ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — Golden Apple Day is always exciting for teachers and their students, as a caravan of people handed out awards to five local schools inside four hours on Thursday.

The Golden Apple Foundation volunteers narrowed down hundreds of nominees to five winners, who were awarded today.

Like clockwork, at one school after another, strangers, friends and family showed up in classrooms to present awards to the winners.

At Rockford’s Conklin Elementary, at 3003 Halsted Road, a seemingly endless parade of people poured into Tiffany Russey’s 2nd grade classsroom just after 8 a.m.

Russey said she’s wanted to be a teacher since she was 3 years old, and winning the Golden Apple award was a great honor.

“I was surprised, because my principal is out, and when she walked through the door, I was like, ‘What is she doing here?'” Russey said. “And then I saw people behind her and I’m like, ‘Not me. No, it’s… I can’t believe it!'”

The next step on the Golden Apple tour was to Heather Geary’s 4th grade class at Whitehead Elementary, 2325 Ohio Pkwy.

“It means so much, because I really strive to grow each year in my profession and become better than I was the year before,” said Geary. “And it was for the students who wrote the letters to nominate me for Golden Apple. And that’s the reason I decided to go through the process – for things that they had said.”

At Ledgewood School in Roscoe, the award ceremony was a family affair for Heidi Milner, who’s a fourth-generation teacher.

“I’ve grown up around education and educators who are passionate about what they do,” she said. “That was inspiring to me, and I saw everything they did and all the lives they touches and I’m trying to follow in their footsteps.”

Milner’s mom, Mary Hartshorn, who also teaches kindergarten at Ledgewood, won a Golden Apple award in 2004.

Up the road in South Beloit, at Prairie Hill Elementary School, 14714 Willowbrook Road, Nikki Gallentine’s students were as excited as she was.

Gallentine says working for a Golden Apple has allowed her to do a lot of reflecting.

“What went right, what you could change in the future,” she mused. “So, it’s been a fun process. It’s been definitely a little bit stressful, but it has been very fun.”

Back in Rockford, the little faces at Tui Harnid’s class at Nashold Early Childhood Center, 3303 20th Street, weren’t quite sure what was happening when the Golden Apple crew arrived.

Some of her co-workers helped to keep the surprise with a fake conversation about a student.

“They were kind of stalling, and I look up and I started to talk about the student and I see, like, ‘Oh!’ And everybody came in, so, the jig was up then,” Harnid said.

The Golden Apple nomination process is a long one, but educators say the process is worth the work.

The Golden Apple Awards dinner will be held next month.


For more local news, download the MyStateline app (iOS) or (Android).

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram!