Lauren Saliny, a special education teacher at Irving Elementary School, said she was “shocked” when she learned that she’d received a 2015 Golden Apple Award. Saliny is one of 10 teachers selected from a pool of more than 600 candidates throughout Chicago and the suburbs.

The awards focus on specific grades each year. This year, nominations were restricted to pre-K through third-grade teachers. 

Saliny, an Oak Park native and Oak Park and River Forest High School graduate, holds college degrees from Millikin University and the University of Illinois at Chicago. She was nominated for the awards by the parents of her students. She then had to complete a rather exhausting application process.

“In February, I had to officially apply for the award,” she said. “I had to write five essays and get three letters of recommendation — one from my principal, one from a parent and one from a colleague.”

Saliny found out that she was one of the 30 finalists for the award when two representatives from the Gold Apple Foundation arrived at Irving to observe her in action and assess “who I am as a teacher and a person.”

The foundation officials found that Saliny “starts each day with a ‘morning meeting’ where students sing songs, play games, and set the emotional tone for the day,” according to a statement by the foundation.

“Her students have disabilities ranging from autism to speech to intellectual disabilities, and it is challenging for her students to express their communication preference with her,” the statement said. “Therefore, she uses a variety of techniques, from sign language to physical gestures, to visual representations of progress. She learns about each student’s like and dislikes and incorporates that into lessons.”

On Wednesday, May 13, Golden Apple officials, parents, colleagues, Irving administrators and members of Saliny’s family showed up to the school to formally announce the news. Throughout the Golden Apple’s 30-year history, District 97 has had at least eight award recipients. 

“This district is very proud of the accomplishments of our teachers and pleased by [Saliny’s] efforts,” said John Hodge, Irving’s principal.

Each Gold Apple Award recipient earns $5,000 and is given a spring sabbatical to study at Northwestern University tuition-free. The foundation will honor the recipients at an Oct. 30 awards ceremony held at WTTW/Channel 11 Studios in Chicago. The public TV channel will also broadcast the event as a one-hour television program. 

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