Apple Award winners find joy in teaching

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When Apple Award winners Chantel Astler and John McKinney talk about teaching, both use the word “joy.”

It’s likely that unabashed love of what they do that earned them a place on stage during the March 17 Apple Awards ceremony.

The two were chosen from among thousands of nominees, their names announced during the Academy Award-style event sponsored by the Douglas County Education Foundation.

“It was an incredible honor,” Flagstone Elementary School teacher Astler said. “It was a little scary to walk up there, but definitely worth it.”

Astler teaches a class new to the Castle Rock school this year called the Future of Energy and Sustainability. The course was created for her by Flagstone’s principal. Her students compost, garden and strive to create a zero-waste school lunchroom. Thanks to a grant Astler pursued, the school will soon boast another educational tool: a wind turbine.

“It’s such an innovative position I’m in right now,” said the six-year Flagstone teacher, who previously taught at Parker’s Pine Lane and Frontier Valley elementary schools. “I’m able to do a lot of inquiry and 21st-century learning.”

The students shared enthusiasm for learning feeds Astler’s enthusiasm for her work.

“It’s the joy of discovery and learning something new every day from your students,” she said. “I had a fourth-grader who said, ‘The day we know everything will be a sad day because there’ll be nothing left to discover.’”

Astler lives in Highlands Ranch with her husband, Doug.

McKinney, a science teacher at Mountain Ridge Middle School in Highlands Ranch, fell in love with science decades ago, and later learned the rewards of teaching. That flipped his priorities.

“Kids first, curriculum second,” he said.

Like Astler, he isn’t sure why he was chosen for the award, but acknowledges, “I don’t teach like other people.

“I don’t use a book. I have all my own writings. I teach a systems approach to science. It’s very different.”

And it works.

“Physical science is particularly cool,” McKinney said. “Most of the stuff I teach – weather, astronomy – they’ve seen but don’t know how it works. That’s where I get my job, is watching them when they figure out why something works.”

Teaching eighth-graders is its own reward, he said. “Some people are terrified of eighth-graders but I am absolutely in love with them. They’re miniature adults, but still open-minded.”

McKinney lives in Sedalia with his wife Mindy.

Both he and Astler are grateful to the DCEF for hosting the annual awards ceremony.

“That’s an important thing to those of us who teach — having people recognize what we do,” McKinney said. “We don’t do it for money. So it’s really nice when people go out of their way to make a special evening for teachers.”

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