DANVILLE – A school bus rolls up Tuesday morning to Mark Denman Elementary School to drop off its passengers for summer classes.
However, it’s not schoolchildren disembarking the bus, but rather half of the dozen or so Golden Apple Scholars who have been helping in Danville District 118’s summer school classrooms at Denman Elementary and South View Upper Elementary schools since last month.
The Illinois Golden Apple Scholars program offers scholarships to offset college expenses to high school students from around the state who intend to pursue a career in education. The competitive program awards financial assistance during the course of the scholar’s college tenure, plus they also earn money and experience during each of their four summer school assignments in high-need, low-income school districts.
This summer, the Golden Apple Scholars are being housed on the University of Illinois campus, and from there they are shuttled to various schools in central Illinois each morning.
Human Resources Director Kimberly Pabst said District 118’s connections to the university helped the district to receive a dozen Golden Apple Scholars.
“We have a good relationship with the University of Illinois, which is the summer site for Golden Apple,” she said. “Since Golden Apple was using U of I as its base, someone from there contacted us to see if we wanted some help with summer school.
“They’ve sent us even more scholars than we started out with,” she said. “A couple of them are studying to be special education teachers and bilingual/ESL (English as a Second Language), so we have a good mix.”
Pabst said she welcomed the scholars — who will be entering their senior year at U of I, Eastern Illinois University and Illinois State University — with arctic tumblers emblazoned with Danville Vikings on them.
“They have one more year left before they graduate college, and we’re asking them to apply now,” she said of recruiting them to work in the district during the 2020-21 school year. “Two are very interested in working in our district.”
Having the opportunity to work with the Golden Apple Scholars and to showcase District 118 has benefited the district as much as the teaching experience has benefited the scholars, Pabst said.
With a nationwide teacher shortage, Pabst said she is “recruiting non-stop.”
In fact, Pabst said she keeps a list of job openings in the district on her phone, just in case she “sees someone in the grocery store” who would be a good fit for the district.
Right now, the district has five openings for elementary school teachers, three or four openings for physical education teachers and a middle school English Language Arts teacher opening, as well as two math positions, a science position and three English positions open at Danville High School.
“We’re blessed to have retired teachers who will come back and help us for 120 days,” she said. “We don’t want substitutes teaching long term in our classrooms.”
Although today is the last day of District 118’s summer school, the scholars will continue their work next week in the Champaign School District where summer school lasts a week longer than Danville’s program, Nate Titus, a liaison with Golden Apple, said.
A typical Golden Apple Scholar’s day during the summer is an 8-5 job, first spending four hours in the morning in a classroom helping with summer school, and then returning to the base campus for classes and lectures given by school administrators and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) educators, according to Titus.
“Every summer they are placed in a different city,” he said. “All of them will be student teaching next year and then they’ll be looking for a job.”
Angela Wilson, the summer school coordinator at Mark Denman Elementary School, said having the Golden Apple Scholars help out with the more than 200 prekindergarten through sixth grade students enrolled at that summer school site has been a positive experience.
“They’ve been working one-on-one with our students and alongside our teachers,” Wilson said.
“It’s been a great way for fresh people to work with our students and staff, and it gives them (scholars) a chance to see what our district is about,” she said. “We’re excited to see what they bring.”
Golden Apple Scholar Abby Hill of southwest suburban Palos Park worked closely with students DaMarcus Kinchen and Kendrick Allensworth as they completed a writing assignment she created.
“We talked about fossils and then they had to create a story about a fossil or a dinosaur,” she explained.
Hill worked alongside South View Upper Elementary teacher Sommer Frazier, who praised Hill for the work she has done.
“She’s a special education major, but she’s adapted well,” Frazier said. “She took small groups of students outside of the classroom and helped with assessments.”
Unlike her experiences with other school districts where it took a few days to fit in and feel comfortable, Hill said she immediately felt welcomed in District 118.
“The first day everyone was so welcoming and receptive,” she commented.
Hill said she was encouraged to go into education by one of her former teachers.
“I really just love inspiring students to find their passions,” she said.
Golden Apple Scholar Chelsea Smith of Naperville was in a second-grade classroom helping children create robots from construction paper after they read a non-fiction article in a classroom magazine about robot animals.
Since there were only adult-size sharp scissors in the classroom, children had to describe to Smith how they wanted their construction paper pieces to be cut.
Student Zyion Jones told Smith the paper shapes he wanted but to further clarify, he said, “It’s going to be like a burrito.”
A few minutes later, Zyion proudly showed Smith his creation: A robot holding a burrito-like baby robot.
Smith was enthusiastic about her experience in District 118.
“It’s been wonderful,” she said, adding, “This is my first time in an urban district.
“I really enjoy the kids, and I try to build relationships with them,” she said. “I try to give them social and emotional support.”
Smith also mentioned one of the students who made her proud during her time in Danville. She explained that the children were working on a challenging word problem, and although some of the children wanted to stop trying, one little boy kept working on it.
“He showed such perseverance,” she said. “He really cared about his education.”
Smith also echoed Hill’s sentiments about District 118.
“The district was super welcoming,” she said. “It’s been the most supportive district I’ve ever been in.”