TEMPE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- In times when teaching has turned online, we thought we would follow suit for our very first virtual Silver Apple Award. We barged in on Mr. Brandon Runnels as he was teaching a class online to present him with the award and a $1,000 check from Arizona's Family.

Silver Apple via Zoom

Runnels is the STEM teacher at AZ Aspire Academy, a school suited for students with learning challenges. His student, Colton, nominated him.

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"Having autism means I tend to see things differently than other people my age," Colton said. "Mr. Brandon has a unique and fun way of teaching me, which helps me think not only outside the box but outside my box. He is helping me develop the critical thinking skills I will need beyond high school. He goes out of his way to make sure me and my classmates feel like we have purpose. To put it simply, there are no words to describe how grateful I am to have him as my teacher."

"It makes me feel incredibly happy and makes me feel all the effort is definitely worth it," Runnels said. "To directly see the impact I've had, especially with someone as special as Colton, is ... wow. Just thank you is all I can say. That's the reason I do this."

Another reason this STEM teacher got into education is he knows from personal experience what a difference one teacher can make. "When I was back in high school, I had a teacher take a special interest in me and my interest in history," he explained. "They helped inspire me to get into teaching, and I hope to one day pay that forward."

While most teachers are amazing and often go above and beyond, it truly takes someone even more special to teach at AZ Aspire Academy and find that special something that resides in each student.

"It starts off by just getting to know your students as people," Runnels said. "Colton, on his own, is just an amazing kid. Then you see him in class actively engaging in lessons and actively adding to them with his own personality. I want to inspire Colton and all my students to keep learning, to keep pushing forward to know that there's so much to life worth knowing about."

It's that special attention that has helped Colton and other students excel. "Thank you for everything you've done for me for the two-plus years now that we've known each other," Colton told Runnels. "Thank you for being there."

Silver Apple - Colton

Colton is the STEM student who nominated Runnels.

Runnels was clearly touched.

"It's one thing to have the respect of your colleagues or peers or supervisors, but to have the respect of your students, I think, is ultimately the best part of this," he said.


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