FGCU alumna receives Golden Apple Award

Mariah Washington accepted the Golden Apple Award for excellence in teaching on Friday, March 10 in front of her third grade class at Bayshore Elementary as students and colleagues scrambled to embrace and congratulate her.

According to the Foundation for Lee County Public Schools, more than 2,000 teachers are nominated for the award each year. Of those 2,000 nominees, only 30 become finalists.

Before being chosen for the prestigious award, Washington was personally interviewed by the Foundation for Lee County Public Schools and had a classroom observation.

The “exceptional” teaching abilities Washington demonstrated in both her interview and her observation qualified her as one of only six Golden Apple recipients.

“When I found out that I received the Golden Apple Award I was overcome with joy, excitement and gratefulness,” Washington wrote in an email. “My students ran up and squeezed me and I felt so extremely loved in that moment; it was a moment I will never forget, one of the best in my life.”

Washington’s journey to becoming a teacher was not a straight path.

When Washington arrived at FGCU on a softball scholarship, she was unsure what career she wanted to pursue.

“I knew I wanted to help others and make an impact,” Washington wrote, “so I originally was on the Health Science/Nursing route. I took all of the classes I needed but when it came to applying for the Nursing program, I had a feeling that wasn’t where I was being called.”

Washington turned to God to help her find her passion.

“I am a Christian, and I am very strong in my faith so I decided to pray about it and seek God’s guidance in my career path,” Washington wrote. “He led me to education and it was almost like a ‘How did I not think of this in the first place?’ type of feeling.”

This feeling was magnified after visiting an elementary school in her hometown with the FGCU softball team.

Washington credits this moment for being a key indication that teaching was the path she was meant to follow.

“After I left that day I felt that little spark begin in my heart for what turned out to be a huge passionate fire that I now have for working with children,” Washington wrote. “I’ve never looked back.”

The Lee County School District created The Golden Apple Award in 1987 specifically to foster the love of teaching Washington describes.

On its website, the Foundation says the Golden Apple Awards were created to “enhance public education by recognizing and rewarding excellence in teaching.”

As Washington reflected on her award, she began thinking about her own professors at FGCU and the effect they had on her enthusiasm for education.

“… I had some outstanding professors to help prepare me for my own classroom,” Washington wrote. “Professor (Diane) Kratt and Dr. (Penny) Finley were a few amazing educators that stand out in my mind, and I appreciate their guidance.”

Washington hopes to have a similar influence on her own students.

“My message [is that] you can do anything you put your mind to,” Washington wrote. “Find something that you love, and do it with your whole heart, and with as much passion as you possibly can.”