Nazareth Academy teacher wins Golden Apple award

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Amelia Garcia was surprised with a Golden Apple award May 4, 2022, at Nazareth Academy in La Grange Park. (Photo provided)

When Nazareth Academy English teacher Amelia García became one of 10 Illinois teachers to receive a 2022 Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching, she might have been the most surprised person in the room.

Therese Hawkins, principal of the La Grange Park high school, certainly wasn’t surprised. She was fairly certain that García, who teaches sophomore honors English and AP language and composition, would walk away with the honor as soon as she was notified that García was one of 32 finalists.

And when Hawkins learned that García had indeed won, she went to work planning a May 4 assembly for Teacher Appreciation Week, an assembly that, unbeknownst to García and the student body, would include the announcement of the award.

“We could have just had the team go into her classroom to surprise her,” Hawkins said. “We decided we really should do an all-school assembly so everyone could be there.”

García, who has been teaching at Nazareth for almost 15 years, receives $5,000 and a spring semester sabbatical at Northwestern University. She also becomes a fellow of the Golden Apple Foundation, which works to mentor aspiring or young teachers.

García said she’s most excited about the opportunity to work with young teachers.

“I would say to young teachers to be focused on sharing your interests,” García said. “As an English teacher, I have loved reading, and sometimes writing. Share your love for your content area, your passion for your content area with students.”

That comes across in her classes, said Diana Anos, a junior at Nazareth Academy who had García for honors English as a sophomore and AP language and composition this year.

“She’s really passionate about everything,” Anos said. “This year, we learned about Puritan literature, and I didn’t think it would be something I would be interested in at all. ‘The Scarlet Letter’ is actually one of my favorite books now.”

Hawkins recalled visiting García’s classroom during the 2020-2021 school year, when Nazareth Academy had only half the students present each day and everyone in the building had to wear masks. It made for a lot of very quiet classes, Hawkins said.

“I walked into her classroom, and they were reading and having a discussion about ‘A Tale of Two Cities,’” Hawkins said. “I was absolutely amazed. That was not a quiet classroom. Amelia is such a skilled discussion facilitator, and there was such a robust and fun discussion going on.”

Anos allowed that she also came to like “A Tale of Two Cities,” a book that García said sometimes intimidates students before they start it. But García said her favorite book to teach is more modern, Sandra Cisneros’ “The House on Mango Street,” set in Chicago and told in vignettes by a young Latina.

“I love the perspective that we get of a young woman coming of age and her environment and her journey to discovering her voice,” said García, who also serves as the adult moderator for the Nazareth Academy Latinx Group.

Over her career, García said, she has learned the importance of reflection, reflecting on lessons and what worked and what needs to be adjusted, on how she is interacting with the material and on where her students are.

“I think I have become more reflective, and I’ve become more flexible,” she said. “Sometimes a lesson is going to have to move to the next day, or sometimes we have to revisit a lesson. In this COVID moment, flexibility has been key, and that has allowed for a little grace for not only me but for the students. Our students have gone through so much in these past couple of years. … It is challenging. It has not come without its moments of thinking, ‘What am I going to do next? How am I going to problem solve next?’ and moments of testing resilience.”

Anos said that she was a little intimidated when she started in García’s class as a sophomore, because García has a reputation for having high expectations. But she soon found that García made herself available to help students meet those expectations and develop their own confidence.

“I think a good teacher is a teacher who doesn’t only care about their material, but also cares about their students and helping them grow. Caring about their students is really important,” she said.

Anos, speaking the day she completed the AP language and composition exam, said she would normally be nervous before such a big test.

“I felt like Ms. García really prepared us well,” Anos said. “She’s always saying, ‘Diana, you got this. You know how to do this.’”

“I really do love working with the students. I love sharing my passion for reading and writing with the students, seeing how much they have to offer as critical thinkers and as writers who are finding their voices,” García said. “When students start to discover their strengths as learners and their strengths as independent thinkers, that’s really cool to witness.”


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