Cristen Chapman, Philip Culcasi, Kerri Largo, Mary Lopez, and Jennifer Trejo, all National Board Certified Teachers, and Puja Ramasawmy and Lisa Thyer, National Board Candidates, were all named 2022 Golden Apple Finalists. They are among the 30 finalists for the Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Cristen Chapman, John Hancock College Preparatory High School 

Cristen Chapman teaches AP U.S. Government and Politics, AP U.S. History, and Sociology at John Hancock College Preparatory High School. She has been an NBCT since 2010. Chapman is also the Social Science Department Chair and sponsors the school Poetry Club and Hip Hop Club. 

Cristen Chapman

“I was honored to be nominated for the Golden Apple and to be selected as a finalist,” Chapman said. “I have been teaching for 25 years and the most rewarding part of my career is being able to see all of the amazing accomplishments of my current and former students. A central tenet of my educational philosophy is that my students find ways to use their agency to improve the world around them and so many of them are doing that in countless ways.”

Phil Culcasi, Wheaton Warrenville South High School

Phil Culcasi is in his 24th year of teaching. He has taught physics and chemistry at Wheaton Warrenville South High School for 20 years and currently serves as the department chair. Culcasi obtained his National Board certification in science in 2012 and renewed in 2021. In 2017 he was the State of Illinois recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST). He was nominated for this year’s Golden Apple Award by retired physics teacher, and NBCT, Jim Stankevitz.  

“Jim was my physics teacher in high school and then I was lucky enough to teach at South with him for 18 years,” Culcasi said. “He taught me physics but he really taught me how to teach physics (and chemistry!).”

Kerri Largo, Hoffman Estates High School

Dr. Kerri Largo

Dr. Kerri Largo of Hoffman Estates High School believes in inclusivity and lifelong learning. She is constantly striving to improve her own teaching practices and better the experiences of her students and fellow instructors. Her business classes are defined by her energetic, passionate teaching. 

“What an exciting year—pass my NBCT renewal and become a Golden Apple finalist,” Largo said. “It’s truly an honor and incredibly meaningful to be associated with these fantastic organizations. As someone with a visual impairment, I hope these accomplishments will motivate others with disabilities and obstacles to follow their passion, no matter what anyone says.”

Jennifer Trejo, William Howard Taft High School

Jennifer Trejo

Jennifer Trejo has made being a community—and collaboration—driven art educator one of her main priorities for her students. By actively connecting and listening to her students, she hopes to empower them in the classroom and out in the world. Inspired by her own experiences as a teenager, Trejo works to ensure that her high schoolers feel they have spaces in the school which are theirs.

 “I hope my students learn to trust their vision and be creative problem solvers in whatever field they find themselves in. When you have an idea, a lot of times being successful comes from simply visualizing it and starting to make it one way or another.” 

Lisa Thyer, Amos Alonzo Stagg High School

Lisa Thyer

Lisa Thyer teaches 11th and 12th grade English at Amos Alonzo Stagg High School and is a firm believer in forming connections with her students. During the height of the pandemic, she voiced her concerns over the impact of teaching remotely. She advocated for and, eventually, was able to help implement changes to virtual learning policies for herself and her colleagues.

“How much of a community effort education is,” Thyer said. “I have been truly overwhelmed by the support of my students and their parents, my colleagues and administrators, really our entire Stagg community. I know I wouldn’t be the teacher I am without their support so any recognition that comes from this belongs just as much to them.” 

Puja Ramaswamy, Lakeview High School

Puja Ramaswamy

Puja Ramaswamy is the director of choirs at Lake View High School, where she has taught since 2018. She loves coming to work and sharing her passion for music with her students. Not only does she teach them music, but she hopes to teach them important life skills, such as accountability and the importance of working together.

“Teaching, this year especially, is about building connections with our students and helping them develop their identities. I strive to make my students feel seen and heard through the music I select and the strategies I use so the curriculum is a reflection of who they are.”

Mary Lopez of Schaumburg High School, who did not respond to our request for a comment, is a 10th and 11th grade social studies teacher who has been recognized for her knack for tying together modern events and history.