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Golden Apples over gold stars: Collier schools celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week amid COVID year

Golden Apple
by Rachel Fradette, Naples Daily News

Poinciana Elementary School teacher Judy Ramirez and her second-graders know what it takes to earn a Golden Apple Award.

Ramirez, who took home her award in 2013, gives out her own brand of golden apples when her students go above and beyond with their behavior and learning gains.

One of her students, 8-year-old Jordan Heady, said he’s taken home an apple more than 10 times.

“It’s been a really positive thing for our class,” Ramirez said.

It’s something, she said, that was important to continue, especially this school year amid COVID-19.

“It’s been tough, but man, after this year I think we all feel like we can get through anything,” Ramirez said.

From catered lunch to unique themed days, 58 schools in Collier County are celebrating their teachers, like Ramirez, following a year of ups and downs.

Second-grade teacher Judy Ramirez, center, takes part in a Teacher Appreciation Week presentation with her students, Tuesday, May 4, 2021, at Poinciana Elementary in Naples.

Champions For Learning, the county’s education foundation, and sponsors provided funds to schools in lieu of the annual Golden Apple event and awards, which honor teachers for their work.

Every school received $2,000 through Golden Apple sponsors to salute teachers during National Teacher Appreciation Week.

In a year where Golden Apples will be absent, Poinciana Elementary School Principal Jessica Davis said she sees it as just the opposite.

“I think for this particular year it was definitely an additional importance to celebrate Golden Apple as every teacher receives a Golden Apple,” Davis said.

Davis and her staff were recognized on more than one occasion for their work this year and last year. Amity Wyss was named assistant principal of the year in Collier County.

Also at the school, media specialist Kristi Humberger and media assistant Celine Johnson, are Collier schools 2021 nominees for Florida Teacher of the Year and School-Related Employee of the year.

Davis said the school’s staff is remarkable. Wyss said teachers have remained positive while being student-focused.

Poinciana Elementary second-grader Alex Olmos holds a Golden Apple during a Teacher Appreciation Week ceremony, Tuesday, May 4, 2021, at Poinciana Elementary in Naples.

Surprises in store for teachers this week

This week at Poinciana is centered around the Olympics. Every day this week will zero in on a continent with prizes and activities sticking to the theme, including scones on Europe Day and synchronized swimming outside the pool.

“We wanted to tap into that it takes a team that collectively wins,” Davis said.

Gulfview Middle School students wrote letters to their teachers that are being delivered as part of Teacher Appreciation Week.

“They’re just the sweetest sentiments that kids need to be here, and they need teachers,” Elizabeth Brown said.

Brown, a reading coach at the school, said the start of the school year was scary, but teachers quickly adjusted to where they are meant to be — the classroom.

“Sometimes showing up each day is a celebration because I spoke a lot to our kids and the emotions and the difficulties that they have to grapple with, but the truth of it is our teachers are going through the same thing,” Brown said.

Other surprises for educators include breakfast, lunches, and treats, according to the school.

Gulf Coast Charter Academy South is matching funding to make this week special for its teachers.

Teachers at the charter school will have breakfast and lunch catered all week, and they will also take home gift cards.

“We’ve definitely seen a large morale ebb and flow as the year goes on,” Will Staros, principal of Gulf Cost Charter Academy South, said. “And as we get into a state testing time and evaluation time this week, in particular, is really strong for us to be able to push for the next four weeks until we get to summer.”

Bruce Mousa, right, board member at Champions For Learning, talks with Gulf Coast Charter Academy South students and staff during Teacher Appreciation Week, Tuesday, May 4, 2021, at the school in Naples.

The kindergarten team worked hard to keep their spirits up throughout this school year, teacher Aishia Buford said.

“I think we cope by uplifting each other, reaching out to each other, texting each other, funny memes, dancing in the hallways from a distance with each other, so we’ve been trying to uplift each other,” Buford said.

Kindergarten teacher Beth Staros said teachers have not complained this year because of how much they love their profession, but that did not make it easy.

“If you’re out in the community and you see a teacher, thank a teacher,” Staros said.

The Naples Daily News is a 2021 Golden Apple major sponsor.

Rachel Fradette is an education reporter for the Naples Daily News. Follow her on Twitter: @Rachel_Fradette, email her at rfradette@gannett.com.