just over the moon about it."

The experience still has Hutchinson smiling as her students continue to give her hugs and standing ovations for being named a recipient.

"When you show them you care, they feel that and they care, too. It was super exciting," she said.

This was the fourth time Hutchinson was nominated and the second time she continued with the application process. The first time she was named a finalist.

The interview and observation process were both intimidating and exhilarating.

"To have 12 community members come in and see something in me and my kids was surprising, overwhelming," Hutchinson said.

Eleven years ago, Hutchinson became a teacher in the Lee County School District, the same district where she attended elementary, middle and high school.

"To work in the same district that I am a product of is pretty cool," she said.

Hutchinson taught at an elementary school for eight years before jumping into high school, teaching freshman algebra.

She keeps their attention through an interactive notebook.

"Notes on a page are pretty boring. To be a part of their notes and interact with their notes sticks with them more," Hutchinson explained. "It's something to be proud of. Something they can use and understand the concept and apply it."

The interactive notebook includes coloring, pasting, cutting and foldables.

"I try to keep them involved in it. I teach them the skills and we practice it together. We laugh, joke, sing and dance. I have stood on tables and chairs before. They need to be a part of this. We do this together," she explained. "I have to find ways for the students to understand it. If they don't get it I have to find a way to make them get it."

Hutchinson loves building relationships with her students and pushing them to be their best.

"Their success is my success," she said. "I love what I do. If you love what you do, you don't work a day in your life. I will do this forever until it's time to retire," she said.

n Mariner High School: Esteban Jaramillo

"I am still in awe. Speechless. Humbled. So many words. Incredibly honored," Esteban Jaramillo, Mariner High School, said.

The surprise of being a Golden Apple recipient occurred before noon when he was talking to his students in the classroom when all of a sudden the door came banging open.

"It was quite a surprise. They did it well," he said.

The JROTC instructor has been nominated before, but has never applied until this year. He decided to after his principal said he should take the time to try, especially after students nominated him.

"It means the 14 years I have been working I have been doing it right," Jaramillo said of being a Golden Apple recipient. "It is awesome when your community acknowledges you. I love doing this. This is simply an acknowledgement that I love what I do. It means a lot to me. It's a life honor and a great honor. This is a huge honor."

Fourteen years ago, after retiring from the United States Army in 2003, he was hired in Lakeland the following year as a JROTC instructor.To qualify for the position, Jaramillo said he had to retire from the Army with at least 20 years under his belt, have a degree and a certification to teach the program.

He traveled 140 miles a day to the job, which was fine with him because he was home and did not have to work weekends.

"After I started adjusting to civilian life the drive started becoming long. The cost of the fuel and tolls was adding up more than I realized," Jaramillo said. "I found a closer school and cut my travel time in half. About two years after that, I opened my own program at Ridge Community High School in Davenport, Florida."

Four years ago he made the transition to Mariner High School.

There are 560 students in the Leadership Academy at Mariner.

"I am so honored to be able to work with these young kids. I love seeing their success and mentoring them and providing purpose and direction," he said.

The program focuses on a leadership skill set.

"The kids do the work. The students lead and it is facilitated by us. We watch them grow," he said.

Jaramillo works with freshmen students and helps integrate them into high school. He said they work on self-esteem, how to communicate, conflict resolution, how to navigate high school and study, all to help the students transition.

"My 20 years experience in the Army . . . I bring experience to the table with human beings. Hands-on is the best way to keep people engaged and for people to learn," Jaramillo said.

He keeps the youths engaged by moving them around, having them do projects, as well as working together.

n Gulf Elementary School:

Brooke Przespolewski

"It was an absolute surprise. A phenomenal surprise. It was a complete shock," said Brooke Przespolewski of individuals coming into her Gulf Elementary School classroom with cameras on Golden Apple Friday. "They were all in suits and ties and dresses. My kindergartners were in awe, mouths wide open and completely excited."

Although Przespolewski has been nominated many years, she has never taken the plunge to write about herself for the Golden Apple process.

"It is very hard as a teacher to write about ourselves because we are writing about others and helping others," she said. "To sit back and say this is what I do . . . I waited for the questions to seem to appeal to me."

The question asked about the changes that she had made in her classroom over the last few years, which is something she felt she could answer.

"It was quite an experience to go through," she said of the process. "This is the first time I ever wrote it, one and done. It's a once in a lifetime achievement."

Przespolewski became a teacher 14 years ago, with the first 10 of those spent at Diplomat Elementary School.

"They absorb so much. Anything you teach them, the direction you give them to help them learn, they love you," she said. "Every day is a new adventure in the classroom especially with 5-, or 6-year-olds."

She keeps the youngsters engaged by doing a lot of movement through alternative seating during every transition.

"They are able to choose their smart seat for their activity and where they feel they are going to do their best learning," Przespolewski said. "I absolutely love it. We transition a lot to keep them on their toes and ready for the next lesson."

The alternative seating includes a trampoline, couch, game chairs, a Lego table, ball chairs and floor cushions. She said the kids do not fight over the seating because they know "if you abuse it you lose it."

"They know not to argue and not to sit in it incorrectly," she said.

Przespolewski said she did a lot of research, spending many hours online researching new innovative ways of teaching about four, or five years ago.

Since implementing the alternative seating, she said she has seen her students scores skyrocket.

Although Przespolewski has taught kindergarten, first and second grade, kindergarten is her absolute favorite group.

"It is the most rewarding grade that I have ever encountered. They come in and some don't know how to hold a pencil and they leave knowing how to read a book," she said. "That is mind blowing in the short months you have them that they can absorb so much."

Przespolewski said no year is ever the same.

"When I get a new group of kids I like to learn how they enjoy learning. I absorb how they like to learn and incorporate it in my planning," she said.

The six Golden Apple recipients will be honored at the Hyatt Regency at Coconut Point Friday, April 6, during the Golden Apple banquet.



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