GRACE first-grade teacher wins Golden Apple Award

April Neuville strives to instill a passion for learning in her students

Photo caption: April Neuville, first-grade teacher at Father Allouez School in Allouez, is one of nine Golden Apple Award recipients honored by the Greater Green Bay Chamber in 2021. (GRACE Photo | Ben Wideman)

ALLOUEZ — April Neuville, first-grade teacher at Father Allouez Catholic School, admits that she is her worst critic, so it’s not easy for her to discuss her strengths as an educator.

“I would say that ‘building connections’ is one of them,” she said. “I feel like I connect to the kids quickly and easily. I think that’s super important. Somebody who feels valued is going to work that much harder. They are going to be much more attentive.”

Neuville recently received affirmation for her work in the classroom in the form of a 2021 Golden Apple Award. The honor from the Greater Green Bay Chamber recognizes educators for their “high standards of professionalism, leadership and innovation in teaching.”

“It is such a huge honor,” she said. “There are so many great educators in the area. They all deserve recognition. I think it’s great for our school. The Catholic schools are making a difference and people are noticing us. It’s nice to be able to share with the community that we are a valuable place.”

Neuville, now in her third year at the St. Matthew Campus, the Father Allouez elementary school site, knew she wanted to be a teacher in high school.

“I had a friend with the same interests. We became Sunday school teachers at the earliest you could start teaching at Grace Lutheran (Church) downtown (Green Bay),” she said. “Wednesday night was family night, so we would always lead. We also were very involved in our youth group.”

Following graduation from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, Neuville taught at a Christian preschool. She has been a teacher nearly 15 years, including six years at Holy Spirit School in Darboy, prior to her current position.

“All of my teaching experience has been in a parochial school, except for one year in public,” she said. “I really enjoy working in private, parochial schools. The atmosphere is different. I feel like (it’s) a family here. We have this connection. Our group of teachers is fantastic. They are so selfless and willing to help each other.”

First grade is a good fit for Neuville. She said that she has always enjoyed working with younger students.

“They still like school. They think it’s cool,” she said with a laugh. “They are like little sponges. They soak up everything and are so excited to be here. They are a fun age group. They say the funniest things and keep you on your toes.”

Science and religion are the most fun subjects to teach, she added. Neuville enjoys science because “it’s hands-on.” Religion helps her students develop as people by creating a relationship with God, she said.

“I feel that it helps them become citizens of our community who are caring and supportive,” she said. “It is their foundation, their base moving forward. I learn along with them. It helps me in my relationship in growing closer to God. It keeps me grounded as well.”

The first-grade religion curriculum teaches the students that God loves them, even when they make mistakes, explained Neuville. Many of the lessons go beyond academics, she added.

“You get things like the social and emotional, getting along with each other, being disciples and helpers,” she said. 

“The care and concern she has for students is extraordinary,” said Kay Franz, principal at Father Allouez Catholic School in a press release announcing Neuville’s honor. “She not only ensures each student in her class masters the curriculum, but makes sure they grow in their faith and self-worth.”

Father Allouez Catholic School has offered in-person learning all school year. Neuville, whose two children are students at the school, said she was nervous at the start.

“I’m so glad we did it,” she said. “I feel that GRACE (Green Bay Area Catholic Education school system) did a super job of being proactive, making adjustments, holding meetings and discussions, how they partnered with Prevea (Health).

“Kids are resilient; they are so happy to be here,” she added. “They are so excited to be in school with their friends.”

Neuville made an adjustment due to her large class size, 24 students. A room in the basement of the school, that served as the cafeteria last year, is now the first-grade classroom to provide for social distancing.

“I’m usually a very flexible person, but I thought to myself, ‘How am I going to make this space fun, inviting and feel like a classroom?’” recalled Neuville. “I was skeptical. I made the move and parents were notified. Some parents were probably nervous, but when they were able to see it, it really does feel like a classroom.”

“Try your best and forget the rest” is a favorite classroom phrase for Neuville. She encourages an environment where her students feel comfortable taking risks.

“At first, they are a little unsure, maybe afraid or embarrassed to make a mistake, but, as the year progresses, I feel that they are more apt to try things,” she said. “I tell them, especially when it comes to spelling and writing, that I don’t know how to spell every word correctly so: ‘As first graders, do I expect you to spell every word correctly? No. Do I expect you to try, to do your best? Sure.’”

Neuville wants her students to become lifelong learners. She continues to learn as an educator, she said.

“I want to instill that passion in them to learn something new each day,” she said. “That keeps me going. I want to find new, fun ways to present something to capture their attention, engage them in a lesson.

“It doesn’t seem like work for me,” she added. “If you are passionate about what you do, it doesn’t seem like work.”

Fifty-seven GRACE educators were nominated for Golden Apple Awards this school year. Emily D’Angelo of St. Bernard School, Green Bay; Jodi Sullivan of Holy Cross School, Bay Settlement; and Hannah Aschenbrenner of Our Lady of Lourdes School, De Pere; were recognized as “Teachers of Distinction.”

Golden Apple Award recipients and Teachers of Distinction honorees will be recognized during a television broadcast at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, April 21, on CW14 and at 5 p.m. on Sunday, May 2, on Fox 11.