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Alicia Carlisle of Chicago’s Turner Drew Academy Wins Prestigious Golden Apple Award

Turner Drew Language Academy students celebrate teacher Alicia Carlisle’s Golden Apple Award (Credit: Tacuma Roeback). 

Grade school children at the Turner Drew Language Academy on the South Side held pom poms or signs that read “#TeachGolden” but barely held onto their excitement over what would transpire at the school gym.

As soon as the door flipped open and first-grade teacher Alicia Carlisle stepped into the room, it all came to a glorious head. They and staff members erupted. They cheered, shrieked, clapped and/or jumped because Carlisle, one of their own, earned one of the top awards in her profession in Illinois: “The Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching.”

Carlisle was recognized for her exceptional commitment, innovative spirit and transformative influence on her students and school community. She was one of the ten teacher award recipients in the state, chosen from over 600 nominations of Pre-K to third-grade teachers.

Alan Mather, president of The Golden Apple Foundation, said that what sets Carlisle apart is her ability to tailor her instruction to diverse learners and captivate them.

“When we went and observed her, there was joy in the classroom,” said Mather, recalling a visit.

“So while she is focusing on what students need to do to really grow in their learning, she’s also making it fun,” he said. “That is a real gift to be able to do that.”

Dreams of Becoming A Doctor

But Carlisle’s journey into the classroom almost didn’t happen. She grew up wanting to become a medical doctor. Still, as a child, she already developed her “why” for wanting to pursue medicine.

“I’ve always said when I was little that I wanted to help kids. That was my passion,” said Carlisle.

“Everybody knows since I was a little kid, and people hated to be around me sometimes because I asked too many questions. Everything was a question. ‘Why, why, why?’” she recalled with a smile.

Alicia Carlisle with her mother

Alicia Carlisle with her mother at her Golden Apple Award celebration at Turner Drew Language Academy (Credit: Tacuma R. Roeback).

While at college, a work-study job at an elementary school made her change plans.

“I really enjoyed helping the teachers and pulling kids for small groups. And I was like, I’m going to change my major,” she recalled.

Her major changed, but her “why” remained the same: to help children. That also evolved into her assisting other students who also wanted to be teachers.

Carlisle became a Golden Apple Scholar, a teacher preparation and tuition assistance program for high school seniors and first- and second-year college students who want to be impactful instructors.

After graduating college, Carlisle became a mentor to other Golden Apple Scholars.

What Winning ‘The Golden Apple’ Means

Golden Apple Foundation and CPS officials celebrate Alicia Carlisle

Golden Apple Foundation and CPS officials celebrate Alicia Carlisle’s Golden Apple Award (Credit: Tacuma Roeback).

So, receiving her award on Thursday morning (May 2) at her school gym felt poetic.

“It means so much just to go from being a Golden Apple Scholar when I was in college to mentoring new teachers, and now full circle: I’m a Golden Apple teacher here. So it’s awesome,” she said.

As a Golden Apple Award recipient, Carlisle receives a $5,000 cash prize and a spring sabbatical sponsored by Northwestern University. She will also join the Golden Apple Academy of Educators. This community helps train future teachers through the Golden Apple Scholars and Accelerators programs, which aim to tackle Illinois’ teacher shortage.

Yet, after all the pictures were taken and hugs were shared with her mother, students, Golden Apple and CPS officials, Carlisle explained to The Chicago Defender what motivated her to be the best at her job.

It all harkened back to her “why,” and she gave an example of a former student.

“[The student] was like, ‘When I was in kindergarten, I didn’t really know how to read, but when I got to you, you made me a confident reader and writer,’” Carlisle recalled.

Then, there’s this:

“Just seeing my babies grow up, and they’re above grade level, and their parents come back, and they’re like, ‘Wow, that stuff you were teaching, we’re doing it now, but you taught them this in first grade.’”

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