Fernell Miller - 2024 Golden Apple Award Winner

Fernell Miller - 2024 Golden Apple Award Winner

Educator Fernell MIller was selected as a recipient of the Golden Apple Award in February of 2024. For more than 20 years, Cascade PBS has honored and celebrated individuals who exemplify what it means to be a student-centered and transformative teacher and community leader. Fernell has taught in various schools K-12, throughout the Northshore School District and has been an educator for 40 years. Though her title is Physical Education teacher, her impact extends far beyond the four walls of the gymnasium. She is a pillar within the Arrowhead Elementary community and beyond - creating safe spaces for children and adults to find their identity and build community to combat racial isolation. We feel very fortunate that Fernell has chosen to teach and lead in our schools. 

Early Years

Fernell is a product of the Northshore School District, Kenmore Elementary and Kenmore Middle School, and a graduate of Inglemoor High School. As a student in this district she experienced the racism that she fights to dismantle today. 

She comes from a long line of brilliant Black educators that she has traced back to her great grandfather Jasper P. Henderson, who provided land for what is now Chatham-Jasper Henderson High School in Louisiana, and has come full circle to her children, who are now also educators. Growing up, she understood that education and school were communal, and because her parents were educators, they instilled in her the importance of belonging within the community - especially at school. However, her experiences at home and at school were drastically different. As she progressed through her educational journey, her parents were listening to their kids as they were waking up to the duality of the two Americas that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote about. As educators themselves, her parents “held space for her Black brilliance” and normalized Black excellence. It is with that same lens, that Fernell has been able to create what she never experienced in her educational spaces, for the students she currently teaches.

Fernell also works to correct the lie of superior, inferior and other racist ideologies - dismantling racist practices and policies while helping students to affirm their value and worth. She often refers to herself as a “blacklight”, helping to expose the beauty and brilliance of Black, Brown, and Indigenous youth that is hidden in plain sight. These qualities have allowed her to resist racism by shining a light on the truth through education. Her role as a Physical Education teacher has helped her to build relationships with students throughout Washington state to show them that being their most authentic selves is their superpower. Fernell demonstrates and models the importance and value of their identities. Being a Black educator, she reflects their brilliance back to them. Fernell said this Golden Apple Award, though an honor, would mean even more to her if schools became spaces where Black, Brown, and Indigenous students are honored and celebrated for being their authentic selves, instead of spaces where they experience  trauma and harm from oppression and racism. “Schools should feel like love, not a choke hold with a smile,” Fernell said.

The Legacy Continues

When she is not educating students within her school, she leads racial education and holds space for racial healing through her organization, The Root Of Us. Children, youth, mentors, and community members learn accurate knowledge of themselves and their roots, and they use that knowledge to build strong, equitable, inclusive, and diverse communities of practice. Through The Root Of Us, she has centered youth voices and has raised up the next generation of truth tellers who are unapologetic in owning their identity and who are not afraid to have conversations about racism to understand how it affects them and how to respond.

Fernell refers to herself as a “humanity coach” and models it by loving herself - a practice that stems back to her upbringing. Through the recognition and celebration of this Golden Apple Award, Fernell has had the opportunity to pay the honor forward to her mother and sister, both retired educators. In acknowledging the absence of being celebrated for their brilliance by winning similar awards during their respective teaching careers, Fernell worked with Arrowhead Elementary Principal Kristin Bailey, to honor them at the Martin Luther King Jr. assembly in January 2024, for their service in education and the legacy that both of them have left behind in Fernell and all her students.

As Fernell retires at the end of this school year, she hopes that her legacy throughout the District has paved the way for more transformative truth tellers, and inspires current and future educators to step into their full identities and authenticity while honoring each other's humanity first. Her hope is that they can educate from truth rooted in anti-racism and shine a light on the brilliance of Black, Brown, and Indigenous students across the District, and throughout the state of Washington.

In closing, Fernell shared the following - 

“As your PE/Health Education, I want you to take away three things . . 

1. Keep P.L.A.Y. centered.

P - Put it down! Let nothing be more important than centering youth and their needs.

L- Lift youth up and celebrate them. Listen to what youth are not saying, and let them Lead

A - Ask youth if this “play” is ok? Let them lead in the decision making, so they also learn from mistakes and with celebrations.

Y - Answer youth with a “Yes/And”, always find a way to make a way for their dreams.

2. Resist Rescuing youth because it robs them of the reality, confidence and authenticity, as well as the learning they could gain from allowing them to sit with or struggle through hard things.

3. Show up Authentically ALWAYS - even on your not so stellar days. That let’s youth know that their humanity will be welcome and honored in your presence.”



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