EXETER – Cheryl Lavoie, a fourth grade teacher at Metcalf Elementary School, was instructing her homeroom class last Thursday when suddenly, to her surprise, the room started filling with her family members, students, administrators, and even a marching band. A news camera and NBC 10 anchor Patrice Wood also appeared, alongside Rhode Island Education Commissioner Angelica Infante-Green.
Lavoie was understandably confused.
“I thought we were in trouble, I didn’t know what was going on,” she said on Monday.
They were all there, she soon learned, to present and celebrate her winning the Golden Apple Award, a designation given by NBC 10, with the support of the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE). The award is given to recognize outstanding teachers in Rhode Island communities, honoring those who believe in “the true spirit of teaching by making classrooms a creative and safe place to learn,” according to RIDE.
Lavoie later found out that she was nominated by a parent of one of her students because of the overwhelmingly positive impact she’d had on the student’s time in her classroom. After the nomination was submitted to NBC 10, Lavoie was chosen as the winner of the award.
While Lavoie said she wasn’t necessarily a fan of all the attention, she was nevertheless honored to receive the award.
“I was very shocked, completely surprised,” she added. “I don’t have any recollection of what I said that day, I think I was in a state of shock. My classroom was full of so many faces and people were crying, a lot of people were crying.”
Lavoie’s crowded classroom was packed with nearly 30 members of her family and around 40 of her students, along with superintendent James Erinakes and Metcalf principal Laurie Ratigan, all there to congratulate the veteran elementary school teacher.
According to Pete Janhunen, a spokesperson for RIDE, Lavoie was deserving of the award because of her “focus on what her students need to learn, as well as understanding the importance of engaging their families in learning.”
Janhunen also added that the education commissioner normally attends the presentation of the Golden Apple Awards because “it is an opportunity to recognize outstanding teachers in our communities who make classrooms a creative and safe place to learn.”
Lavoie, who grew up in Exeter and went through the Exeter-West Greenwich public schools, said she regularly works with families to meet their children’s emotional needs.
“There are so many kids nowadays who have anxiety, and will get nervous coming to school. I work with the family to help them through that,” she said.
In order to make them less nervous about coming to school, Lavoie will give them fun tasks to do when they first arrive, such as bringing a gift to former teachers.
“I give them strategies on getting them to school,” she said. “I’ve bought little pumpkins and said, ‘when you come in Monday morning, you’re going to bring this to your teacher from last year because she really needs them.’ And then the kid won’t be nervous about coming to school because they have a fun job to do when they come in. So I will coordinate with parents on strategies like that.”
Lavoie has had a long career in education, spanning more than 20 years. She was first hired as a second grade teacher at Wawaloam Elementary school, where she worked for 12 years. She then moved to Metcalf, where she worked as both a third grade and fourth grade teacher.
One student in particular that Lavoie made an impact over the course of her career was Isabella Gardiner.
Lavoie taught Isabella in third grade last year and then again this year, in fourth grade. During that time, Lavoie made such an impact on her that Isabella’s mom, Theresa Gardiner, felt compelled to nominate Lavoie for the Golden Apple Award.
“[Isabella’s] one of the little girls that is very anxious and would get nervous coming to school,” Lavoie said. “I have an anxious daughter so I have a lot of tools to help somebody that is. It’s really important. And she’s not the only one, there’s tons of them nowadays that are really anxious.”
“There’s a lot of pressure being at school, so my job is to help them be comfortable,” she continued. “Once they get in the door and they get here, they’re comfortable and happy in their environment, but sometimes it’s getting them here that’s the tricky part.”
Isabella’s grandmother, Pat Whitford, who serves as Exeter’s Deputy Town Clerk, said that Lavoie has had a deeply positive impact on Isabella and her time at school.
“She didn’t want to ride the bus, she didn’t want to go to school, she has anxiety issues,” Whitford said. “But she had Mrs. Lavoie in third grade and she absolutely loved her. Mrs. Lavoie helped her work with her anxieties, she made her feel comfortable.”
“She’s just been an outstanding teacher for this child,” Whitford added. “She’s an outstanding teacher in general, but she’s really helped Isabella get through her school days.”
The Golden Apple Award also came with a $250 contribution from Ocean State Credit Union, which is to be used on classroom supplies.
Lavoie said she planned on using it for alternative, flexible seating for students in her classroom.
Anyone interested in nominating a teacher for the Golden Apple Award can do so at turnto10.com/station/golden-apple/submit-golden-apple-nomination.