DANVILLE — For as long as she can remember, Dominique Billips always wanted to be a teacher.
“We used to play school all the time,” Dominique’s grandpa, Curtis Cryer, shared.
“She loves school,” her mother, Deidre Billips, said.
The 17-year-old is now well on her way to becoming a teacher after finding out that she is one of 135 students statewide to be selected as a Class of 2013 Illinois Golden Apple Scholar.
“We’re so proud of her,” said Dominique’s grandma, Joe A. Billips.
The Golden Apple Scholar of Illinois is a highly competitive program that seeks the best and brightest of Illinois youth interested in a teaching career.
Those selected receive advanced teacher preparation through summer institutes that give students early practice and exposure to the art of teaching and financial assistance for college.
As an Illinois Golden Apple Scholar, Dominique will receive money to offset her college expenses as well as the opportunity to teach summer school before entering college.
Dominique said her summer school assignment through DeVry University in Chicago will be “helping out in the Chicago Public Schools during summer school.”
The early Danville High School graduate, however, already has had a taste of teaching in a first-grade classroom. “I helped out at Cannon School between October and January, and I still go and volunteer.
“I read with the kids, especially with the kids who were struggling with reading,” she said. “They would just light up.
“I would like to work with younger kids in kindergarten through sixth grade, and get certification to teach middle school and high school,” she said.
More than 1,200 nominations were received for this year’s competitive Golden Apple Scholar program, which awards financial assistance during the course of the scholar’s college tenure. The scholar receives $2,500 each year of his or her freshman and sophomore years of college and $5,000 each year of their junior and senior years.
Dominique also will earn $2,000 for her summer school assignment in Chicago.
The application process is rigorous, with Dominique collecting letters of recommendation, writing several essays and answering questions in an interview about why she wanted to become a teacher.
“There were seven essays I had to write and three letters of reference,” she said.
Dominique had the help of her Introduction to Teaching teacher David Covey, who nominated her for the award.
“I actually was hard on her,” Covey said. “I told her I wouldn’t write a letter of reference until after she wrote all of her essays.”
Once he started writing the letter, the words came easily for him.
“Dominique has a unique perspective,” Covey said. “When she was younger, she had an elementary school teacher pull her aside and tell her she could do better.”
At first, Dominique was taken aback, but she vowed to do better and it paid off.
“She’s very, very serious in class and takes her education seriously,” Covey said.
“She’s also a genuine person,” he said. “If she sees someone is having a bad day, she’ll say something to cheer them up like, ‘I like your shoes.’”
Covey said Dominique is persistent, especially when it came to persuading the teacher to give up his Coldplay poster he had hanging in his classroom.
“Every day she would show up in my doorway and she had a new reason why she needed to have that poster,” he said. “You knew she had thought about what she was going to say.”
Finally, at the end of the semester, Covey gave her the poster.
“She won’t give up on anything. She won’t give up on herself and she won’t give up on her students,” he said. “I don’t know many teenagers like her.”
Dominique, who is the first in her immediate family to go to college, will major in elementary education at Southern Illinois University in the fall.
A reception honoring the Class of 2013 Golden Apple Scholars and the 25th anniversary of the program will be May 11, at the Tinley Park Convention Center in south suburban Tinley Park.