Golden Apple

Carmel teacher helps students, parents overcome hardship

Carmel teacher helps students, parents overcome hardship

Carmel, Ind. (WISH) — Since she began teaching at Mohawk Trails Elementary in 1999, Cherie Struve has taught hundreds of children. She’s also inspired dozens of teachers. For at least one family in Carmel, Mrs. Struve changed the course of their lives.

“We moved to Carmel about five years ago,” said Brandy Hitzeman. “My husband and I are recovering alcoholics and addicts and so we went into treatment. We wanted to get into a really good community for our kids and having grown up here, we know Carmel is the best.”

Brandy Hitzeman and her husband are high school sweethearts from Carmel and now parents to three children.

Photo Provided/ Hitzeman Family

“We had some struggles and some pitfalls trying to get them acclimated,” said Brandy. “They were really behind academically. Alexandra never passed state standardized testing. She was held back. Michael as well was held back his first year in Carmel because they were just so far behind.”

Then Alexandra got into Mrs. Cherie Struve’s fifth grade class and Mrs. Struve came up with a plan. Alexandra hesitantly took the ISTEP exam later that year.

Photo Proided/Hitzeman Family

“We gave up on checking because at that point there was no use of it,” remembered Alexandra Hitzeman, now in eighth grade at Clay Middle School.

Then one day at the park, Brandy and Alexandra happened to come across Mrs. Struve.

“I see her walking up and she had this big smile on her face and she goes, ‘did you hear the news?’ Alexandra and I looked at her and say ‘no,’ and she said ‘Alexandra passed the ISTEP,'” said Brandy. “And she gave her the biggest hug.”

“I had never passed before so it was actually the most amazing thing in my whole entire life,” said Alexandra. “To be honest I still wish I was in her class even until this day.”

Fast forward and Brandy’s second child, Michael, is now in Mrs. Struve’s fifth grade class. Brandy says Michael has different needs than Alexandra, but Mrs. Struve is meeting them with the same energy and kindness.

“She’s provided the encouragement and the love and she just surrounds him in warmth,” said Brandy. “What finally got me was during break, she sent a personal letter to Michael listing a whole list of things she was thankful for him for. And down at the bottom she said, ‘I love you more.”‘

Brandy explained Mrs. Struve and Michael exchange “I love you” and “I love you more” often in class.

“That’s the kind of woman she is. She is so loving. She is loving. And she is warm,” said Brandy through tears.

Photo Provided/ Hitzeman Family

The Hitzemans also noted that Mrs. Struve has encouraged them as parents as well, writing them note saying “You’re an amazing Mom. You’re doing great job.”

“As a parent she gives even us encouragement,” said Brandy. “I never expected a teacher to make the impact that she has.”

So when the Hitzeman family nominated Mrs. Struve for the Golden Apple Award, we knew Mrs. Struve would be the perfect recipient.

We walked into her classroom early one Friday morning. The lights happened to be off, so our cameras were within feet of her when the lights came on and she noticed our surprise. She jumped out of her chair in shock, then relaxed, seeing the smiling faces of her principal and fellow teachers.

Bailey and Wood Mortgage presented Mrs. Struve with an oversized $500 check, a shiny Golden Apple trophy, and their heartfelt thanks for being a fantastic teacher in central Indiana.

Then Brenna Donnelly and our WISH-TV Golden Apple team played the special nomination video we created with the Hitzeman family, fellow teacher Michelle Curran, principal Jennifer Greene, and fellow 5th grade student Gabby. View the nomination video in full below.

“I’m just so taken aback because I love them so much the fact that they love me just as much, just means so much,” smiled Mrs. Struve through sparkling eyes.

She credits her teaching style and success to her school, Mohawk Trails Elementary, where she’s been an educator for 21 years. She said the community there has taught her to love first and teach second.

“To say I’ve made a difference, that’s why you do it. That’s why you do it,” she said.

If you’d like to nominate a teacher for next month’s Golden Apple Award, tell us your story at this link.

To watch other award-winning teacher surprises, visit this link.

Golden Apple preview