Golden Apple Teachers To Be Recognized As Hometown Heroes

BY KRISTI FISH | MIRROR REPORTER — With the return of the Hometown Hero Awards on Thursday, March 28, winners of the five awards are being celebrated.

This year, three teachers – Mandie Bentz, Carrie Durand and Steven Kiss – have been named Golden Apple Award winners.

The Golden Apple Award is presented to a teacher, counselor or youth leader who goes above and beyond to make a difference in students’ lives.

The three teachers each received nominations and support from several individuals and will be celebrated for their efforts at the 49th annual Hometown Hero Awards, presented by the Maumee Chamber of Commerce.

Tickets for the event, which is sponsored by Metamora State Bank, are on sale now at maumeechamber.com/hometown-hero-awards and are $40.00 per person or $350 for a table of 10.

The awards ceremony will be held at The Pinnacle at 1772 Indian Wood Circle in Maumee, with doors open at 5:30 p.m.

Mandie Bentz

From a young age, Mandie Bentz knew she wanted to teach social studies and had wanted to work in a high school, but when student teaching brought her to Maumee Middle School, she knew she had found her place.

“I knew I didn’t want to be anywhere else, so I substitute taught here for four years just because I was going to wait on this job to be open because I was so excited about what this building and this community had to offer,” Mandie said.

When she finally found her permanent home at the middle school, she was most excited to begin working with the young students and teach them to love learning, calling it a worthy challenge.

“The kids are incredible and it is such a unique age,” Mandie said. “There is so much brain growth, social growth and development happening. They are becoming their own people and it is so magical.”

While her main goal is to teach the students what they need to learn from her, which includes the required curriculum and have wonder in learning, she is also excited to learn from the students.

With her nearly 20 years in the field, Mandie has learned that middle school students are resilient and are ready to start each day fresh. When they’ve had a bad day, they don’t let it turn into a bad week.

“They always come in with a fresh mind and a new attitude,” Mandie said. “Seeing that idea of treating each day as a new opportunity and being open to relationship building has made a difference in my life.” 

Her hard work and ability to build relationships has earned her nominations and letters of support from former students and several current and former Maumee City Schools staff members, including Amy Stough.

“Ms. Bentz is a positive force inside and outside of the classroom, always going above and beyond to provide Maumee students with support, opportunity and challenge,” Stough said in the nomination.

According to fellow middle school teacher Mike Dick, Mandie works hard outside of the classroom to find resources needed for her students, including grant money and additional support.

It is important to her to stay involved in the schools and community and make sure that her students can find different methods to encourage learning and gain hands-on experience.

“I love anything where we can improve student experience,” Mandie said.

From the PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) program to extracurricular activities to committees, Mandie likes to be involved. She’s helped organize after-school field trips to places like the Toledo Museum of Art and even planned a free after-school golf camp.

“I want to find new ways for them to interact with the community and become natural learners,” Mandie said of her students.

Carrie Durand

When Carrie Durand was in kindergarten, she saw her teacher use an E-Z grader calculator and knew, without a doubt, that teaching was the career for her.

It took a few more years for her to settle on a subject, though, moving from biology to French, to French and German, before settling on French and Spanish.

“In college, I started taking Spanish at The University of Toledo and was able to major in French and Spanish and world language education,” Carrie said.

Right before her graduation, she attended a world language teacher conference and saw a job listing for Maumee City Schools that called for a French and Spanish teacher.

Knowing the worst they could say was no, Carrie chose to apply for the position, which she felt was perfect for her.

She’s been with Maumee City Schools ever since.

“My favorite part is the kids. We have the nicest kids here,” she said. “Year in and year out, I am just blown away at how kind and thoughtful and friendly and just how nice the kids are.”

Knowing how kind the students are, it made the moment she read the nominations from two current students and two former students even more special, she said, as they recognized her for the care she puts into her job.

In the nomination form, MHS student Hala Jabri said her teacher is someone who can be trusted and makes every student feel safe and welcome.

“When I have the privilege to be around Mrs. Durand, whether it be in class, during student council or even just passing by in the hallway, she never fails to brighten my day,” Jabri said.

The letters of support from the four students and their kind words were enough thanks for Carrie, who is happy to have a job that impacts the young people of today.

The significance of her job, however, is not lost on her.

“Other people are trusting me with their children and that is their most precious resource … the fact that they trust us with that is not something I take lightly, and I want to make sure everybody feels great about that choice,” Carrie said.

When her students walk into her classroom, she wants them to feel seen and heard and she wants them to cultivate a curiosity about the world so they can continue to grow.

“I hope they learn the world is a lot bigger than what they see every day,” she said.

After 16 years, she’s confident that the students have also taught her about the importance of not taking herself too seriously and to be her most authentic self each day.

“I just can’t believe how lucky I am that this is my job,” Carrie said. “I did not expect it to be this much fun.”

Steven Kiss

The impact Maumee Intermediate School teacher Steven Kiss has had on his students can be seen in the letters of support he earned from former students, fellow teachers and parents of students.

It’s a position he did not expect to find himself in only 10 years into his career.

“I always think of the Golden Apple as a veteran teacher that is more experienced and has invested so much of their time perfecting their craft, so it was a surprise to me,” he said.

The surprise of the award is most welcome, though, for Steven, who has poured a lot of energy into his classroom and strives to make sure he fosters a welcoming environment for his students.

With each student who walks through his door, Steven must find what motivates them in order to best meet their needs, he noted.

According to Jeanne Brownfield, the mother of Max, a former student of Steven, her son had always been blessed with great teachers, but in Steven’s class, he found a space where he excelled.

“Mr. Kiss saw the real Maxwell and treated him with kindness and compassion,” Brownfield said.

According to former student Jillian Leck, she, too, felt welcomed into the classroom. After eight years, she still knows she can trust her former teacher and is inspired by him.

“If he didn’t push me to do my absolute best every single day, I don’t know if I would be the same person that I am today,” Leck said.

Those comments are always good for Steven to hear, as he knows the role teachers play is vital in a community, so it’s good to know if what he is doing in the classroom is working.

Each year, he has to learn about his class as a whole and decide what teaching methods are going to work. Then, he must learn about the students as individuals.

“I strive every year to get to know my kids on a personal level and make sure everyone has a voice,” Steven said.

Once he’s learned more about each student, he hopes that he can help teach each student how to develop a love of reading, no matter what kinds of books those may be.

“I also hope they learn how to be understanding and compassionate and how to be a good person,” Steven said. “I try to get them to see outside of their world.”

In order to show his students that every person is unique, Steven embraces the differences and also tries to remain authentic in his classroom.

With his love of reading, Taylor Swift and the theater, his students know he has a variety of interests and uses them to engage his students

“I try not to take things too seriously. I want my classroom to be safe, fun and diverse,” he said.

If his students walk away from the classroom having learned more about each other and how to have fun while learning, he knows he’s done what he needed to do.

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