By the time he'd turned 11, Daniel Jackson knew he wanted to be a teacher.
"It was Ms. Laura Meili, my teacher at Mollison Elementary School, who inspired me," said Daniel. "She had creative ways of engaging us in class and would do whatever it took to get us excited about reading."
Now a senior at Jones College Prep, Daniel hopes to emulate Ms. Meili in his own teaching career – a journey that began with his acceptance to the 2014 Class of Golden Apple Scholars. One of 45 CPS students chosen, Daniel will receive tuition assistance for his undergraduate studies at Illinois State University and will spend four summers immersed in the kind of advanced teacher training that prepares future educators to thrive in challenging, high-need situations.
"Our summer internships are a parallel universe to the college classroom," said Dominic Belmonte, President and CEO of Golden Apple. "There, they are schooled in the theoretical. But the summers are all about the pragmatic."
These summer intensives are the hallmark of Golden Apple, as they provide students with the chance to observe, plan lessons, and teach from the moment they are accepted into the program. This amounts to three times the classroom experience offered to traditionally-prepared teachers, and has resulted in 84 percent of Scholars remaining in the education field for more than five years. For CPS students, that number is closer to 90 percent.
"This is a point of pride for us, as we are about creating career teachers," said Belmonte. "We're training our Scholars to do a great job, not just with one student, but with the brothers and sisters who are coming up behind him."
Upon completion of the Golden Apple program, Scholars commit to teaching in a high-need school in Illinois for five years. Approximately 50 percent of these new teachers enter CPS schools, particularly those like Daniel, who are products of CPS and are looking to improve on their educational experience.
"I'd like to teach second or third grade, because I think it's important to get to students young and give them the foundation they need, especially in English," he said. "When I was that age, I missed a lot of important fundamentals, and that meant I struggled for years."
Also passionate about English, Golden Apple Scholar Marlene Cordova hopes that her enthusiasm for reading and writing will make her the kind of teacher who gets kids excited about coming to school each day.
"When you read, you can go to a completely different world or feel a million different ways," she said. "I want to be a teacher who shows students how powerful English is and makes them love it the way I do."
A senior at Social Justice High School, Marlene will be attending the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and looks forward to returning to Chicago to teach in a high-need area.
"Even if I hadn't been chosen as a Golden Apple Scholar, I would have wanted to teach in a school that is considered high-need," she said. "I think I'm well suited for that environment, because I've always gone to schools that are more or less high-need, so I know what it's like. It will be my way of giving back to my community, which is super important to me."
Because of their impressive skills, retention rates and training, Golden Apple Scholars are widely sought after by principals throughout the state. So to get more of these highly-qualified teachers into District classrooms, CPS recently approved a $1 million agreement with Golden Apple to provide 150 additional new teachers on top of the program's annual state-supported cohorts.
"We're excited to increase opportunities for these great young people to find a career path in the Chicago Public Schools," said Dominic Belmonte. "It gives many of our scholars the chance to do what they really want to do, which is return to the neighborhoods where they grew up as confident, self-assured professionals who can improve their school communities in the fullness of time."