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Golden Apple Award Winners: Class of 2023

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — WISH-TV is Indiana’s education station and honored nine teachers with the Golden Apple Award in the 2022-2023 school year.

The News 8 team collected student, parent, and community member nominations each month, then surprised the winning teachers in class. The award comes with a trophy, a $500 school supply shopping spree to Teachers’ Treasures, and a nomination video featuring their students explaining the teacher’s positive impact.

In the Golden Apple Grand Finale Special, aired Wednesday night on WISH-TV, all nine teachers were invited to the WISH-TV studios for a celebration of their achievements. One teacher was also honored as the Grand Finale Award winner.

Nathaniel Truitt from Hinkle Creek Elementary School in Noblesville was crowned as the Grand Finale Winner on Wednesday night for his “class family” approach to teaching.

After the surprise, he was given another video from his students and a “Summer of Fun” swag bag from WISH-TV.

Grand Finale Award

(WISH-TV Photo – Class of 2023)

September’s Winner: Isaac Adams

Isaac Adams embodies the tech at Arsenal Tech High School in Indianapolis. He teaches engineering and uses some really amazing technology to get students excited about STEM.

“Students vote with their feet. They want to be in his classes, which can only say great things about what is going on in his classes,” Assistant Principal Patrick Kennison said.

Adams connects science and engineering to the real world.

“It doesn’t stay theoretical and it allows him to push the kids further,” said Kennison. “It is not sitting and just hearing about what is possible, it is actually getting the opportunity to experience and do.”

Adams does scavenger hunts with students and created a 3D printing lab in his classroom. He runs the robotics club after school and created a YouTube page so students can better understand the tough subjects.

“His classroom has this atmosphere of you cannot be upset in there,” 11th-grade student Serenity Freeman said. “He lets you know that if you need help, he is there. You are never going to have to struggle alone.”

When students face struggles in life, he always has a listening ear. Plus, they just think he’s cool.

“He has a full 3D-printed Mandalorian and that is pretty cool,” said 11th-grade student Goodness Makanjuola. “Mr. Adams is a fun teacher to be around.”

(WISH-TV Photo: Isaac Adams)

October’s Winner: Amy Mitchell

Amy Mitchell teaches biomedical science at the McKenzie Career Center of Innovation and Technology, where students from Lawrence North and Lawrence Central High Schools get schooled in life.

Mitchell always puts her students first, including caring for her class while battling cancer.

“Amy Mitchell is a rock star. She is just one of the best people I have ever met. Forget education, she just is a beautiful person. She is here early, she stays late. She is so passionate about what she does for our students in the biomedical science program. She loves everything that she does,” Mari Swayne, career center director, said.

Last year, Mitchell was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, which the Mayor Clinic describes as a “cancer that forms in a type of white blood cell called a plasma cell.” There is no cure, only the possibility of remission.

Mitchell’s twin sister, Lauri Malinka, says Mitchell was focused most on her students after the diagnosis.

“Her students. They have always been first, and it is just a true show of character to who she is — that they came first. Because she said, ‘I don’t want to let them down.’ She had cancer and she didn’t want to let them down,” Malinka said. “She wanted to wait as long as she could to let them know she did have cancer.” 

“She is that teacher that, if you could give all the awards to, you would. I just love who she is and I know that bond is special,” Tara Neal, a senior at Lawrence North, said.

She considers Mitchell a mentor, friend, and medical inspiration.

“She takes what she does so seriously, but with so much love,” Neal said. “Her students are her priority. It doesn’t surprise me at all that she puts her students above herself.”

(WISH-TV Photo: Amy Mitchell)

November’s Winner: Shawn Davis

Shawn Davis is November’s winner and is already “Westfield famous,” according to students and staff in the Westfield-Washington School District.

Students across the district recognize Davis as the man behind the camera. His home base is at Westfield High School, where he teaches kids about video and media production.  His students say he empowers people to follow their passions, and it’s time for him to be the star.

“He makes those real connections with people and that is how he has become Westfield famous,” Josh Andrews, the Director of Communications for Westfield-Washington Schools, said.

Davis the man behind the scenes at “Rocks Media House.”

“I feel like he really just helps people find their passions and kind of move forward with those things. And he inspires students to be themselves,” senior Lauren Park said.

“He is not boastful at all about it but he is definitely really great at what he does,” senior Gavin Smith added.

Davis is teaching kids the steps behind broadcasting, but his best talent is making students the stars. He helps them see their own potential in life.

“Now I just love writing and doing that type of stuff and he inspired my passion for it,” Park said.

(WISH-TV Photo: Shawn Davis)

December’s Winner: Ali DeHart

Ali DeHart lifts the spirits of students in Perry Township by always putting them first. She is a special education teacher at Abraham Lincoln Elementary School and is known for giving her heart to every student. 

“Ali just embraces everyone and it is almost like they become her own children,” Corrie Callahan, a master teacher in the special education program at Abraham Lincoln Elementary School, said.

Every year, DeHart shares her love for her students, by raising money on social media and buying them holiday gifts.

“She is able to purchase gifts that really work around who that child is, what they value. What they pay attention to, what will bring them joy and entertainment. And so she is able to purchase gifts that are very unique to each child to really bless them for the holiday,” Callahan said.

DeHart is invested in every student. She teaches both life skills and academics to kids of all ages. She also engages with parents by providing constant updates, photos, and videos to families on a private classroom Facebook page. For DeHart, her students are a lifelong commitment. She teaches some of her students for years.

DeHart is so committed to this work that she helps people shine in the Indiana Miss Amazing program.

As the director of Indiana Miss Amazing, DeHart helps coordinate volunteers, raise money for the program, and help people participate in the events. She sees the best in every person, and the potential they have in life, even if that means at times her heart will break. Last year, one of her students passed away.

“Ali just embraces everyone and it’s almost like they become her own children in a way and just – a lifelong investment to you. In the environment she serves in, unfortunately, it is a reality that sometimes our students don’t have the same level of life expectancy. That loss is very acute and felt very deeply because these children become a part of you –- a part of your family — and Ali takes that very seriously. And she anticipates, ‘You are mine forever, we are going to be family forever,’ and so, in that loss, it has just been very painful,” Callahan said.

(WISH-TV Photo: Ali DeHart)

January’s Winner: Nathaniel Truitt

At Hinkle Creek Elementary School, students in the third grade understand the meaning of family.

It’s all thanks to their teacher, Nathaniel Truitt, and his “class family.”

“He makes it a class family and he just loves us,” 8-year-old Olivia Guest said. “It means so much to me that he calls us ‘family.’”

Elissa Dee, who has a daughter in Truitt’s classroom, tells News 8: “He sees the parents as part of the class family. We are an extended family. So he wants to make sure we are involved and feel included as well.”

Parents said Truitt often calls them, simply to tell them the good news about their kids. He also goes with the families to students’ extracurricular activities. He is so committed to his class family that he has a calendar where he can schedule going to afterschool activities on a regular basis, with the help of the parents.

“He is the type of teacher that in 30 years, every one of his kids is going to remember him,” John Dee, who has a daughter in Mr. Truitt’s classroom, said. “When he says he cares about your child, he really does care.”

Truitt’s classroom does not have typical desks. Instead, it is furnished like a family room with dining room tables, couches, and family pictures on the walls. New photos are added throughout the year, similar to a home.

“I walked in and was like, ‘It is Starbucks in here. I mean, it does look like it,’” Sember Darland, another parent, said.

Students sit around the table as “Class family #8” and every week, they wear family T-shirts on “Truitt Tuesdays.”

The class family also does community events together. The students recently spoke at a school board meeting and every summer there are Truitt Family Reunions.

Truitt’s fellow third-grade teachers say he is dedicated to his students for life.

“Something that really sets his class apart is his dedication to building the whole child,” Erin Brown, a fellow teacher, said. “Mr. Truitt is amazing as a teacher. He is all in 100%. He embodies what it means to go above and beyond for his class family.”

(WISH-TV Photo: Nathaniel Truitt)

February’s Winner: Amy Kamwendo

Amy Kamwendo helps students shine on and off the stage in Pike Township. Now, her choir and musical theater students are singing her praises.

Kamwendo makes all of her students the stars at Guion Creek Middle School by supporting them with love. Through singing, she sparks confidence and shapes students for years to come.

“She made me realize that I can act and I can sing. And not feel ashamed or embarrassed. And she just makes me feel really loved and I am really grateful for her,” Jasmine Martinez, a seventh-grade student, said.

Martinez said Mrs. Kamwendo has the ability to get students to shine in choir, in musical theater, and most of all, in life.

“She definitely pours her happiness and brightness onto other students,” Rhian Brooks, an eighth-grade student, said. “To know that there is someone that does care for us and that does want us to be who we truly are. And I think everyone appreciates that as a whole.”

Kamwendo is turning “High School Musical” into a middle school reality. She even has staff sing and dance alongside students. She pulls off massive productions ranging from “Annie” to “Aladdin.”

“She is kind of a bubble of positivity,” Guion Creek Middle School Principal Trachell Taylor said.

According to Taylor, Kamwendo can spark confidence in anyone.

“Putting them in a position where they can see themselves shine automatically boosts their confidence and makes them want to participate in the arts,” Taylor said. 

“It’s an event. They sell tickets and it is set up in the auditorium like a musical theater. There are tables and the stage and props and set and costumes and lighting. I mean, it is not your typical middle school performance,” Kelly Looper, school librarian, said.

(WISH-TV photo: Amy Kamwendo)

March’s Winner: Dustin Homan

Dustin Homan is an educator at Purdue Polytechnic High School North in Indianapolis, where all teachers are called ‘coaches.’  He started teaching in the middle of the pandemic to help kids. Now, his students say his coaching is changing lives.

“Dustin Homan is an outstanding teacher. Because of the ways he cares about his students,” Ethan Mackinnon said as he read the nomination letter he sent WISH-TV.

Mackinnon is a senior, a student of Coach Homan, and also serves as his Teacher’s Assistant. 

“He has shaped my life and changed my life because of his leadership skills,” Mackinnon said. “He really will go the extra mile just to make sure kids are learning well. That’s why I nominated him — he is truly one of the greatest teachers/coaches that I have really ever had the pleasure of experiencing a classroom with.”

Homan teaches world geography, government, and agriculture by getting kids out of the classroom on field trips almost every week.

In February, Homan took students to Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., immersing them in education using real life. Plus, the students paid for the trip with money from a Coffee Cart business Homan helped the kids build.

“We wouldn’t have done it if it weren’t for him. If he wasn’t trying to motivate us, to find something we are passionate about and get it done, we wouldn’t have done it,” Jack Langlois, a junior, said.

With Homan’s help, the students built the school’s Coffee Cart. They learned the chemistry behind the bean, brewed a PPHS Blend, and made the cart into a profitable business.

Homan has mastered motivating students as a teacher, despite being new to the position.

“Coach Homan actually came into education at the height of the pandemic. When a lot of educators were choosing to exit education, he came in, because he really understood the need for more high-quality educators and he really had the desire to have an incredible impact on the lives of children,” Dr. Keeanna Warren, CEO of Purdue Polytechnic High Schools, said.

“He came at the time that he was needed the most, and at a time when educators are constantly leaving the classroom, he made the choice to be there for students. Every day, he comes in and puts 100% into everything he does.”

(WISH-TV photo: Dustin Homan)

April’s Winner: Leiwanna (Wannie) Taylor

Leiwanna “Wannie” Taylor is a Spanish teacher at Pike High School who also speaks the language of high school students. She connects with the students through culture and care. While learning a new language can be hard, Taylor’s creative approach and passion for the subject make her una excelente profesora de español.

“She is always there for everyone – honestly. Even if it is not school related and you are going through personal problems at home, she is always there to give you the advice you need and motives you to keep going,” sophomore Amy Alvarez said.

Many of Taylor’s students describe her as a friend, a mentor, or even a “school mom.” Plus, she thinks of her students as her own kids. Her classroom features a wall decorated with pictures of current and former students. And Taylor’s students think she is just as special.

“She is like my school best friend. I love her so much. She just deserves the world,” Elisha Gamble, a senior, said.

Taylor often incorporates games into education to help students process the language while having real-life experiences, immersing students in other cultures, and getting to know their culture along the way.

“She is definitely one of our best and brightest,” Principal Troy Inman said.

During Taylor’s 20 years of teaching, Inman says, she’s always been among the best educators.

“We have a Top 30 banquet every year and she is always an honored educator.”

Melissa Ziegler is a Spanish teacher and the department chair for world language at Pike High School. She often sits in on Ms. Taylor’s classes to learn from her methods of teaching Spanish.

“She is very much a mentor, and she has had a lot of student teachers, and she mentors new teachers a lot because her personality is just. She just loves helping people and she is really good at it,” Ziegler said. 

(WISH-TV photo: Wannie Taylor)

May’s Winner: Kourtney Liggett

Kourtney Liggett, a U.S. Army veteran from Speedway, uses Marvel movies to help motivate her fifth-grade students in Wayne Township.

Students at Chapelwood Elementary School say Liggett’s motto is “Be the model.” With that phrase, she helps students lead the way, every day.

“Miss Liggett – she is a character who likes Marvel a lot. She likes superheroes and she is really nice to us,” 11-year-old Mario Martin said. 

Students say Liggett is as legendary as she is generous. From Friday treats to red carpet writing treatment, these kids get the marvelous superhero experience. She always makes sure her students know they’re what’s most important. Therefore, she does whatever it takes – even YouTube dances and lobster costumes — to get students excited about reading and writing.

“She always says, ‘Be the model – be the leader, don’t be a follower,’” 11-year-old Lewis Fuller said.

There’s no doubt she’s a model for all of us. After six years of serving in the Army, this veteran is new to teaching. This is only her second year teaching and her first time teaching fifth grade.

“The skills she used in the military helped bring that into the classroom,”  fellow fifth-grade teacher Connor O’Day said.  “She really makes the individual student feel like they matter and their work and voice matters.”

Now, after 2 years of teaching, fellow staff say Liggett is already a veteran educator.

“It was very obvious she was going to excel as a teacher,” second grade teacher Rachael Stewart, said. “She goes above and beyond and teaches the whole child. Those kids who have those walls up, she gets those walls down by building relationships with them.”

“At Chapelwood our motto is, ‘Every child, every day – achieving success in every way,’ and she fully embodies that and teaches to the whole child – social, emotional, and academic base,” Angela Brown, the assistant principal at Chapelwood, said.

(WISH-TV photo: Kourtney Liggett)

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

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