- Associated Press - Friday, August 14, 2015

CHARLESTON, Ill. (AP) - When Aimee Zepeda joined the Golden Apple Scholars, she had no idea she’d one day be scraping paint off the side of an old schoolhouse.

But the chance to participate in community service is just another beneficial aspect of the program for her, Zepeda said.

‘We’re having a lot of fun,” she said. “It’s definitely not something that I would usually do, but we’re giving back to Eastern and to this house.”

Zepeda, of Rochelle, was out working on the Greenwood Schoolhouse, located near Eastern Illinois University’s Buzzard Hall, Monday afternoon with her colleagues from the program. Dan Miller of Maple Park said he originally joined the program for the scholarships — but found out it was beneficial in many other ways.

“After going through it for three years, it’s not even about the money,” he said. “It’s the friendships and the experiences that we’ve had.”

Zepeda would like to teach bilingual first grade, hoping to follow in her father’s footsteps: He is a high school Spanish teacher. Miller hopes to teach second or third grade, a time in his own education when he had several highly influential teachers.

The Golden Apple Scholars are on EIU’s campus through July 18 for their annual summer program; the organization is comprised of college students studying education. The university’s Golden Apple Director Tim McCollum said students attend four different summer programs during their college career; the first two summers they’re at DePaul University, then for the third summer they head out to a different university based on the grade level they want to teach. Elementary education students head to EIU, McCollum said.

After completing four summer institutes — the final institute is held at Elmhurst College — the students then head out to teach for five years at an identified school of need. More than 85 percent of these students end up staying where they’re teaching, McCollum said.

“The goal is putting the very best prepared teachers in the classrooms that really need them the most,” McCollum said.

During the morning hours, the students head out to teach in area classrooms. Which, around East Central Illinois, means they head to organizations such as Douglas-Hart Nature Center in Mattoon. In the afternoon they work on service projects, such as Greenwood; in the evening they hear from speakers such as representatives from the Illinois State Board of Education and the principal of the Illinois School for the Deaf.

McCollum said EIU history professor Debra Reed was instrumental in helping Golden Apple get approval from the Coles County Historical Society to “adopt” Greenwood as a project; Reed also presented a lesson for the students inside the schoolhouse, McCollum said. The students are now working on scraping paint off the building, and McCollum hopes to get the first coat of paint on the walls, weather permitting, before the program’s end.

“These are all future teachers, so what could be more fitting than to help preserve a century-old classroom?” McCollum said.

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Source: Journal Gazette & Times-Courier, http://bit.ly/1C5aHYG

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Information from: Mattoon Journal-Gazette, http://www.jg-tc.com

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