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Warren Township teacher spends decade helping student

Meet September’s Golden Apple Award winner!

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — WISH-TV is Indiana’s education station and a new school year means it is time to celebrate extraordinary teachers with the Golden Apple Award. It comes with a trophy, a school supply shopping spree to Teachers’ Treasures, a video message from students and staff, and a surprise visit from the News 8 team. 

September’s winner is Mrs. Rachel Haynes from Lowell Elementary School in the Metropolitan School District of Warren Township.

Haynes has been a special education resource teacher for 25 years. But what really sets her apart is her devotion to her students, which lasts far longer than a school year. In fact, she has spent more than a decade teaching 15-year-old Harley Palmer out of the goodness of her heart.

Harley started kindergarten at Warren Township’s Lowell Elementary School more than 10 years ago and Mrs. Haynes has been with her ever since.

You see – getting to school is hard for Harley. She’s in a wheelchair and, because of her health, she has taken classes at home for most of her life. However, in early September she and her mom, Laura Howell, were determined to go to Lowell Elementary School and talk to News 8 about her teacher.

“It is because she loves me and she is very kind,” Harley said.

Undeniable love. When Harley and her mom heard of the Golden Apple Award, they knew right away that they wanted to nominate Mrs. Haynes. 

“She’s amazing. She is funny and very smart. Very caring. She has one of the biggest hearts I think I have ever met with anyone,” Laura said.

“She has become more of a family – our own family at this point,” Laura went on to say.

“Yeah, she is like a part of our family,” Harley added. 

According to Laura, Mrs. Haynes wanted Harley to feel comfortable and kept teaching her through middle school and now in high school. Three nights a week after school, she goes to Harley’s house to teach, out of the goodness of her heart.

Over the years, there have been scary moments where this family almost lost Harley; however, Haynes was always there. Whether it was at the hospital or just checking in during school breaks, Haynes has been a constant for Harley.

Laura Howell (left) and Harley Palmer. (WISH Photo)

“Makes me want to tear up. Makes me happy. Because it is truly just the love of wanting to be with Harley at this point,” said Laura.

Lowell Elementary School Principal Kim Griffin says Haynes gives herself before, during, and after school, so this time spent helping Harley was no surprise. 

“Build relationships first. And then be able to build academic skills and social skills with our students, and to bring in our families and our community — that is what Rachel does in a nutshell. She is able to really combine all of those and bring them together and really work hard to make those connections with the community and our families,” Griffin said.

Haynes has been a special education resource teacher for 25 years, spending most of that time in Warren Township. She won the district’s Teacher of the Year award in 2021 and took extra courses to teach middle and high school while continuing to care for every elementary student she works with.

“She builds relationships with every classroom. So she is like a foundation piece here at Lowell,” Kris Presley, a fellow teacher, said.

Coworkers say Haynes is the secret to success at this school and at home as a mom to three kids.

“She loves her kids, her family. But she treats all the kids at Lowell as family too. She just is that person,” Presley said.

As a resource teacher, Haynes goes to different classrooms helping students get from where they are to where they need to be. She also often volunteers at school events and is the first to greet children getting off the school bus.

“She does this for every kid. She just really does so much planning and making sure every kid gets exactly what they need. So it doesn’t surprise me at all that she would go above and beyond to help any student,” Presley said.

Harley’s mom wanted to say “thank you,” so she sent the News 8 team a nomination for the WISH-TV Golden Apple Award.

“I honestly don’t know what I would have done without this amazing teacher for my daughter. Mrs. Haynes is truly the best teacher and person we know — she is a hero in our minds and deserves this award and so much more,” Laura said while reading the nomination out loud.

In mid-September, Harley and her mom came back to school one more time and helped the News 8 team surprise Haynes while she was teaching. Haynes was in tears as News 8’s Hanna Mordoh, Harley, and Laura surprised her.

“Wow, I am speechless!” Mrs. Haynes immediately said. “I am overwhelmed. And this is a great kiddo I have worked with for a very long time.”

She went on to say, “I had no idea this was happening! Thank you; thank you so much. This means a lot to me and I have no words.”

Then the News 8 team showed Haynes the video message from fellow staff and Harley. She watched side by side with Harley and was full of emotion.

Harley and Mrs. Haynes watch the WISH-TV surprise video in her classroom. (WISH Photo)

After the video, Haynes said, “Thank you all very much. This was very unexpected. Every day I come to work and it is always a different day for sure and it is always a lot of fun. Thank you.”

When asked what she hopes other people can learn from her story, Haynes said: “Hard work pays off. We all want what is best for kids. Teaching is not an easy gig, but it is so rewarding in so many ways. And I think putting forth that effort, taking the time to make the plans, we see the end results.”

The award coming from Harley made the moment even more meaningful. 

“She is awesome and I knew she loved me because she had told me before. But this is very overwhelming. You are a sweet girl and you are, too, Mom. Thank you so much,” said Haynes.

Hayes is proof that the commitment to care is the foundation of education. It inspires students to push past any obstacle. Inspires students to learn, with love, and perhaps become part of an extended family along the way.

Listen to our in-depth Golden Apple Podcast conversation with Mrs. Haynes, below.

To watch other Golden Apple Award recipients, click this link.

To nominate a deserving teacher for next month’s Golden Apple Award, submit a detailed nomination here.