Justin Opiola and principal

Chicago Heights School District 170 and Grant School are pleased to announce that Justin Opiola, a 4th/5th-grade teacher at the school, has been nominated for the prestigious Golden Apple award.

Marco Pellillo, the school's principal, recommended Opiola, who has been teaching at the school since 2004, for the award.

“I nominated Mr. Opiola for many different reasons,” Pellillo said, “but perhaps the most important is the fact that Justin’s energy in the classroom is contagious and his students share his enthusiasm and belief in the importance of learning. “

Cheri Wright, a veteran teacher at the school who serves alongside Opiola on the school's Leadership Team, echoed Pellillo’s remarks.

“One key to Justin’s success is his ability to identify with, and relate to, each student; to make them feel special and to believe that they can achieve success,” she said.

After being nominated, Opiola was required to submit an application to the Golden Apple Foundation along with letters of recommendation from a school administrator, a teaching colleague, and an individual who values his commitment to teaching.

A selection committee from the Golden Apple Foundation will review all application packages and will choose thirty finalists for the award in early February.

Once selected, members of the Selection Committee will meet with the nominees, and observe them in their classrooms. From those finalists, the Selection Committee will choose ten Golden Apple Award recipients.

Each Golden Apple winner will receive a paid spring quarter sabbatical to study tuition-free at Northwestern University; recognition at an awards ceremony broadcast on WTTW/Channel 11 in May of 2017; induction into the prestigious Golden Apple Academy of Educators; and a cash award of $5,000.

Opiola, while pleased to learn of his nomination, was quick to defer credit for the recognition.

“Any praise or recognition that I receive I owe to all of the scholars of Grant School,” he said. “The students are the ones who make all of my experiences worthwhile and enjoyable.”

“I don’t go to work; I go to school because, just like the students, I’m here each day to learn.”

“The impact that an educator has extends well beyond the classroom. Since our school has students from Kindergarten through eighth grade I enjoy getting to know all of the students; it takes so little time but has such a positive effect on the children,” he continued.

Opiola’s philosophy of education centers on engagement, independent thinking, and student responsibility. He believes that giving students the opportunity to be problem solvers both independently and as part of a group enhances the learning dynamic.

“As an educator,” he said, “there’s nothing better than having a student propose an idea or thought that makes you wonder, ‘Now, why didn’t I think of that?’”!

Opiola believes that in molding well-mannered, positive, productive problem-solvers now, he is providing them with a foundation that will help them to become responsible adults capable of reaching unlimited goals.

Grant PTO President Samara Lloyd and SD170 Superintendent Tom Amadio were pleased to acknowledge Opiola’s Golden Apple recognition.

“I've had the privilege to witness Justin not only teach and guide students but also be a dynamic leader for our school community,” Lloyd said, “and I believe that his commitment to all of the Grant School community deserves to be honored.”

“District 170 is lucky to have a teacher of Justin’s abilities working at Grant School,” Amadio remarked. “His commitment, passion, and dedication to making life better for our students are well deserving of Golden Apple recognition.”