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Recipients of 2019 Silver Apple Awards share a deep love of teaching and the SSP students they serve
Friday, May 17, 2019 - On May 17, South St. Paul Public Schools (SSPPS) students in two different classrooms had some surprise visitors. But the surprise was not just for them, as each teacher — Jessica Splittstoeser, Lincoln Center first grade teacher, and Colleen Volkmann, Kaposia preschool teacher — soon found out when a parade of adults and a photographer walked into the room. The day marked the annual presentation of the South St. Paul Educational Foundation’s (SSPEF) Roxanne Bliss Silver Apple Award, which honors SSPPS teachers and staff who “reach beyond classroom walls” in their support of their students.
“What makes this award so special is that the nominations come from the students,” said Cari Vujovich, SSPEF executive director. “The award is a recognition of those staff members who go the extra step to make connections with kids and families in our community.”
South St. Paul (SSP) graduate Don Bliss, Class of 1950, established the Silver Apple Award in honor of his wife, Roxanne Waldhauser Bliss, SSP Class of 1951. The award was created to encourage students to “appreciate educators or support staff who are especially important to them,” Vujovich said. “It was their belief that school employees play a very instrumental role in the future success of students.”
In February, all SSPPS students are encouraged to nominate a teacher or other employee who makes a significant difference in their lives. Awards are announced and presented in May. Each recipient receives a silver apple commemorating the award as well as a cash stipend.
2019 SSPEF Silver Award Recipients
Jessica Splittstoesser, Lincoln Center grade 1 teacher
The class was all huddled on the floor in front of the Smartboard for their morning meeting and daily discussion when a father of one Splittstoesser’s students walked in the door. The first-grade teacher just thought it was another day with Calisi’s dad visiting the classroom. But it quickly became apparent, as a parade of adults walked in behind him, that this was not just a normal Friday morning.
After Superintendent Dave Webb and Vujovich explained why they were there, Calisi, the student who nominated her, explained why Ms. Splittstoesser is so great. “She is nice. She always says ‘I love you.’ She also says ‘I want you all to be safe.’” As Calisi read the words, another student agreed out loud, noting that Splittstoeser had just finished talking with the class a few minutes earlier about how she wanted them to be safe. “I miss her if she is gone” Calisi added. “She is the best teacher.”
Adding to the accolades was Calisi’s father, who said, “As a parent, it’s awesome to see how much she cares about the well-being, growth and education of all of her class. It is evident in her words, actions and emails just how much she is invested in the children’s future. My daughter feels loved and has grown tremendously this year.”
Splittstoesser, who has taught in SSPPS for five years, was clearly touched by the words of appreciation. Yet she was quick to note that her success and any impact she has is because of her students. “I can’t be a good teacher without all of you guys,” she said as the students continued to sit on the carpet engrossed in every word she was saying. “We work hard to have fun and be respectful. We are a community in here. And I cannot do my job without this community. We are all the best!”
Colleen Volkmann, Kaposia preschool teacher
The four-year-old preschool program was abuzz with singing and dancing when the award presenters made their way into the classroom at Kaposia Education Center. Preschool teacher Colleen Volkmann looked at the group in bewilderment but kept on with the activity.
“Okay preschoolers, we have some special guests so let’s take our seats,” she said. It took a few moments for Volkmann, who has taught preschool in SSPPS since 2016, to realize that the specials guests were actually there for her. “I don’t even know what to say, this is all such a surprise,” she said as Webb and Vujovich presented her with the apple.
Reading on behalf of Garrett, the student who nominated Volkmann, was Connie Garling-Squire, director of early childhood and equity. “She is teaching me a lot,” said Garling-Squire speaking as Garrett. “She cares about me, tells me when I am doing good, and gives hugs and thumbs up when I am doing my job.” As the words were read, Garrett flashed a big smile of pride at his teacher. Volkmann returned the smile with tears in her eyes.
Then it was Garrett’s mom’s turn, saying, “She has been in contact about things to work on, ways to help at home, and really taken the time to make sure Garrett’s first time at school and outside of his home environment has been a great experience. He is really enjoying it and learning a lot.”
When asked what the award means to her, Volkmann was speechless. But when asked what she enjoys about teaching preschool, she was swift to respond. “I love the innocence and honesty of this age. They help keep me young,” she said. “These children are our future. It is incredible how we get to plant the seeds and watch their love of learning grow.”
At the conclusion of the pictures with the award presenters and her students, Volkmann insisted on getting a photo with the aides in the room. “I cannot do this without them,” she said. “It is our award, not mine.” A large group hug soon followed with Volkmann and her colleague — Paige Hillstrom, Shelly Lange and Holly Marchio. “This is yours too,” she said to them as the group posed for another picture, each with a hand on the silver apple.
The South St. Paul Educational Foundation was established in 1984 to provide an innovative source of public school funding to support the South St. Paul public schools educational plan. Such initiatives provide enrichment, scholarships, research opportunities, training, intervention and prevention strategies, and extend the educational effort. The funds provided by the Foundation directly benefit students and staff and enhance educational opportunities. Learn more at www.sspef.org.