Jamal Bruce

Plainfield East High School senior Jamal Bruce was named a 2014 Golden Apple scholar earlier this year, a distinction that will help pay for his college education. (Jamal Bruce / March 26, 2014)

Plainfield East High School senior Jamal Bruce has studied his teachers from as early as the first and second grades, and knew he wanted to do what they do.

"Just watching them, and how willing they were to help with everything, it just seemed like it was so much fun putting the classroom together, helping the kids and getting to know each child on a personal level, helping them with their strengths and weaknesses," said Bruce, 17, who lives in Romeoville.

Bruce came one step closer to his goal this year, when he found out he had been selected as a 2014 Golden Apple scholar.

Golden Apple, a nonprofit, seeks to foster and develop Illinois' future educators.

Bruce was one of 175 students statewide to receive the award, out of more than 1,600 nominations, according to Plainfield Community Consolidated School District 202.

He was recommended for the program by his counselor, Maria Hernandez.

The program seeks out nominees who have a passion to one day teach in a school of higher need as defined by the federal government, Golden Apple Scholar director Jim Sorenson said in a district press release.

"We sort of accelerate that passion and spark, by allowing our Scholars to be taught by excellent, accomplished teachers who are familiar with schools of need," Sorenson said. "At the very end, we have this incredibly prepared young person who is ready to conquer the world and can address any issues that come his way."

Bruce will receive $2,500 in tuition assistance from Golden Apple during his freshman and sophomore years of college, and $5,000 annually during his junior and senior years, according to the nonprofit's website.

Bruce said he will also attend workshops that will accelerate his path to teaching, a journey that will start this summer during a five-week session at the DePaul University campus.

He will get to live on the campus and get paid for attending.

"That's pretty cool," Bruce said.

After that, Bruce said he will begin attending classes this fall at Illinois State University in Normal.

In exchange, Bruce has agreed to spend five years teaching at a school of need when he graduates, something the senior said he looks forward to doing.

"If I can be a positive role model in someone's life, I feel that's the most important thing," he said.

Bruce, who joined the varsity cheer team this year and said he enjoys reading and hanging out with friends, said he is ready to set off on his path to inspiring students the way his teachers inspired him.

"It is the beginning of my journey into teaching, and that's what I'm most excited about," he said. "This is where the road starts."

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