Education as a calling
Borja chose to go into teaching thanks to the influence of two important figures in her life: her mother, who worked in children’s ministry at her church, and her high school orchestra director, for whom Borja was a student assistant. Inspiration from family members and teacher role models is a common experience among Golden Apple scholars.
During her junior year in the orchestra, the light went on for Borja. “I realized (my director’s) job was more than conducting,” she said. “It was planning and helping students out; the ‘backstage,’ as I like to call it, behind her job. Seeing all that work and knowing how she inspired me to love music was so motivating for me to go into education.”
Her Golden Apple scholarship is allowing Borja to push her expectations from simply becoming a teacher to excelling as a teacher. The scholarship includes attending four-week professional development conferences each summer, tuition support, job placement assistance and access to a large network of mentors and teaching resources.
In order to maintain their scholarships, students are required to keep their GPA above a certain level, complete their bachelor’s degrees, become certified as teachers in Illinois, and commit to five years of teaching in a school-of-need in Illinois.
“Everything we do is helpful in making me not only enjoy teaching but become a better teacher for the future,” said Borja.
Education as a vocation
The institute is a residential experience. Students stay on the North Central campus, eating in Kaufman Dining Hall and staying together over the course of the four weeks. Neal Grimes, Golden Apple’s director of scholar institutes, says that the program gives students a chance to pick up teaching skills and put them into action all in one place.
“Our scholars go through three main experiences: teaching, learning and reflecting,” Grimes said. “Since we’re in Naperville, we connect with local school districts around the community and our scholars teach in the morning. In the afternoon, we bring them back to campus where they have learning opportunities.”
Along with their teaching exercises, which they call “on-sites,” students participate in workshops and seminars with award-winning teachers and scholars with ties to Golden Apple. In “reflection,” groups of 12 gather to discuss their teaching sessions and get help on how to improve from teacher-facilitators.
Education as a profession
Students begin the program after their first year of college and later are split up by common teaching interests. Borja is part of a cohort made up of students hoping to teach at high schools, and there are others for students preparing for dual language teaching or special education.
Golden Apple serves as a highly valuable complement to the scholars’ college courses.
“We don’t teach them how to be great math teachers—we’re not teaching content; we’re teaching instructional strategies,” said Grimes. “Some of the focus areas are civic engagement, growth mindset and cultural competency—we try to make sure their classrooms are safe and that they can work with a diverse set of people. We have professional expectations that we make sure they are able to meet and demonstrate.”
The institutes are designed to broaden students’ worldview and to help them make decisions about their goals.
“We try to give each of our scholars a rural, urban and suburban teaching experience to paint an educational picture of all of Illinois—because we’re a statewide program,” said Grimes. “We want to give them diverse teaching experiences in order for them to develop.”
Outreach is inherent to Golden Apple’s mission and plays a part in what the institutes teach. One seminar in particular focused on trauma informed practices, and it resonated with Borja because the speaker was from her home school district, which has seen a lot of adversity.
“Working at a school-in-need usually means working with students who go through a lot,” Borja said. “I think everybody should know the reason why a student does something—there’s always a why.”
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Education as a lifestyle
Golden Apple’s results speak for themselves. Eighty-two percent of scholars remain in teaching for at least five years, and many of them receive a boost they might not have otherwise: one-third of Golden Apple scholars are from low-income households. Perhaps most striking is Golden Apple’s shared emphasis with North Central around opportunities for first-generation college students. More than half of all Golden Apple scholars are first-gen.
For her part, Borja is grateful for what she has learned from Golden Apple and how it will bring her closer to her aspirations.
“I want to be a high school orchestra director and I really want to be as inspiring as my orchestra teacher was to me,” she said.
Putting in this kind of extra work over the summer is a challenge as much as an opportunity, but Borja encourages aspiring teachers to make the effort. “It can be exhausting, but it all pays off,” Borja said. “You see it right away; after being here for two weeks, you realize that you have already made relationships with students. So push forward and enjoy it.”