Fox Lake teacher honored with Golden Apple award

 
 
Updated 3/20/2018 6:28 PM
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  • Lotus Elementary School first-grade teacher Erica Barraza smiles as she is presented with the Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching in Fox Lake Tuesday morning.

      Lotus Elementary School first-grade teacher Erica Barraza smiles as she is presented with the Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching in Fox Lake Tuesday morning. Lee Filas | Staff Photographer

  • Lotus Elementary School first-grade teacher Erica Barraza celebrates the Golden Apple award with students Tuesday in her classroom in Fox Lake.

      Lotus Elementary School first-grade teacher Erica Barraza celebrates the Golden Apple award with students Tuesday in her classroom in Fox Lake. Lee Filas | Staff Photographer

With tears streaming down her face, Lotus Elementary School first grade teacher Erica Barraza hugged a student and smiled at her peers after receiving the Golden Apple award during a raucous surprise presentation Tuesday morning.

Barraza, an 11-year teacher with Fox Lake Elementary District 114, said it took her a while to wrap her head around the prestigious award when it was announced in her Fox Lake classroom.

"I'm speechless, which is pretty rare for me," she said. "I'm so humbled and thankful for this award."

An entourage including members of the Golden Apple group, other teachers and students, District 114 administrators, Barraza's boyfriend Jason Combs, her children and other friends interrupted and surprised her first grade class to present the award. The room broke down into chaos afterward as tears started flowing and many hugs were passed out to adults and children alike.

"We've lost all control of the students," Barraza said. "I can't believe this."

The annual Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching recognizes and honors outstanding teachers for their role in building a stronger, better-educated society. Ten local teachers will be presented with the award this week. They were selected from more than 650 nominations from educators, students, parents and community members, officials said.

A Golden Apple organization news release said Barraza believes "that one of the most significant issues in education today is the critical need for social-emotional learning and character education."

Barraza is passionate about teaching her students how to empathize with others, what compassion looks like, and how to understand and regulate their emotions, the news release reads. It added her teaching often incorporates service-learning as a means to develop compassion and understanding.

Barraza was quick to celebrate other teachers at her school, saying they are "family," and Lotus was her "home."

"My mind is blown by this," District 114 Superintendent Heather Friziellie said. "We are so proud of her. Everyone is so proud of her. She deserves this recognition for being an amazing teacher."

Each winner receives a tuition-free, spring quarter sabbatical to study at Northwestern University and a $5,000 cash award.

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