A team of Upper Arlington Civic Association directors, dressed in signature gold jackets, huddled in the office at Barrington Elementary School on March 19 preparing for a surprise march to third- and fourth-grade informal teacher Molly Hinkle's classroom.
Moments later, the group streamed upstairs and presented Hinkle with a Golden Apple Award, one of 13 the group presented last week to recognize teachers and school staff members for their contributions to education and the community.
Past Golden Apple chairwoman Chrys Bebe read from a nomination form that helped convince UACA members the award was well deserved.
"Mrs. Hinkle lets the students run with their ideas," Bebe said as she read excerpts from nominations Hinkle received. "No idea is a bad idea. (Students) all feel empowered to be constantly creative."
Hinkle also was lauded for creating a classroom theme of "Thinktopia" during the 2017-18 school year that included a classroom mascot, rules for the room and letting students run their own parent-teacher meetings this year to support self-reflection of their work.
"Mrs. Hinkle has an incredible gift to see every child's strengths and knows how to empower them to become self-confident, independent learners," the nomination continued. "Her compassion for every child is genuine and her excitement for being their teacher has to be as strong as it was the day she started teaching.
"She inspires endless creativity but demands discipline, teaches compassion but also responsibility."
The scene at Barrington is one that played out at 12 other schools in Upper Arlington and is part of a tradition to recognize outstanding educators and school staff the UACA has maintained since 1981.
This year, Golden Apples were awarded to:
* Kelly Eldred, St. Agatha School third-grade teacher
* Brad Piunno, Hastings Middle School math teacher
* Philip Lampe, Upper Arlington High School chemistry teacher
* Jane Mead, Jones Middle School nurse
* Blair Cerny, Greensview Elementary first-grade teacher
* Krista Walther, Windermere Elementary first-grade teacher
* Amalee Dahman, Tremont Elementary second-grade teacher
* Kelly Wlodarski, Wickliffe Elementary kindergarten teacher
* Debbi Martin, Burbank Early Childhood School, educational services teacher for students with special needs
* Jake Lombardo, St. Andrew School, individualized education specialist
* Randy Saxour, Upper Arlington Schools bus driver
* Craig Kent, The Wellington School, second-grade learning guide
According to Brian Noble, a UACA Golden Apple Awards director, the UACA received more than 500 nominations for this year's awards.
He noted the awards strive to recognize educators who help shape students academically but have evolved to also recognize staff members such as individualized education specialists and bus drivers who also have significant impacts on young people's lives.
"All are well-respected and deserving of this recognition," Noble said. "The UACA is focused on serving the community and has grown with it.
"We believe that the schools are one of the many reasons that Upper Arlington is a special community and the awards are a way for the community to thank the people who shape the lives of our youth," he said.
"The awards will continue because they provide a forum for students, parents, peers and community members to support the people who are impacting students -- specifically, as a way to recognize excellence."
As Hinkle received her award, Barrington principal Carla Wilson called the teacher "a strong leader in our building," and said the nomination comments regarding her were "spot-on."
Hinkle said she was surprised by the award, but grateful to the UACA, Barrington staff -- including fellow third- fourth-grade informal teacher Kelli Wilcox, and her students for their receptiveness to learning.
"I'm not very good at this," Hinkle said. "You know, it's a lot of fun. I do work with an amazing partner with (Wilcox). We do have a great time dreaming things up together.
"This is a great place to be. The kids are awesome, and it's fun."