Oroville teacher George Thornton named Golden Apple recipient

George Thornton in his classroom at OHS.

George Thornton in his classroom at OHS.

OROVILLE – While it is rare for a teacher from Eastern Washington to be named a recipient of one of the ten Golden Apple Awards for Excellence in Education, it is even rarer that two of this year’s teachers are from Okanogan County, including Oroville’s own George Thornton.

The Golden Apple Award, sponsored by Seattle Public Television station KCTS 9 and Pemco Insurance, celebrates “educators, programs and schools making a positive difference in Washington state education from early childhood through high school,” according to KCTS.

A panel of judges, including representatives from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the Washington Education Association, Washington State Parent Teacher Association, Washington School Principals and past Golden Apple Award honorees evaluated the nominees and selected this year’s winners.

“Needless to say it’s a big deal… you work really hard and just don’t always get the validation that you need every once in awhile,” said Thornton, a social studies teacher at Oroville High School. “This honor really should include many of my peers — there were a lot of people involved — it’s a collaboration.”

On the KCTS website, http://kcts9.org/education/golden-apple-awards, it lauds Thornton for overcoming Oroville’s rural isolation by using technology to connect with the rest of the world and for his work developing a system of senior projects for his students that help them give back to the community.

It describes his selection as: “Teaching at a small, remote school just miles from the Canada-U.S. border in Eastern Washington has its challenges, but George Thornton doesn’t let anything keep his students from having big learning experiences. Limited by geography but not by possibility, George uses interactive technology to connect Oroville to the world and give his students every chance at engaging learning opportunities. His students have learned about Afghan culture by holding the first Skype conversation with an all-girls school in Afghanistan and used Google Earth to better understand the homes of their peers across the world. Senior projects emphasize community service and study-abroad programs bring the world to a remote community of less than two thousand. Thanks to his work, students at Oroville High are increasingly open to the possibilities awaiting them in the wider world.”

Thornton himself describes the process of selecting the recipients as somewhat mysterious. He said he was nominated last year by former Oroville High School Principal Patricia Scott, one of 300 nominations received as potential recipients of the Golden Apple Awards for Educational Excellence. The OHS teacher also had references from Superintendent Steve Quick and from fellow teacher Tony Kindred. Both have worked with Thornton on the student exchanges that took place between Oroville and the Dominican Republic and Turkey. From there the nominees are narrowed down to 20 and finally reduced to the ten that are being honored.

Although he’s known about his selection since October, he was asked not to say anything about it until this month. The award will be presented to the ten chosen recipients sometime in February, Thornton said.

KCTS 9 sent a film crew up two days before Veterans Day to film at the school’s Veterans Day Assembly, something that Thornton and his students organize each year. The television station also filmed in his classroom, around the school and in downtown Oroville. The footage will be used as part of a documentary on the Golden Apple Award winners, according to the teacher.

“It’s unusual for a Western Washington Group to come over here to honor a teacher, but to have two from Okanogan County is just amazing,” Thornton said.

Also selected from the county was Okanogan teacher Dan Brown, whom KCTS described as follows:

“For twenty years, Dan Brown has merged his work as an educator and his experience as a professional artist to give his students at Okanogan High School a panoramic view of the art world beyond the classroom. Through his personal connections to the art community, students are able to apprentice with working artists to learn skills and techniques in a studio environment, and regularly explore art outside of school―in galleries, museums, foundries and art openings. In the classroom, Dan relies on a collaborative approach that draws on the skills, ideas and talents of his students. Their work is displayed throughout the community in places like the library and city hall; several have even shown and sold their work in local art galleries. ‘My favorite compliment is walking into the home of parents of a former student and seeing their art work displayed,’ he says.”

In addition to the Gold Apple Award, which reflects well on the teacher and the district, the high schools received a $1500 check from the Teacher’s Credit Union, Thornton said.