Three Teachers Honored with Cupcake Awards from CU Schools Foundation

Champaign Urbana Schools Foundation will honor Steve Keepes, Kindergarten teacher at Bottenfield Elementary; Champaign Unit 4, Rhonda Turner, 4th grade teacher at King Elementary, Urbana School District 116; and Karen Kaplan CNA Instructor at Urbana Adult Education, Urbana School District 116 with 2017 Cupcake Awards. Selected teachers are nominated by their peers and exhibit exemplary service, extra efforts, enthusiastic attitude and innovative ideas that noticeably benefit their students.

 Steve Keepes has been teaching Kindergarten at Bottenfield Elementary for ten years but he didn’t start his career as a teacher. He was in community relations for Barnes and Noble and enjoyed working with the schools so much, he decided to pursue a teaching certificate.

At first Keepes wasn’t sure Kindergarten was the right fit, then he realized that a student’s experiences in Kindergarten set the stage for their entire school career.  “Kindergarten is the first year and if it isn’t fun, it will be a long 12 years.” According to his nominators, Keepes makes the school experience magical. He dresses up like a shark for ocean week, runs in the school 5K in a costume, creates Elf on the Shelf videos, and encourage students to take control of the classroom by offering flexible seating options.

Keepes says receiving the Cupcake Award is a nice surprise. “It helps validate that what you are doing makes a difference. It is humbling, and a nice boost.” But Keepes is quick to add that his students are all the motivation he needs.

If you ask Rhonda Turner how long she’s been at King Elementary in Urbana, she smiles and says, “forever.” Turner has been teaching at King for more than 15 years, and she began her education as an elementary student at King many years ago. Turner spends the bulk of her waking hours in the building.  In addition to teaching fourth grade, Turner has been Director of the 21st Century After-School Program at King Elementary for the past 5 years. Before that, she was site coordinator for the Teen REACH after school program. Turner says, “After school programming has been a part of my teaching career. After school is like an extra challenge. I don’t know anything else!”

A fellow teacher says Turner tailors her classroom and the after school program to accommodate different learning styles. For example, Turner organizes an annual Electricity Fair to showcase student projects. “Ms. Turner’s tenacity for teaching has allowed students to produce amazing projects from battery-powered boats to electric airplanes and robots. Students always look forward to entering 4th grade just for this learning opportunity alone.” Turner says, “I enjoy creating lessons that will engage ALL my students and then watching them create their own learning.”

Turner is honored to be a Cupcake Award recipient. “Who would have thought? I feel extremely special that a colleague thinks so highly of me as a teacher to nominate me for this prestigious award.”

According to her co-teacher at Urbana Adult Education, Karen Kaplan creates unique opportunities for her students. Kaplan has been teaching in the Certified Nursing Assistant program at Urbana for 5 years and was instrumental in obtaining a clinical partnership with Carle Hospital. This partnership allows students to obtain clinical experience in both a hospital and long-term care facility. Colleague Nancy Roth says, “Students have been overwhelmingly positive about this opportunity to learn skills in both types of health care facilities.” Carle has hired many of their graduates and several former students describe the CNA course as “life changing.”

Roth says Kaplan makes her curriculum engaging and has instituted tutoring sessions for students who are studying for their state certification exam. “Karen has given so much of herself to this program and works countless unpaid hours without complaint.” Their program has a 98% pass rate, compared to 75% at the state level.

Kaplan says the monetary portion of the Cupcake Award will be used to purchase new stethoscopes and blood pressure cuffs.  She is honored to receive the award and hopes it will bring attention to the program and her students. Kaplan adds, “The goal is for students to successfully complete the class, pass the state test and get a job as a CNA.”

All three teachers will receive a $500 grant for their classrooms and will be honored on Wednesday, May 10th at the 2017 Napleton’s Auto Park Teacher of the Year Ceremony at Pear Tree Estates in Champaign. The mission of the Champaign Urbana Schools Foundation is to elevate the excellence in Champaign and Urbana public schools by investing in educators and students. For more information call 217-398-2873 or contact Molly Delaney,

Rhonda Turner checks her math in front of her 4th grader class at King Elementary in Urbana.