Art Teacher Named Golden Apple

Community representatives, school dignitaries, Golden Apple officials, along with a barrage of media descended on a Hawthorn School District 73 art classroom to surprise long time teacher Mary Benton with the news that she had won the prestigious Golden Apple Award for Excellence.

Hawthorn Middle School South teacher, Mrs. Benton, was one of 10 Golden Apple recipients and the sole Lake County winner. Golden Apple, a leader in advancing the teaching profession in Illinois for 29 years, selected Mrs. Benton from a pool of 620 nominations in the Grades 6 to 8 category.

Mrs. Benton teaches Grades 6 through 8 art at Hawthorn Middle School South. Her art room is not just a classroom; it is a true art studio. What is not displayed there is exhibited throughout the school. Whether painted ceiling tiles, permanent paintings on the walls, murals in the hallways, or display cases showcasing sculpture or pottery, art surrounds Hawthorn students every day. She instills in her students a love of art, a sense of pride, and through the numerous displays, lets students know that they and their work are valuable and important.

After she was presented with the award, the 35-year teaching veteran said, “We display students artwork on the chairs, the walls, the ceiling because I want people who visit our school to know our students are amazing artists.”

Said South Principal Robert Natale, “Mary has a passion for helping students grow. Mary doesn’t just have an impact in the classroom but she has an impact on the school.”

Mrs. Benton added, “I help my students find themselves in their artwork.”

Mrs. Benton, and husband, Kevin, have three grown children. Her husband built her an art studio in their Vernon Hills home where she uses the natural lighting to draw and paint what she calls “people stories”. She has also recently dappled in yard art where she finds glass plates, bowls and such and seals them together to create glass flowers for her garden.

Each Golden Apple Award recipient receives a tuition-free, spring quarter sabbatical to study at Northwestern University. Each recipient also receives a $3,000 cash award. Perhaps most importantly, award recipients become Fellows of the Golden Apple Academy of Educators, giving them a stronger voice and a larger stage from which to make a difference in education within Illinois and nationally.

More information on Mrs. Benton can be found at

Daily Herald: Golden Apple presented to art teacher
Golden Apple: Website article


Additional information and photos of award recipients can be found on social media:

  • On Twitter: @goldenapple_Il
  • Facebook:
  • YouTube:
  • Flickr:

President and CEO of Golden Apple, Dominic Belmonte praised this year’s award recipients, “These amazing teachers demonstrate the skill, enthusiasm and passion needed to inspire their students to achieve greatness. Each is a shining example of excellence in education and we are proud to honor them for all they do as teachers.”

Golden Apple has recognized outstanding Chicago-area educators annually since 1986. The creation of Golden Apple founders Mike and Pat Koldyke, the Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching recognizes and honors outstanding teachers for their contributions to building a stronger, better-educated citizenry. Golden Apple’s mission is to inspire, develop and support teacher excellence in Illinois. Golden Apple award recipients play a critical role in furthering the programs of Golden Apple, particularly as members of the faculty who help prepare the Golden Apple Scholars of Illinois to be future teachers within schools of need.

Research shows a high-performing teacher can boost lifetime earnings of a classroom of 20 students by more than $400,000. That’s a $2 million aggregate lifetime earnings increase from just five years of dedicated and quality teaching.

“We all know the impact a well-prepared teacher can have – not only in one classroom – but for future generations of students,” said Mr. Belmonte. “Great teachers such as those we honor this week are priceless.”