Upper Arlington Civic Association honors 14 educators with Golden Apple Awards

Nate Ellis
ThisWeek group
Hastings Middle School guidance counselor Cristina Farbizo becomes emotional May 10 as she is awarded the Golden Apple Award from the Upper Arlington Civic Association. The group honored 14 teachers.

The Upper Arlington Civic Association recently honored 14 teachers and school staff from the community for helping to inspire and educate local students. 

Since 1981, UACA directors have acknowledged the dedication and special contributions of teachers and staff in the Upper Arlington community through the volunteer-run, nonprofit group's Golden Apple Awards. 

Windermere Elementary first grade teacher Jennifer Barrow receives the Golden Apple Award on May 10 from Angela Lanctot with the Upper Arlington Civic Association.

Last year, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the awards to be presented via videos. 

But May 10-11, UACA directors again donned their signature gold jackets and surprised Golden Apple Award recipients during presentations at each Upper Arlington Schools building, Mountview Christian Preschool, St. Agatha Catholic School, St. Andrew School and The Wellington School. 

"This year, we received 468 nominations and 14 teachers (and) faculty received awards," said Jen Knueven, second-year director of the UACA's Golden Apple Awards. 

"The awards were presented to 13 recipients across all of the public and private high schools, middle schools, elementary schools, and pre-schools located within Upper Arlington, and nominations also were opened to include all faculty or staff in the schools."

UACA directors selected Golden Apple Award recipients after reviewing nominations, which are submitted anonymously. 

This year's Golden Apple Award winners were: 

• Kristin Bugnitz, Tremont Elementary media specialist

• Sarah Oberlin, Wickliffe Progressive Elementary fifth-grade teacher

• Jennifer Barrow, Windermere Elementary first-grade teacher

• Cristina Farbizo, Hastings Middle School guidance counselor

• Kathy Moore, Upper Arlington High School college counselor

• Irene Hunt, Upper Arlington Schools director of nutritional services

• Gina Rancitelli, Upper Arlington Schools COVID-19 nurse coordinator

• Sarah Cappel, Greensview Elementary intervention specialist

• Caren Wildman, Barrington Elementary first-grade teacher

• Darrion House, Jones Middle School intervention specialist

• Brenda Porter, The Wellington School administrative assistant

• Luna Alsharaiha, St. Agatha Catholic School principal

• Michelle Marshall, Mountview Christian Preschool pre-kindergarten teacher

• Matt Brown, St. Andrew School seventh- and eighth-grade teacher

During the May 10 presentation at Windermere, Barrow was flanked by her first-grade students as she received her Golden Apple, balloons and flowers. 

"I am so overwhelmed and excited," Barrow said. "I had no idea.

"This is my 19th year teaching, and I have had the most amazing time in UA."

Those who supported Barrow, which included parents and colleagues, highlighted her work to bolster students' self-esteem and how she has navigated virtual- and hybrid-learning models throughout the pandemic. 

"Somehow through her magic, Mrs. Barrow was able to turn my shy, self-doubting child into a thriving first grader," one nominee wrote. "The most incredible part is Jen did this via Zoom and distance learning.

"My daughter now loves school and to say she loves Mrs. Barrow is the understatement of the year."

Barrow said the Golden Apple recognition was especially meaningful because of all the challenges the pandemic and virtually learning has brought. 

She said she was able to find effective ways to engage students and develop lesson plans through brainstorming with fellow Windermere first-grade teachers Elizabeth Ingraham, Teresa Plattenburg and Krista Walther.

Through the pandemic, Barrow said she was inspired by her students to become a better educator. 

"Every day, the kids make me laugh and it's one of those jobs where every day is different," she said. "It's never anything boring because they're teaching you as much as you are teaching them. 

"The kids are so resilient throughout all the changes. They were happy to be with us and happy to be engaged and I am so proud of my class this year." 

That same day, faculty and students at Hastings Middle School gathered outside to honor Farbizo, who said she was "shocked" by the recognition. 

"It feels absolutely amazing," Farbizo said. "I do it all for the kids.

"Every day, yes, is exhausting, but I do it to make sure I can help my kids and just be there for them."

Those who nominated Farbizo, including some Hastings students, lauded her work ethic, kindness and selflessness. They also credited her with allowing students ask questions and offer opinions and ideas. 

"She runs the Student Council and lets us speak our ideas," one student said. "Not only that, but she has been with me through tough times and I trust her so much. 

"She cares for each and every one of her students no matter what. She is always available to talk and makes room for you."

Like Barrow, Farbizo said the pandemic has affected her job. 

"It's a lot of social-emotional needs right now," Farbizo said. "They just need someone to listen to them because being in COVID they're very lonely and very anxious and very overwhelmed with a lot of things.

"It's more prevalent this year because they just don't know where to turn. I'm doing more reactive-type things because I have to be in the moment with students."

Knueven said the Golden Apple Awards remain a tradition because the organization continues to see importance in recognizing and thanking people who play such a big role in shaping young lives. 

Their work, she said, helps to equip students for their futures while also bolstering the community. 

"The awards will continue because they provide a forum for students, parents, peers and community members to support the people who are impacting students," Knueven said. "Specifically, as a way to recognize excellence."

nellis@thisweeknews.com 

@ThisWeekNate