'The best day of my life': Deerfield High School dance instructor wins Golden Apple

  • Deerfield High School dance instructor Nikki Lazzaretto reacts as she is surprised with the Golden Apple Award Thursday morning. Lazzaretto believed she was going to a meeting but instead was greeted by family, friends, students, colleagues and administrators greeted her in the school's auditorium. "This honestly might be the best day of my life," she said.

      Deerfield High School dance instructor Nikki Lazzaretto reacts as she is surprised with the Golden Apple Award Thursday morning. Lazzaretto believed she was going to a meeting but instead was greeted by family, friends, students, colleagues and administrators greeted her in the school's auditorium. "This honestly might be the best day of my life," she said. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Deerfield High School teacher Nikki Lazzaretto is one of only 10 Illinois high school teachers to receive the 2022 Golden Apple Award out of more than 400 nominations. Colleague Britnee Kenyon, Deerfield's Theatre Department director, also was one of the state's 30 finalists for the honor.

      Deerfield High School teacher Nikki Lazzaretto is one of only 10 Illinois high school teachers to receive the 2022 Golden Apple Award out of more than 400 nominations. Colleague Britnee Kenyon, Deerfield's Theatre Department director, also was one of the state's 30 finalists for the honor. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Deerfield High School teacher Nikki Lazzaretto receives a bouquet of flowers from her husband, Nick, during the surprise announcement that she's one of just 10 Illinois high school teachers to receive a 2020 Golden Apple Award. And while Nikki Lazzaretto was surprised by the award, her husband certainly wasn't. "It wasn't a surprise with me -- the way she's so involved with the kids -- and I think they love the fact that she talks to them about their daily problems, so she's almost more of a mentor,"

      Deerfield High School teacher Nikki Lazzaretto receives a bouquet of flowers from her husband, Nick, during the surprise announcement that she's one of just 10 Illinois high school teachers to receive a 2020 Golden Apple Award. And while Nikki Lazzaretto was surprised by the award, her husband certainly wasn't. "It wasn't a surprise with me -- the way she's so involved with the kids -- and I think they love the fact that she talks to them about their daily problems, so she's almost more of a mentor," Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Deerfield High School teacher Nikki Lazzaretto, middle, stands among her students Thursday after learning she is Golden Apple Award recipient.

      Deerfield High School teacher Nikki Lazzaretto, middle, stands among her students Thursday after learning she is Golden Apple Award recipient. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • With her husband Nick standing behind her, Deerfield High School teacher Nikki Lazzaretto reacts as she is surprised with the presentation of the Golden Apple Award in the school's auditorium Thursday.

      With her husband Nick standing behind her, Deerfield High School teacher Nikki Lazzaretto reacts as she is surprised with the presentation of the Golden Apple Award in the school's auditorium Thursday. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Deerfield High School teacher Nikki Lazzaretto, second from right, speaks after being surprised with the Golden Apple Award Thursday. Principal Kathryn Anderson is at left.

      Deerfield High School teacher Nikki Lazzaretto, second from right, speaks after being surprised with the Golden Apple Award Thursday. Principal Kathryn Anderson is at left. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Confetti flies above Deerfield High School teacher Nikki Lazzaretto's students after learning she is just one of only 10 Illinois high school teachers to receive the 2022 Golden Apple Award. The prestigious prize comes with $5,000 and a spring sabbatical from Northwestern University.

      Confetti flies above Deerfield High School teacher Nikki Lazzaretto's students after learning she is just one of only 10 Illinois high school teachers to receive the 2022 Golden Apple Award. The prestigious prize comes with $5,000 and a spring sabbatical from Northwestern University. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Deerfield High School teacher Nikki Lazzaretto's family, friends, students and colleagues were on hand as she is surprised with the Golden Apple Award Thursday. "This honestly might be the best day of my life," she said.

      Deerfield High School teacher Nikki Lazzaretto's family, friends, students and colleagues were on hand as she is surprised with the Golden Apple Award Thursday. "This honestly might be the best day of my life," she said. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Deerfield High School dance teacher Nikki Lazzaretto thought she was going to a meeting Thursday morning but instead was surprised to find out she is one of only 10 Illinois high school teachers to receive the 2022 Golden Apple Award -- out of more than 400 nominees. Alan Mather of the Golden Apple Foundation, left, guides her down the aisle.

      Deerfield High School dance teacher Nikki Lazzaretto thought she was going to a meeting Thursday morning but instead was surprised to find out she is one of only 10 Illinois high school teachers to receive the 2022 Golden Apple Award -- out of more than 400 nominees. Alan Mather of the Golden Apple Foundation, left, guides her down the aisle. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • This poster was part of the surprise announcement Thursday that Deerfield High School dance teacher Nikki Lazzaretto is a recipient of a 2022 Golden Apple Award.

      This poster was part of the surprise announcement Thursday that Deerfield High School dance teacher Nikki Lazzaretto is a recipient of a 2022 Golden Apple Award. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 5/6/2022 1:59 PM

Nikki Lazzaretto felt "off" before she arrived Thursday for just another day as a dance instructor at Deerfield High School.

That feeling flipped dramatically around 11:30 a.m.

 

Lured by a phony request to attend a meeting, Lazzaretto walked into the school auditorium to find it filled with family, friends, students, colleagues and administrators who erupted with cheers and applause at her arrival, as members of the Deerfield band struck up the Warriors fight song.

Lazzaretto clapped a hand over her mouth and seemed to be knocked back a step in shock as it dawned on her that she'd won a Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching.

In her ninth year at Deerfield -- her seventh as co-director and choreographer of the Deerfield Dance Company -- the 1993 Carmel High School graduate is among 10 Illinois high school teachers who received 2022 Golden Apple awards out of more than 400 nominations.

The award brings a $5,000 cash award and a free spring sabbatical from Northwestern University.

The charge Lazzaretto felt entering the auditorium also was priceless.

by signing up you agree to our terms of service
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"I don't know why; I just felt super-heightened today. I came in and this happened, and all that anxiety went away. It was just filled with joy and love," she told reporters.

People already had tears in their eyes before she entered the auditorium. As Golden Apple Foundation President Alan Mather led Lazzaretto toward the stage, she did, too.

"This honestly might be the best day of my life," an emotional Lazzaretto said, in a shaky voice, after Mather announced the honor and she received a bouquet of flowers amid a colorful explosion from a confetti cannon.

"My dad always said to make sure when you wake up in the morning that you don't hate that your alarm clock went off," Lazzaretto said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"I love being with my students so much; I love my friends here, I love my colleagues who are so inspirational. But I am not the only one. The teachers who work here are so incredible. The administration is amazingly supportive and they allow me to do what I love, and I am grateful to do it for as many years as my knees will let me."

Indeed, the dance veteran was not the only Golden Apple finalist at Deerfield. Against the odds, Deerfield Theatre Department Director Britnee Kenyon also joined Lazzaretto among Illinois' 30 finalists for the award. With Kenyon out sick on Thursday, the two women had to be satisfied with quick congratulations via FaceTime.

"They're so supportive of each other, and it's just so wonderful to have colleagues that are going to be there with you through thick and thin," said Deerfield Principal Kathryn Anderson. "Just to have finalists for Golden Apple is a wonderful thing to have."

Lazzaretto's parents, Franklin and Lorrie, watched their daughter receive her award, as did her children Ava, 16, Riley, 19, and 12-year-old niece Emmerson.

Mother-in-law Jacqueline Lazzaretto, 85, agreed with the Golden Apple people: "She's a super daughter-in-law."

Nikki's husband, Nick, a 1975 graduate of Libertyville High School, certainly agreed with the decision.

"It wasn't a surprise with me -- the way she's so involved with the kids -- and I think they love the fact that she talks to them about their daily problems, so she's almost more of a mentor," he said.

That appealed to Mather when interviewing people during the selection process.

"Part of what really stood out with Nikki was the way that she connected with students," he said.

"The difficulty so many of them had returning from COVID, returning from the pandemic, they talked about her as someone who was affirming and brought them back in and reconnected them with other students in a really beautiful way."

"We talk about social and emotional supports that happen in schools, and I think she is the model of providing those sort of supports the students needed at a really tough time," Mather said.

Lazzaretto didn't need further validation in a career that includes studying with masters, winning two national dance titles, and choreographing an Illinois prep all-state theater production.

She felt validation nonetheless.

"It is, just in the sense of what I set out to do with the students, and making them feel valued and important, and making them understand community," she said. "It validates that -- that I'm doing the right thing and headed in the right direction, and can kind of keep going with that."

Just not for the rest of a mood-lifting Thursday, she told the crowd.

"I don't know what else to say, but ... can I have the day off now?"

0 Comments
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.