South Middle School English teacher honored with Golden Apple Award

Published: Feb. 25, 2021 at 5:42 PM CST
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - Thursday’s Golden Apple Award presentation for South Middle School took us south of Eau Claire to Acres for Joy, a place where “hearts and hands” join together to develop programs to help students build leadership skills by interacting with animals.

WEAU and the Eau Claire Public Schools Foundation made a surprise visit to Acres for Joy to honor Crystal Ruzicka, an English teacher, Teacher on Special Assignment and Success Coach. One of the amazing things Crystal does for students is bring cohorts down to Acres for Joy for development and leadership work.

For the past four years, South Middle School has partnered with Acres for Joy to provide a program to help students focus on life skills necessary in moving forward on their unique journeys.

Now seriously, who wouldn’t want an opportunity to interact with these adorable baby goats? For these South Middle School students, they have been nominated by a teacher, an adult or community member who have reached out to say, “We see something special in you.”

“Students would not only have the opportunity to be out here and learn in a different environment outside of the four walls of the school but also to work together in team building and leadership skills and relationship skills. To be able to be given the skills to go back into the school and the community and be the people that we know that they are,” says Crystal Ruzicka.

The Acres for Joy program provides an opportunity where horses and humans connect and help one another.

“To take time to interact with a horse, there’s actually a lot of psychology behind that actually, but the students find it calming, it’s something they look forward to. They have expectations that they meet to be able to come out here so they are keeping their grades to passing, they are attending school, they are having fantastic behavior in the school and it’s just very motivating,” says Ruzicka.

Crystal’s colleagues are continually awestruck by her work with students. The time spent at Acres for Joy is cathartic for all involved.

“It means the world and you can see it on their faces when they are out in the corral and herding goats into the pen and working together and teamwork and just coming in here and sharing their stories and it really builds a community, it’s what we need in schools,” says South Middle School teacher Danielle Stanley.

For South Middle School 8th grader Katie Ertz it’s been a rewarding experience.

“They teach you work skills, they teach you life skills, they coach you to be a better person. I really like the conversations, like you go into that room and you get to interact with the people around you, it’s like a whole community for you,” says Ertz.

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