Rachel Fradette, Naples Daily News
Golden Apple day in Collier County, with all of its surprises and tearful excitement, is transforming this year to celebrate educators in a new way amid the pandemic.
In lieu of the annual awards and dinner, Champions For Learning announced that 58 Collier County schools will receive funds to celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week how they see fit.
Every school through Golden Apple sponsors will receive $2,000 to salute teachers May 3 to May 7 with a special emphasis on May 4 when community appreciation is encouraged.
The county’s education foundation said the pandemic led to a different opportunity and they ran with it.
“We’ve always done well when we’ve listened,” Susan McManus, president of Champions For Learning, said. “I think that was what came across this year.”
McManus said the foundation could not just proceed with their typical program this year; they needed to hear from educators like in every other year.
Foundation staff spoke to Collier school leaders about what teachers were feeling about the unprecedented year and how they might celebrate innovation and hard work in classrooms, McManus said.
“The principals and the selection committee taking the time to be on the phone and talk through all this, you know, it’s inspired us. It’s encouraged us,” McManus said. “I’m so glad we did it. I can’t even imagine right now trying to go through the motions of that, that same process or celebration.”
From coordination with their parent-teacher organizations to creative themes, schools are in the process of developing how their communities will salute their educators, Lisa Church, chief community impact officer for the foundation, said.
“I was just so impressed so far with what I’m seeing around how the principals are engaging so many people in the celebration plan,” Church said.
Church said she hopes to see Collier as a community reflect on what it has meant to have schools open this year and think about ways to say thanks you to teachers and school staff.
Last year, Collier schools hosted the foundation’s annual surprises mere weeks before the shutdown in Florida.
The results of school closings led to the cancellation of the foundation’s annual dinner, which celebrates awardees and other educators.
The coronavirus pandemic also prevented community volunteers from being able to visit classrooms as part of the selection process for the awards, McManus said.
“We did come to that understanding with them that we would make a commitment to helping the community really understand what it’s been like this year, maybe not by picking just teachers of distinction individually but by our organization really committing to putting a whole different process in place,” McManus said.
Lee County’s annual celebration sponsored by The Foundation for Lee County Schools moved forward with safety precautions and measures in place. Six Lee County teachers took home their Golden Apples last month.
In addition to the Teacher Appreciation Week celebration, Collier’s Champions For Learning is honoring educators through a TV special on April 25 that will focus on teaching and learning through the year.
This year’s program is dedicated to Lavern ‘Lal’ Gaynor, a prominent Naples philanthropist who often involved herself with the organization. She died this week at age 97.
Rachel Fradette is an education reporter for the Naples Daily News. Follow her on Twitter: @Rachel_Fradette, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.