Wayne Township teacher opens up, connects with diverse students

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — If working as a middle school teacher is tough, being a middle school student may be nearly impossible.

Students across the state each has their own list of struggles and triumphs, things they can control, and some things they just can’t.

“Being at this age, 13, 14, you’re really self conscious you don’t know what to do with yourself,” explained Rebecca Bicknell, an 8th grader at Chapel Hill 7th and 8th Grade Center in Wayne Township Schools. “He really taught me how to be myself.”

That “he” is Mr. Nate Waterfill, 7th grade teacher at Chapel Hill. Mr. Waterfill’s ability to open up to students and enable them o feel comfortable in their own skin is just one of the reasons Bicknell nominated him for WISH-TV’s Golden Apple Award.

“At first I was really lost as a person,” said Bicknell. “But you really kind of figure yourself out while you’re with him because he has a good vibe. He’s so nice. He’s so good with kids.”

Our Golden Apple crew heard that from four other students who couldn’t say enough about Mr. Waterfill’s positive impact.

“He’s like a father figure to me because my dad is in Mexico,” said Miguel Ocampo, 8th grader.

“I have really bad anxiety and he’s helped me calm myself down in situations where I’d be freaking out,” said Tyson Mays, in 8th grade. “Like right now I’d be nervous because of the camera, but he is really good at that, helping people.”

“I used to not like to read like that and now I read a lot more than I used to and I was surprised by that,” said Ariana Smith, in 8th grade.

“It’s like you can connect one on one with him, not only as a teacher but one of your friends too,” said Star Smith, also an 8th grader.

“They just start believing that they can do anything and so as they enter high school they become more confident,” added Kelin Mark, principal at Chapel Hill. “He’s big on just being a good person despite your circumstances in your life.”

Students also said he opens up about his life experiences: battling cancer, growing up with foster siblings, adopting a sister of a different race, encouraging a brother with a disability, battling cancer, raising his young son with his wife.

We also learned Waterfill is the leader of the school’s Young Men of Purpose mentoring program, coach of the summer soccer league, and takes charge of several school service projects with community partners including Wayne Township Fire Department, Adopt-a-family, Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, and Charity: Water.

In order to award a teacher of this caliber, we knew we needed a stage and an audience.

With the help of Chapel Hill teachers and staff, our WISH-TV Golden Apple team surprised Mr. Waterfill during a convocation. He was standing on-stage at the microphone when we stormed in, cameras rolling, $500 check in hand.

“I feel like I’m dreaming,” Waterfill said as we surrounded him. “This doesn’t feel real.”

Bailey Wood from mortgage lender Bailey & Wood presented Mr. Waterfill with a Golden Apple trophy and an oversized $500 check.

“Just to say thanks for all you do for your students, and to keep doing all that you’re doing,” said Wood.

The surprises didn’t end there. Our team then presented Mr. Waterfill with the nomination video we created with those five students and his principal.

Watch the full nomination video here.

Nate Waterfill Golden Apple Nomination Video

“I’m just overwhelmed,” Waterfill said after the video. “My wife and I talked about this the other day, reminiscing about young in love. I felt that when son born. We feel that same love for you guys.”

Some students beamed as Mr. Waterfill continued.

“I want them to know they’re loved,” he said. “One of my mottos is you are your parents prayers personified. For someone, Grandma, Abuelita, Dad, Mom, or maybe just teachers, you’re the living embodiment of what we pray for and hope for and if you remember that you can get through anything.”

Nominate a teacher today for the WISH-TV Golden Apple Award at this link.

Watch previous Golden Apple winning surprises at this link.