Hillsboro has its own Oscar of sorts, awarded not to actors but educators. by: PHOTO COURTESY OF GREATER HILLSBORO AREA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE  - The 2013 Crystal Apple Award winners. Back Row: Barbara Nasewytewa, Brookwood Elementary; Shawn Costello, Eastwood Elementary; Don Domes, Hillsboro High; John Sarrazin, Poynter Middle School and Beth Graser, Communications Director for Hillsboro School District Front Row: Erika Pierce, W.L. Henry Elementary, Dayle Spitzer, Hillsboro School District and Kathy Barclay, Indian Hills Elementary.

It’s called the Crystal Apple, and the eighth annual award ceremony on Feb. 28 honored the achievements of eight award recipients, among 31 nominees in all.

For most, it was a night of celebration but also humble reflection on the task of educators in the midst of budget crises, overcrowded classrooms and students who come to school hungry or without the services they need.

“I see my role as a school counselor as one where challenges are my job security,” said Erika Pierce, the school counselor of five years at W.L. Henry Elementary and one of the Crystal Apple winners. “I am here to help, problem-solve and make a difference,” she added.

Pierce says most people would be astounded to experience a day in the life of an educator. As a counselor, her responsibilities are wide ranging.

She talks with families in crisis — listening, comforting and making appropriate referrals, helping with basic needs such as food (they currently send home 30 food backpacks every weekend), clothing, medical care and sometimes finding a shelter.

She also helps families support their children academically, socially and behaviorally, as well as attending to her more “traditional” counselor role of teaching classroom lessons on feelings, friendship skills, conflict resolution and anti-bullying.

“I am grateful for and surprised by this award,” Pierce said. “It also reminds me there are many people who deserve a piece of my apple — family members, friends and colleagues who support, encourage and challenge me.”

A sold-out crowd gathered at the Tuality Health Education Center to honor the Hillsboro School District staff members, who were nominated by peers, students and parents for their outstanding work in the field of education.

The winners were awarded in three categories. Another recipient, Barbara Nasewytewa, said she feels empowered by the award but also “undeserving, because so many of us go above and beyond for our students.”

Nasewytewa is a fifth-grade teacher and technology-support staff at Brookwood Elementary. “School is more than reading, writing and math,” she said. “At the elementary level, we are building the foundations for children to become positive members in society.”

To Nasewtewa, attitude is everything. All her peers are facing challenges with increased class sizes and lack of funding, she said. “Those are things I can’t control. I try to focus on what I can control and that is continuing to encourage students to try new things, learn something they didn’t know and be silly, when appropriate. I try to make each day more exciting than the last.”

Here is the full list of winners:

Support staff — Kathy Barclay, an education assistant at Indian Hills Elementary; Shawn Costello, head custodian at Eastwood Elementary; and John Sarrazin, head custodian at Poynter Middle School.

Licensed staff — Don Domes, technology teacher at Hillsboro High; Barbara Nasewytewa, fifth-grade teacher at Brookwood Elementary; and Erika Pierce, counselor at W.L. Henry Elementary.

Administrators — Beth Graser, communications director for Hillsboro School District; Dayle Spitzer, executive director of elementary schools for the Hillsboro School District.

For more information, and a look at past nominees and winners, visit

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