CHAMPAIGN — For inspiring the fifth-graders she teaches “through her positivity, belief that any student can learn and her dedication to creating a classroom with a culture of learning,” International Prep Academy’s Kim Tate is among 30 finalists for a state educator of the year award.

The Chicago-based nonprofit Golden Apple Foundation on Thursday unveiled the select list of middle school teachers in grades four through eight following a “highly competitive” process. Different grade levels are highlighted each year for the award, which comes with $5,000 cash and a spring sabbatical at Northwestern University.

Tate, among the community members who contributed to last week's N-G Black History Month quiz, was singled out for structuring her IPA classroom “to integrate more collaborative learning opportunities,” according to the selection committee. “This has culminated in the students coming together to present unique final projects.

"Tate’s lessons empower her students to celebrate their cultural and linguistic heritage and have even sparked inspiration beyond the classroom, prompting some parents to pursue adult education courses in their community.”

Winning teachers will be surprised with spring ceremonies at their school, as happened in 2021 at Unit 4’s Dr. Howard Elementary, when kindergarten teacher Dominique McCotter was presented with a Golden Apple Award for Excellence.

Prior to that, the last time a C-U educator was honored was 2008, when three were among 20 Illinois teachers selected for Golden Apple awards — Urbana’s Elaine Harmon (Thomas Paine Elementary) and Champaign’s Shameem Rakha (Franklin Middle School) and Hillary Sawyer (Booker T. Washington Elementary).

Jeff D'Alessio is editor of The News-Gazette. His email is jdalessio@news-gazette.com.