Mrs. Denise Brillhart, Lynnville-Sully fourth-grade teacher, has spent the last 35 years of her life touching the lives of hundreds of students and their families – teaching, influencing, caring, and so much more. She has tirelessly poured her heart and soul into her teaching career at L-S and in doing so, has left a great impact on the hearts of everyone who has had the honor of being part of her classroom. The veteran teacher has worn many hats in the three-plus decades she’s been a Hawk, with stints in the K-8 multi-categorial resource, Title 1 reading, third-grade, sixth-grade reading, and fourth-grade classrooms. Over the course of her career, Brillhart has celebrated and endured highs and lows, personally and professionally, all while sharing the joys and trials of her students whose relationships she cherishes beyond the classroom. Brillhart’s kind and generous heart, her unwavering guidance, and her way of connecting with students led to a career-defining moment on Wednesday, Dec. 12, when she was honored with the Golden Apple Award from IMT Insurance and WHO 13.
According to WHO 13’s website, the Golden Apple Award is a “very special recognition given to one special teacher each month during the school year.” Fifty-plus nominations are received each month, and the nominations for Brillhart, written by sophomore Denali Conover and sixth-grader Sophia Squires, stood out among the rest.
Jodi Long, WHO 13 weekend morning anchor, wrote on social media, “Oh man! This month’s Golden Apple recipient gives me all the feels.”
The award was a total surprise to Brillhart as she had no idea what the morning assembly may have been about. “This is something you don’t ever dream could be an award for you,” she said.
However, it’s no surprise to students, colleagues, family, and friends that the veteran teacher would be honored with such a prestigious award. Conover, in her nomination letter, touched on Brillhart’s way of connecting with students and making learning fun. In part, she wrote, “When my sisters and I talk about teachers, Mrs. Brillhart is always our favorite because of what she taught us, but more importantly what she shared with us,” said
Conover’s letter continued, “She lived life with us that year we got to spend with her. We have memories, experiences, and stories that we treasure as much if not more than what we learned. To this day we go see her, and she always wants to know how we are and if we are doing the best we can at everything. We will never be able to thank her enough for what she taught us of
school, relationships, life, and how to make a good memory!”
Squires’ nomination letter expressed how Brillhart not only touched her life as a student two years ago, but also even more so today as the teacher empathizes with Sophia whose father, Steve, is fighting cancer. Brillhart and Sophia’s matching haircuts reflect the support shared between the two during this tough time. It’s a physical, emotional, and mental battle Brillhart remembers all too well as she and her family endured much of the same when her husband bravely fought and succumbed to the disease 10 years ago. “I truly believe he was a part of my big day,” said Brillhart of her husband Jamie, who passed away 10 years ago. “What I have endured and lived through has shaped me into the person I am today and what I feel is important in life,” said Brillhart.
At the surprise assembly with all K-12 staff and students present, the IMT and WHO representatives kicked things off with an interactive trivia game about insurance with the students. Once the fun trivia game was complete, the assembly took on a more serious note as excerpts from Squires’ and Conover’s nomination letters were read. Brillhart, sitting on the
bleachers with her students, was overcome with emotion when she realized the words being spoken were about herself. Brillhart graciously accepted the award and the group of nearly 20 family and friends waiting in the hallway dealt Brillhart another surprise and made the event even more memorable when they walked in to congratulate the newly awarded teacher. The family was able to keep the presence of Brillhart’s mother, Janiece Eley of Arizona, secret as she had flown in the day prior for the awards presentation. The loved ones in attendance culminated a special celebration that recognized one woman’s love of teaching, her valuable contribution to everyone who crosses her path, and the mindset she starts each day with: Continually strive to make a positive impact.
Wednesday’s events and the notable honor is something Brillhart will remember and cherish. The fun and loving teacher who always has a kind word to say was left speechless by the honor. “It is something that says I have made a difference in someone's life,” said Brillhart. “I want my students to understand how important they are in my classroom and outside in the world – let them be themselves and know it is okay to make mistakes. Also throw in a little humor and fun along the way. The fact this award honored me for doing something I deem important and love doing just fills my soul with such pride and overwhelming feeling of accomplishment. It is validation of 35 years of commitment and love for teaching and everyone past and present that has been a part of my life at Lynnville-Sully.”
After the assembly, the news crew taped the veteran teacher in her classroom for additional footage for the story that will air on WHO TV 13 on Friday, Dec. 21, during the 5-5:30 a.m. and 4-5 p.m. newscasts. Interviews can be found online at www.whotv.com/goldenapple on Dec. 21.