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2nd Naperville teacher wins Golden Apple

Naper School first-grade teacher Pam Kelly gets a hug from her students after winning the Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching. (Melissa Jenco/Tribune)

Naper School first-grade teacher Pam Kelly gets a hug from her students after winning the Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching. (Melissa Jenco/Tribune)

In Naperville Unit District 203, one Highlands teacher plus one Naper teacher equals two Golden Apple Award winners.

Pam Kelly, a first-grade teacher at Naper, won a 2012 Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching on Thursday, just a day after Highlands second-grade teacher Kathy Burns received the honor. The two are among just 10 teachers in the Chicago area to win the award this year.

Judges complimented Kelly’s “interactive strategies” in her classroom.

“Because of the wide range of abilities in her classroom, she often uses peer‐partners so students learn from and with each other,” they wrote. “She has found that the students are much more motivated to learn from each other.”

Family members, school district leaders and Golden Apple Foundation officials crowded into Kelly’s classroom Thursday afternoon to surprise the teacher known for her energy and enthusiasm.

Kelly’s eyes filled with tears as students ran up to congratulate her.

“I think I feel a group hug coming on!” she proclaimed before jokingly telling her students to “get back to work.”

First-grade teacher Pam Kelly, known for her energy and enthusiasm, leads students in a song and dance after she won the Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching. (Melissa Jenco/Tribune)

Asked what they like about Kelly, students all began shouting at once that she’s funny, likes hugs, is the “best teacher” and likes McDonald’s.

“She’s always smiling and always laughing,” Caroline Caine, 7, said after the chaos subsided.

The school held a surprise assembly in Kelly’s honor where colleagues and students shared their thoughts on the longtime teacher.

Jane Fawell, an assistant in Kelly’s classroom last year, called it a “wonderful encouraging place” where the motto is “Bring it on.”

“Nobody was scared of trying in Mrs. Kelly’s classroom,” Fawell said. “I love that spontaneity.”

Naper Principal Julie Beehler said Kelly’s “passion for children, her passion for learning,” make her special.

“She cares deeply about this profession and so honors the commitment of the community to work together for its children,” Beehler said. “It’s never about Pam. It’s always about the collective power we have in making a difference for kids.”

Kelly, 52, has been teaching for 27 years including six at Naper. Because her own three children are now adults, she said she has extra time to devote to students.

“You love your kids, you want to do what’s best for them,” she said.

She admits the job takes a lot of energy, but said every day there’s laughter and a new experience.

“You get a hug around your thigh and you’re like OK I’m coming back tomorrow,” she said.

She credits the support of the district for there being two Golden Apple winners from Naperville in a single year. This year’s Golden Apple Award honored pre-kindergarten through third-grade teachers from a pool of 560 nominees.

Each of the 10 winners receives $3,000, a tuition-free semester at Northwestern University and induction into the Golden Apple Academy of Educators. The winners will be honored at a black-tie gala in October.

Other teachers winning Golden Apple Awards include Elizabeth Luna, Murray Language Academy in Chicago; Maria Barba, Douglas MacArthur Elementary School in Hoffman Estates; Denise Ostarello, Crete Elementary School in Crete; Robert Taylor, Central Road Elementary School in Rolling Meadows; Monique Blakes, Oscar DePriest Elementary School in Chicago; Bryan Jackson, Latin School of Chicago; Zackary Ruelas, St. Malachy School in Chicago; and Susan Stephan, Norwood Park Elementary School in Chicago.

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