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Every student at Ben Steele Middle School knows its namesake’s story, thanks in no small part to Principal Joe Halligan and Associate Principal Angie Gray.

Ben Steele, World War II hero, Bataan Death March survivor, POW survivor, longtime Billings artist, teacher and mentor passed away while the middle school was under construction, but the principal team has invited the Steele family into the school since it opened in August.

“They have been part of a number of activities here and our students know what this man represented, and the qualities that he portrayed,” Jenna Allie wrote in nominating Halligan and Gray for a Golden Apple award. “Both Joe and Angie make it common practice to emphasize those characteristics, and in return, it is evident that our students aspire to demonstrate these as well.”

Gray and Halligan are among the 2018 Golden Apple winners. Usually, the all-volunteer award program honors just one administrator, but the Ben Steele leaders were nominated as a team and will be honored together at the annual Educators Appreciation Awards Banquet on April 26 at the Billings Hotel and Convention Center.

The longstanding Billings tradition of Golden Apples highlights educators in Billings schools who have gone the extra mile to help students learn. Nominations for educators at public and private schools are invited from the entire community. Local donors sponsor a luncheon for the winners and family members. The Golden Apples are formally presented at the April 26 banquet when the Billings Education Association will honor Craig Beals as Teacher of the Year and Karen Moses as Friend of Education.

Beals, a Senior High science teacher, achieved National Board Certification, was Montana Teacher of the Year in 2015 and has hosted a History Channel program on the Yellowstone super volcano. His students are high achievers, too.

Moses, a former longtime Billings Public Schools trustee, former school employee and tireless education advocate continues to volunteer for schools and assists the Golden Apple committee.

Along with the Ben Steele team, Golden Apples will be awarded to:

  • Sandra Kreiter, paraprofessional at Newman Elementary for 25 years. She teaches kids to read by easing their fears and nurturing a love for learning.
  • Nicole Bogunovich, who teaches business at West High, along with working as a technology integration specialist, sponsoring the student Business Professionals of America and coaching cross country. With Bogunovich helping her students connect to the real world, BPA participation and success at local and national competitions has soared.
  • Diane Brown, fourth grade teacher at Miles Avenue Elementary, who is known for bringing lessons to life with colorful characters and costumes. On one educational adventure, Brown’s students learned about the Southern United States by experiencing dance lessons at a New Orleans dance hall. In another lesson, they were immigrants being processed through Ellis Island in New York. Her students learn by doing.
  • Dolly Jahn, first-grade teacher at Ponderosa Elementary, who has been showing up for school bright and early for 23 years, including three at Roberts schools and 20 at Ponderosa and Broadwater Elementary. One parent described her son’s first grade-year as “magical” thanks to Jahn’s dedication and kindness.
  • Rob Waite, health enhancement teacher at Riverside Middle School for 27 years. Waite has coached every sport available to middle school students, including football, wrestling, basketball and track. Besides coaching before and after school, Waite is instrumental in the Late Night program that provides pizza, safe games and social time for students on Friday evenings. When former students come back to see their favorite teacher, Waite is the one they visit.

As the school year rolls into the final two months, it's time to thank teachers for the work they have done and will keep doing every day. The professionals who are entrusted with helping parents educate their children deserve a round of applause. Many deserve Golden Apples, but only a few are chosen each year. Congratulations to the winners.