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Alumna Maddi Bodine reaps confidence, motivation from Golden Apple surprise

May 31, 2021
Maddi Bodine
Maddi Bodine

Maddi Bodine knew in advance that she needed to gather with her Kingston Elementary School community at half-past nine that Thursday morning.

Yet the teacher of Pre-K students with special needs only had part of the story.

Children and their teachers at Kingston had been counting the last 26 days of school by letters of the alphabet, and May 6 was “E” – as in “exercise.”

“We were all supposed to wear exercise clothes,” says Bodine, an NIU alumna who earned her M.S.Ed. in Literacy Education in 2017, “and at 9:30, there was a whole-school exercise activity out on the playground so that we could be socially distant.”

As Bodine pushed open the door, however, she saw something else waiting.

Her husband, Jay, who holds a 2016 B.S.Ed. in Special Education from NIU and teaches at Kaneland High School. Their 13-month-old son, Baylor. TV news crews with microphones, cameras and satellite trucks. Newspaper photographers. Round, yellow posters with her name, messages of congratulations and excited pictures, all drawn in colorful marker. Cheering fans, including former students.

She was a Golden Apple.

“I don’t know how they pulled off such a huge surprise, and to involve the whole school was so sweet. I couldn’t believe it; I was just in total disbelief. It was just so surreal seeing my whole family there. I was glad they got my family the message ahead of time,” says Bodine, whose hand instinctively covered her masked mouth as she felt a rush of emotions.

Maddi Bodine
Maddi Bodine

“To be considered a finalist was enough for me – that was a huge honor – but to be named a recipient is incredible,” she says. “It’s not what I was expecting: You don’t think you’re great. You just show up to work, do your best and support your students and their families in the best way you can.”

Despite her immediate doubt that morning – “Is this real? Do they really mean to be picking me?” – Bodine has consciously processed and even welcomed the recognition since.

“Golden Apples are the highest awards for teaching that you can be given in Illinois. It’s so competitive and selective, going from over 700 nominees to just 10 winners, and they’re definitely careful with how they choose people,” she says. “To even be considered worthy – that someone put my name in, and I still don’t know who it was – means so much to me.”

Leaders of the state’s top organization “committed to preparing, honoring and supporting great educators who advance educational opportunities for students” clearly finds Bodine deserving.

President Alan Mather called Bodine and her nine fellow winners “outstanding teachers (who) transform the lives of students, schools and communities over the course of their careers. Their resilience and perseverance in this past year – and their careers – has been nothing short of amazing.”

Reasons cited for her win paint a glowing picture.

  • “Bodine uses a combination of parent interviews, observation and formal, yet age-appropriate, assessments to determine a child’s strengths and areas for growth, and designs her instruction accordingly.”
  • “In addition to her own teaching, Bodine works with a speech therapist, physical therapist, occupational therapist and social worker on a daily basis to ensure her students have the support they need to thrive.”
  • “One of Bodine’s colleagues described her relentlessness in advocating for her students by saying, ‘She will try anything to get through to a student. Maddi has a passion and drive to find solutions to problems. She does not quit until she finds what will make a student tick and celebrates success even in what may seem like the smallest milestones to some people … As soon as her students walk into her room, they light up with smiles and greet her with hugs.’ ”

Golden Apple President Alan Mahter, Jay Bodine, Maddi Bodine, Baylor Bodine and Aaron Wilson of WIFR-23 in Rockford.

Golden Apple President Alan Mather; Jay, Maddi and Baylor Bodine; and Aaron Wilson of WIFR-23.

Bodine regards her Golden Apple as the “ultimate thank-you note.”

“One of the things I always pride myself on, and try to do my best with, is forming relationships with students and forming relationships with families,” she says. “I show them I care. I show them that I will do anything in my power to help them, or to help their children, to be successful, and I try to celebrate every little victory along the way.”

Earning her master’s degree from the NIU Department of Curriculum and Instruction provided a variety of classes focused on the needs of the ESL/Bilingual learners, Bodine says, and continue to inform her practice at Kingston.

Maddi Bodine and Jennifer Johnson, director of Teaacher Preparation and Development in the NIU College of Education

Maddi Bodine and Jennifer Johnson, director of Teacher Preparation and Development in the College of Education.

“NIU really gave me specific classes that helped me develop the literacy development in my students – reading, writing, speaking, listening skills,” she says. “I learned about making meaning for students, especially for my students at this young age, and making my meaning comprehensible.”

Already fluent in Spanish, she also came away with effective strategies and tools to reach children who hear and speak other languages at home.

“I obviously can use Spanish with some of my students,” Bodine says, “but in showing videos, or pictures, or using technology to show or demonstrate a new vocabulary word, or demonstrating that through activities, I can help a broader population.”

Moving forward, Bodine is still pondering how to use the spring sabbatical provided by Golden Apple: With degrees in special education and ESL/Bilingual literacy education, she would like to learn more about early childhood education to extend her scope of practice beyond those two populations.

She also is grateful for the validation of her work, even if she was the only one caught off guard by what happened May 6 on the playground.

“My family said they weren’t surprised. They hear me talking about how much I enjoy my students and the people I work with; my team is so wonderful – the related service people I work with, the paraprofessionals,” she says.

Maddi Bodine
Maddi Bodine

“My mom says she always sees me struggle with being confident in thinking that I’m doing a good job, and you don’t always get to hear that in education, so this reassured me that I am doing a good job, and it came at a good time,” she adds.

“This has been such a hard year for everyone in education – mentally, emotionally and physically draining – and at the end of the year, you’re feeling like you have nothing left, and then this kind of gave me a little bit more back in the tank. This has been a great ending.”

And, she says, the party in the playground was a great example for Kingston students and the other well-wishers of what’s possible.

“I hope that it just makes them enjoy coming to school, enjoy learning and working and, when things feel difficult, to celebrate other people,” Bodine says. “I try to celebrate even the smallest things with my students, praising them as much as I can, and I hope that helps them to think about how they can encourage someone else and give them a compliment, because you never know when someone is feeling down or might need a boost.”