The murals on the walls of Maine West High School bear witness to Gregory Regalado's contributions to the Des Plaines school's art program.
Those, along with many other contributions, were rewarded Wednesday when Regalado was surprised in his classroom with the Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching, bestowed on only 10 teachers statewide.
The 2013 honorees -- all high school teachers -- were selected from a pool of 510 nominees from throughout the Chicago metropolitan area.
Regalado, who teaches photo, art, advanced digital imaging and Advanced Placement art studio, is only the second teacher in the history of Maine Township High School District 207 to receive the coveted Golden Apple. The first recipient also was from Maine West: English teacher Ruth Nicholson, who earned the award in 1987.
"It's an honor to be in the same category as her and all the other Golden Apple Fellows," Regalado said, adding that he was overwhelmed by the attention Wednesday.
Regalado's wife, Sue; his four children, Jax, Isabel, Kayci, and Luke; and mother, Beverly Regalado, joined in the surprise.
"I'm in awe," said Beverly, who came from Park Forest to witness her son's recognition.
Maine West Principal Audrey Haugan said Regalado always puts his students first.
"All of his projects are geared toward student interest," Haugan said.
Regalado's murals grace the walls of the school, and his art pieces are scattered throughout the building. He also is a cross-country coach, the head girls track coach, and the building technology coordinator.
The award was cause for celebration at a school that has been the focus of much negative attention due to recent hazing scandals.
"It's good to bring some good news to Maine West," said Jim Sorensen, a Maine West alum and former Golden Apple winner who now serves as director of Golden Apple Scholars. "My children had him, and he was exceptional. My daughter became a graphic arts teacher inspired by him."
Regalado was nominated for the award by Mike Smith, a Maine West mathematics teacher who was impressed with Regalado's involvement in the school beyond the classroom.
"I saw what kind of an impact he had on my math students and also the impact he was having on all aspects of our culture here at Maine West," Smith said. "The students would always come to my class excited if they came from Mr. Regalado's class. Everybody knows 'Regs.' I would venture to say that he's impacted every department of the school."
District 207 Superintendent Ken Wallace said Regalado has had a huge impact on the entire district.
"The thing that stands out for me, every week, literally, Greg is doing some kind of teacher leadership," Wallace said.
Regalado has taught faculty members at all three district high schools how to implement technology in the classroom.
"It was a natural role for him," Wallace said. "He's always been innovative in his use of technology as a teacher."
Regalado will receive a tuition-free, spring quarter sabbatical to study at Northwestern University and a $3,000 cash award.
"This is the tip of the iceberg," Regalado said. "I'm just so excited to go to Northwestern for classes. I'm open for anything. I would definitely take art classes."
Golden Apple Fellows are required to participate in ongoing professional development and engagement in education reform. They also provide instruction and mentoring of future teachers through the Golden Apple Scholars of Illinois program, which has prepared 1,400 college students to teach in high-need schools for a minimum of five years.
Award recipients will be honored at a black-tie event Oct. 25 at WTTW/Channel 11 Studios in Chicago. The ceremony will be broadcast on WTTW in a one-hour program.