By JENNIFER WALDORF
Dr. Meg Van Dyke got the surprise of her life Thursday morning when her first-period seventh grade science class at O’Neill Middle School was interrupted by representatives from the Golden Apple Foundation, along with numerous school and district staff, informing her that she had been named a Golden Apple Award recipient.
Van Dyke is one of ten Illinois Golden Apple Award recipients in 2014, selected from a pool of 620 nominations and 272 applicants, represent fourth through eighth grade teachers throughout the Chicago metropolitan area.
“These amazing teachers demonstrate the skill, enthusiasm and passion needed to inspire their students to achieve greatness. Each is a shining example of excellence in education, and we are proud to honor them for all they do as teachers,” said Dominic Belmonte, president and CEO of Golden Apple.
Each Golden Apple Award recipient receives a tuition-free, spring quarter sabbatical to study at Northwestern University, as well as a $3,000 cash award. Award recipients also become Fellows of the Golden Apple Academy of Educators, giving them a stronger voice and a larger stage from which to make a difference in education within Illinois and nationally. Fellows participate as instructors in ongoing professional development programs provided by Golden Apple, as well as provide instruction and mentoring of future teachers through the Golden Apple Scholars of Illinois program, which has prepared more than 1,500 college students to teach in schools of need in Illinois.
“I was surprised, delighted and humbled to find out I had been nominated for the Golden Apple Award, and even more so to learn that I was selected as a winner,” said Dr. Van Dyke, who holds a doctorate in educational technology. “I am excited to learn how this opportunity can positively impact my future teaching in Illinois in the coming years, and I look forward to collaborating with such an esteemed and dedicated group of educators.”
The recipients of the 2014 Golden Apple Awards for Excellence in Teaching will be honored at a black-tie gala Oct. 24 at WTTW/Channel 11 Studios in Chicago. WTTW will broadcast the awards in a one-hour television program following the event.
In addition to receiving a 2014 Golden Apple Award, Dr. Van Dyke also was named the Downers Grove Elementary Education Association’s Teacher of the Year in 2013 and is a finalist for the 2014 Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching (PAEMST) Program, the nation’s highest honor for teachers of mathematics and science.
Van Dyke is passionate about science education and committed to finding creative ways to teach her students about concepts.
Van Dyke founded the O’Neill Energy Kids Club, which visits District 58 elementary schools to talk about energy conservation and brings along a special bicycle that lights up light bulbs. The students find out how hard they have to pedal in order to light up a regular light bulb versus a Compact Flourescent Light Bulb.
She organizes an Energy Day and a Chemistry Day each year, during which students have a chance to view and try numerous hands-on experiments and demonstrations.
Van Dyke also regularly takes groups of students to engineering and science competitions, such as a bridge-busting competition at University of Illinois and the Fluid Power Challenge sponsored by the National Fluid Power Association. More than anything, Van Dyke hopes to inspire her students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math.
She also is committed to seeking out additional funding sources to enhance her students’ classroom experience.
Over the past several years, she has applied for and won more than $37,000 in grants for O’Neill from a variety of sources, including BP, the District 58 Education Foundation, and the Kinder Morgan Foundation. With the $10,000 BP grant, O’Neill launched its Energy Kids Club and Compact Flourescent Light bulb fundraiser program, and purchased two Vernier Lab Quest hand-held scientific computing devices.
A grant from the District 58 Education Foundation enabled the school to purchase several sets of experimental probes to measure conditions such as temperature, pH and motion, which hook into the Vernier devices and allow the students to collect, manipulate and graph data in real time.
Each fall as part of World Water Monitoring Day, the students bring these devices each fall to Barth Pond on 55th Street to take water quality measurements.
A Kinder Morgan grant Van Dyke earned in 2009 enabled O’Neill to purchase about 10 more Vernier devices and several more sets of probes. Van Dyke received a Kinder Morgan grant in 2011 to have a wind turbine installed on the school’s roof, and in 2012 to purchase iPads for hands-on activities and lessons.