- Associated Press - Sunday, May 4, 2014

FRANKFORT, Ill. (AP) - Katelyn Lowery spends an hour each day working with students with special needs in gym class, but that one hour isn’t enough.

“This is my favorite class of the day by far,” said the senior at Lincoln-Way North High School. Lowery had just finished working with a fellow student on stretching and cardio exercises. “Taking this class made me want to become a teacher.”

Lowery got one step closer to her goal this year when she was selected as a 2014 Golden Apple Scholar.

The nonprofit Golden Apple Scholars program, formed in 1989, provides tuition assistance during undergraduate studies to prepare students to teach children in challenging school environments. Lowery, 18, of Frankfort is among 175 students statewide, and eight students in Will County, to receive the award, out of more than 1,600 nominations.

Lowery, who has participated in the school’s peer assistance program since her junior year, said she hopes to one day have a career centered around teaching students with special needs.

Working closely with students with disabilities during her high school years has not only prepared Lowery for a career in teaching, she said. It makes her happy.

“To be able to help them accomplish something they couldn’t do before is the best feeling in the world,” she said. “They have such determination to do anything. It’s so inspiring and makes you want to push yourself even harder.”

The Golden Apple program has been proven to improve graduation rates among participants, most of whom are the first in their family to attend college and come from low-income households, according to the nonprofit.

Joliet Township High School senior Osha King, said she falls into that category.

“I come from a low-income household. We’re on food stamps … but I don’t let that affect me because I know that I am striving for better,” King said. “That is what I try to tell everyone. That’s not something you should be proud of. You should be trying to work out of that, but that’s not something you want to live off the rest of your life.”

It’s estimated that half of Golden Apple Scholars end up earning more in their first year of teaching than their total household income at the time they applied to college.

King said she plans to attend Illinois State University in the fall. But before that, she and other Golden Apple Scholars will head to DePaul University for a five-week residential program that goes over various teaching styles for higher-needs schools.

Wilmington High School senior Daniel Lacy is another 2014 Golden Apple Scholar.

The 18-year-old from Wilmington volunteers his time twice each week at LJ Stevens Intermediate School to tutor fifth-graders in math classes. He said he wants to be a math teacher one day.

“Younger kids need a role model, and I like that I can be the person there who helps them,” he said.

Lacy said he hopes to work at schools with low-income students and students who struggle to keep up their grades.

“Even if the school’s not a good school, it still deserves good teachers. Even if it doesn’t necessarily qualify as a top school, it still deserves hard-working teachers,” he said.

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Source: The (Joliet) Herald-News, http://bit.ly/1hD13Qr

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Information from: The Herald-News, http://www.suburbanchicagonews.com/heraldnews

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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