When Dom Belmonte was teaching American literature at York High School in Elmhurst, Illinois, he kept an eye out for students he thought would make good teachers someday. He nudged them to go into education.
That passion for cultivating educators started in 1976, when he first got the job at York. It got stronger when he won the Golden Apple award for teaching in 1987, in only the awards’ second year. It went into overdrive in 1996 when the Golden Apple Foundation hired him as CEO, and he generated ideas for incubating potential young teachers and helping mid-career adults transfer their expertise into teaching.
Honoring Belmonte with Pioneer Award
Over the years, his drive to grow teachers and nurture them to excellence in the profession has influenced thousands of teachers and even more of their students. National Louis University is honoring him with its Pioneer Award for his enormous success in bringing excellent teaching to Illinois students. The award will be presented at NLU’s annual Reach Awards gala June 6 at the Sofitel Chicago Water Tower.
“Dom has certainly been a pioneer in using education to help others realize their talents and skills and improve communities, which is what the Pioneer Award is all about,” said Danielle LaPointe, NLU’s Director of Advancement Services.
“Our past Pioneer Award honorees include Pat and Mike Koldyke, founders of Golden Apple, and Arne Duncan, former U.S. Education Secretary. We are pleased to include Dom in this esteemed group for his immense contributions to uplifting teaching excellence and positively influencing Illinois students.”
Starting teacher program at Golden Apple
When the Golden Apple Foundation asked Belmonte to join its staff, Belmonte made a leap of faith to leave his teaching job for the fledgling nonprofit. Once there, he suggested the organization do more than give out competitive awards to stellar teachers.
Thus was born the Golden Apple Scholars, a program for students who have just completed high school or their first or second year of college. Now Golden Apple’s largest program, young people selected to be scholars are trained to thrive and persevere in high-need schools. Each year, 200 scholars receive summer institutes, tuition support and mentoring from top teachers. The program is funded with $6.7 million in state support and $1 to $2 million in private funding.
Helping mid-career professionals change careers to teaching
Belmonte also initiated the idea of welcoming to the teaching field mid-career professionals in other fields who wanted to become teachers. Some in education resisted the idea, but the Illinois legislature changed the law to permit such alternative pathways for adult professionals to prepare and become certified as teachers. In 1993, Golden Apple created the GATE program to help these career-changers.
“The idea was that if you get someone who majored in physics and worked at Argonne properly prepared and mentored, they could bring a lot to a physics classroom,” Belmonte said.
Distilling accumulated wisdom into two books
Belmonte has written two books, “Teaching from the Deep End” and “Teaching on Solid Ground.”
“My quest as a teacher and as part of Golden Apple has been to advance the teaching profession,” he wrote in Teaching from the Deep End. “My goal is to see teaching perceived as a profession of honor that brings resilient and inspiring people into the lives of children who direly need resilience and inspiration.”
Why does he advocate so strongly for teaching?
Asked why he does what he does, Belmonte referenced the final scene of the movie Schindler’s List. In it, industrialist Oskar Schindler, who bribed Nazi officials to save the lives of 1,100 Jews during World War 2, expresses deep and sorrowful regret, saying he could have done even more to save additional lives.
“I use that image to illustrate the fact that that’s how you know you’re a teacher,” Belmonte explained. “It’s when you have devoted your life to teaching others, but you’re driven by the sense you haven’t done enough.
“I’m tormented by the feeling there’s more that could be done to teach young people, if not for a lack of time or energy. So it spurs me on and motivates me to do what I do.”
About the Reach awards
The Reach Awards gala is National Louis University’s premiere annual awards event, honoring those who make significant contributions and supporting the success of current students. Previous Pioneer Award winners include Patricia and Mike Koldyke, founders of the Golden Apple Foundation, and Arne Duncan, former U.S. Secretary of Education.
To learn more about the Reach Awards gala and RSVP, click here.
To view sponsorship opportunities for the Reach Awards, click here.