Six local educators have been named finalists for the 2017 Crystal Apple Teacher awards program, with the three winners to be announced Thursday night at a recognition banquet at the Clarion Inn.

The finalists are Janet Hackett of Garden City High School, Sarah Harris of Victor Ornelas Elementary School, Julia Morales of Buffalo Jones Elementary School, Dru Saddler of GCHS, Sarah Shrimplin of Edith Scheuerman Elementary School, and Dixie Teeter of Victor Ornelas.

The Crystal Apple program honors outstanding teachers in Finney County. The top three finalists will be named as Crystal Apple Teachers and will receive an engraved crystal apple, $1,000 cash award, and an iPad tablet. The three runners-up each will be presented with a cash award of $250.

Tickets are still available for Thursday's banquet, which begins at 6:30 p.m. They cost $25 and can be purchased at, or at the Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce office, 1511 E. Fulton Terrace. Tickets must be purchased by 5 p.m. Tuesday. For more information, call (620) 276-3264.

The Telegram sent each of the finalists a questionnaire. Today's paper features the responses of Hackett, Harris and Morales. Wednesday's edition will feature Saddler, Shrimplin and Teeter.


Janet Hackett

School: Garden City High School

Grade/subjects: 11, 12 Student Leadership and Anatomy and Physiology

Years at current school: 4 years

Years in USD 457: 4 years

Years teaching: 4 years

Hometown: Mount Pleasant, Mich.

Family: Husband, Ryan Hackett

Education: Bachelor's of Science from Michigan State University, post baccalaureate from Central Michigan University and an ESL Endorsement through Fort Hays State University.

Extracurricular activities: student council sponsor, prom committee sponsor, Green Club sponsor, and assistant cross country coach at GCHS.

Community involvement: Community service efforts through Student Council.


How did you get into teaching?

My mother was an educator and therefore I fought the urge to follow her into education. I had always been inquisitive and found science challenging and equally interesting. I pursued a degree in turf grass management from Michigan State University and thoroughly enjoyed the coursework. During a summer internship, I had the opportunity to work with campers at an Arboretum, helping them analyze soil pH. During this time, it was rewarding to work with these students as it reminded me of camp counseling in the past and how much I enjoyed watching young minds at work. I decided upon graduation I would continue my education to become a science teacher.


What is the most rewarding part of being a teacher?

Everyday is a new day as a teacher! Although we must be ever changing, forming meaningful relationships with my students rewards the hard work and hours spent prepping lessons. Having the opportunity to work with students in varying settings such as student council and as student athletes really helps remind me of why I teach.


What is your teaching method, or what unique or different methods do you use in your classroom?

I try to vary how content is presented in the classroom. Whether we are taking interactive notes or students are completing simulations to practice the content, it is important to me that I differentiate for numerous learning styles. Similarly, students are often given the opportunity to complete projects using the method of their choice as long as the final product meets the requirements.


How do you connect with your students?

In an effort to connect with my students I spend time at the beginning of the year getting to know their interests, what kind of jobs they may have, and activities or athletics they participate in. It is also important to me that I attend their events and make myself seen in an effort to show my support. I truly care about the well-being of my students and try to make that known.


What was your reaction when you found out you were a Crystal Apple finalist?

I was extremely humbled to be named one of the six Crystal Apple Finalists. It is so nice to be recognized for my efforts, and I am truly appreciative of this program and what it offers to educators.


Sarah Harris

School: Victor Ornelas Elementary School

Grade/subjects: Third grade

Years at current school: 6 years

Years in USD 457: 6 years

Years teaching: 6 years

Hometown: Perry, Mich.

Family: Single

Education: Baker College for bachelor’s, Kansas State University for master’s (half done)

Extracurricular activities: Engage NY math pilot program, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) 1:1 pilot

Community involvement: Church of the Nazarene - children and teens programs


How did you get into teaching?

Believe it or not, I hated school until my senior year. Then I was able to spend my last hour, my senior year, helping in a fourth grade class. Working with the students and seeing how the teacher interacted with them inspired my calling.


What is the most rewarding part of being a teacher?

The most rewarding part of being a teacher is seeing my students persevere when things are hard. You can tell when a student is struggling with a topic, and you can also see them pushing through and trying their best. The most rewarding part is seeing the light bulb click on after the struggle.


What is your teaching method, or what unique or different methods do you use in your classroom?

My teaching method revolves around brain science. So everything we do is done to activate many different parts of my students’ brains. We have flexible seating, we memorize skills and vocabulary words with gestures and we build a growth mindset.


How do you connect with your students?

I connect with my students through town meetings. A town council is elected at the beginning of the year, and we have a town meeting every Friday. During the meeting, we give compliments to each other and we discuss new and old business. During that time, students can bring up anything they feel that we need to work on as a class or things that we are really good at. This allows my students to feel like they are part of the decision-making process and builds class community.


What was your reaction when you found out you were a Crystal Apple finalist?

I was thrilled when I found out I was a finalist. I knew the 11 other semi-finalists are all great teachers. I feel honored to be chosen.


What would it mean to you if you won the Crystal Apple?

Winning Crystal Apple would be a great honor. It would mean that my efforts and innovations in the classroom have been recognized by the community.


What would it mean to you if you won the Crystal Apple?

Being a recipient of the Crystal Apple would be extremely meaningful. As an educator, having our time and energy acknowledged at the community level is one of the highest honors in my opinion.


Julia Alejandra Morales

School: Buffalo Jones Elementary School

Grade/subjects: second/third grade loop; currently teaching third grade.

Years at current school: 10

Years in USD 457: 10

Years teaching: 10

Hometown: Garden City; Texas native who moved to Garden City from Uvalde, Texas, when I was 14 and have been here for 17 years

Family: Parents, Rosalinda Del Toro and Everett Morales, Sr.; brother, Everett Morales Jr.; sisters, Natalie Armijo and Katy Del Toro; nephew, Zayden Zapata; and niece, Alicia Morales.

Education: Garden City High School (2004); Kansas State University (2008), with a bachelor’s of science in elementary education and endorsement in English as a Second Language; Newman University (2013) with a masters of science in curriculum and instruction with an emphasis as a reading specialist.

Extracurricular activities: Tutor for Kansas Reading Roadmap (KRR); Talent Show co-coordinator at Buffalo Jones; past involvement in PTO, service learning club, multicultural club, and KSU math academy.

Community involvement: Garden City Church of the Nazarene


How did you get into teaching?

It happened by accident. I applied to be a student helper for project effort (an after-school program) my junior year of high school. It was the only after-school job my mom would let me have. I wanted a “cool” high school job in retail, but no one would hire me and my mom wanted me to focus on school. Helping out at Jennie Wilson ended up being where I discovered I wanted to teach.


What is the most rewarding part of being a teacher?

The connections that are made with the students and parents are so rewarding. Both end up feeling like family, and I definitely feel that more since I started looping with my classes. Also, the ability you have to impact a student’s life is so great. It’s amazing to see both academic and personal growth from a child.


What is your teaching method, or what unique or different methods do you use in your classroom?

I use a variety of instructional methods from collaboration with partners and small groups, to independent activities, along with whole group instruction. There has to be variation to help meet the needs of the different learners. Music, dancing and singing happen often in my room. No matter what I am teaching or how I teach, one thing I really strive for is having strong peer and teacher relationships. I want my students to feel welcomed when they are with me.


How do you connect with your students?

The biggest way I connect with students is through establishing rapport, respect and trust. … I let students know that we will be spending the majority of our days together, and because of that, we are like family. … We celebrate one another’s successes, and we encourage one another during struggles. Not only do we learn academic curriculum, but we work on life skills. … We practice communicating feelings, forgiving and goal setting.


What was your reaction when you found out you were a Crystal Apple finalist?

Shock, excitement and humility all rolled into one. I was feeling a little doubtful after the interview, but my heart swelled inside my chest as I saw the judges enter my classroom to deliver the news. It wasn’t until after they left that it truly hit me. I had to sit down as I was overcome with emotion. Tears of joy and gratitude streamed down my face.


What would it mean to you if you won the Crystal Apple?

If I won, it would be a way to say thank you to all the people who have loved me, supported and invested in my life throughout my 31 years. I would not be and could not be who or what I am without riding on the shoulders’ of giants. ... It serves as a reminder that with love, patience, nurturing and care, all can blossom. The power of our influence is great, and we labor not in vain.