ISBE Honors Three District 401 Employees with Statewide Awards

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Congratulations to three District 401 faculty members — including one from Elm — who have been recognized for their outstanding work by the Illinois State Board of Education's Those Who Excel and Teacher of the Year award programs.

The honorees are:

Elmwood Elementary School
Social Worker
2022 ISBE Those Who Excel Award
Meritorious Service
School Support Personnel

Elmwood Elementary School
Second Grade Teacher
2022 ISBE Teacher of the Year Award
Meritorious Service
Early Career Educator

Elm Middle School
Sixth Grade ELA Teacher
2022 ISBE Teacher of the Year Award
Meritorious Service
Classroom Teacher

To learn more about each of these educators and their award-winning work, please continue reading. The following interviews were done via email and Google Drive with D401 web/media specialist Dave Porreca.

Congratulations again to this year's honorees!

Q&A with Meg Carin

Meg Carin

ABOVE: Meg Carin has been a school social worker in District 401 for 23 years. She won a 2022 Meritorious Service Award in ISBE's Those Who Excel program. (D401 photo by Dave Porreca)

Could you tell us a little about your background? For example, what’s your hometown? Where did you graduate from high school and college?
I grew up in River Forest and Oak Park. I went to Oak Park and River Forest High School. I received my bachelor of arts degree in political science from the University of Dayton. I received my master's of social work and master's of jurisprudence from Loyola University.

What does winning this award mean to you?
This award means to me that I am able to do my job because I am supported by a wonderful group of staff at Elmwood School. It means that I get to help others, and that is the most important aspect of my job.

How did this recognition come about? Did you apply for it on your own initiative, or were you nominated? What material, if any, did you have to provide as part of the application process?
Matt Lerner (Elmwood principal) and Stephanie Hagins (Elmwood assistant principal) nominated me. I had to fill out an application that required three to four essays.

How long have you been a school social worker, and how long in District 401?
I started in the District in 1999. This is my 23rd year in Elmwood Park and 24th year as a social worker.

Where else have you been a social worker?
I worked for a year in Bellwood and at Proviso Area for Exceptional Children Behavior Program. Prior to being a school social worker I was a family educator for Maryville Academy in the Foster Care Program.

What interested you in social work as a career, and why school social work in particular?
I wanted to be an advocate for children and felt school social work would be a great avenue to facilitate this interest.

Related to that, what do you like most about your current position?
I enjoy working with students and helping parents find resources for their children. I also enjoy working with the team at Elmwood School. As a team we work really well to help our students be successful.

Q&A with Kelsey Horvath

Kelsey Horvath

ABOVE: Kelsey Horvath is in her third year of teaching in District 401. She also coaches cross country at Elm Middle School and girls basketball at EPHS. (D401 photo by Dave Porreca)

Could you tell us about your background?
I grew up in Addison, where I attended Addison Trail High School. For college I attended Beloit College, in Beloit, Wisc., where I double majored in elementary education and youth studies and Spanish. I received my master's in curriculum and instruction with an English as a Second Language endorsement from Olivet Nazarene University. I am awaiting to start another master's program regarding educational leadership.

What does winning this award mean to you?
Receiving this award is a great achievement. Last spring, I was thrilled just to have the opportunity to be nominated for the award; receiving the award has brought a great deal of fulfillment as well.

How did this recognition come about? Did you apply for it on your own initiative, or were you nominated? What material did you have to provide as part of the application process?
Last spring, Mr. Lerner and Mrs. Hagins had nominated me for the Outstanding Early Career Educator Award. In order to be considered for any type of award with ISBE, I had to have three letters of recommendation (one from administration, one from another staff member, and one from a student or student's family depending on the age of student). I also had to provide my resume, a personal biography, as well as complete topics in education narratives for the following topics: Philosophy of Education, Issues in Education, and Educational Leadership.

How long have you been teaching, and how long in District 401?
This is my four-and-a-half to fifth year teaching, and third year in District 401.

Where else and what grade(s) have you taught besides 2nd grade at Elmwood Elementary?
I previously taught in the School District of Beloit, located in Beloit, Wisc. There, I co-taught in a 1st-grade classroom and taught 3rd grade for a year.

What motivated you to become a teacher?
I have been fortunate to have many influential adult role models in my life. In high school and college I worked with NEDSRA (Northeast DuPage Special Recreation Association) as a camp counselor for children with special needs. In college my passion for teaching really took off due to incredible professors and advisors who helped put me in learning situations that would better my understanding and grow my repertoire of skills needed to be successful in the classroom. I have always had a competitive spirit, which transfers over to loving the constant challenge of adapting to and supporting 26 students' individual needs. Kids are creative and imaginative; I love learning with them.

Related to that, what do you like most about your current position?
As I mentioned, I am driven to meet the needs of my students, which is exciting in itself as the needs change from year to year. There is not one thing that I like most about my position at Elmwood, but a multitude of experiences. I love having the opportunity to spend each day with my students and see the extraordinary amounts of growth they make between August and May. Students grow so much academically, socially and emotionally throughout a school year.

After finishing my master's earlier this year, I was excited to spend my “free” time coaching. I had played basketball all four years of college and coached at the college after graduating, so I was looking forward to having the opportunity to get back into sports. I coached cross country at Elm Middle School and freshmen-sophomore girls basketball this year at EPHS. It's a great opportunity to get to know students and their families on a more personal level. This spring I look forward to running another book club for educators and staff at the elementary level.

Q&A with Sarah Rippe

Sarah Rippe

ABOVE: Sarah Rippe has been teaching in District 401 since 2005. She started at John Mills and moved to Elm Middle School in 2019. (D401 photo by Dave Porreca)

Could you tell us about your background? For example, how long have you been teaching, and how long have you worked in District 401?
I have been teaching for 21 years, most of them in Elmwood Park, where I began teaching 6th grade at John Mills in 2005. I had the opportunity to move to Elm, where I taught 7th-grade language arts during the 2019-20 school year. When the addition of new classrooms was complete and 6th-grade students joined Elm, I returned to 6th-grade language arts.

What does winning this award mean to you?
I would like to think of winning this award from the Illinois State Board of Education as a collaborative recognition. The co-workers that I have been blessed to work with have all had an impact on my teaching practices and my interactions with students. They have helped me further develop the best practices and instructional strategies that I use with students daily.

How did this recognition come about?
I was surprised and honored to be nominated by Ms. Morgan Freeck, my former assistant principal at Elm. The application process included obtaining letters of recommendation from colleagues and parents of students along with written statements about my philosophy of teaching. This process was not as involved as my National Board Certification, but it was still reflective of the strong pedagogy I hold for the belief that all students have a right to a supportive learning environment.

What do you like most about your job?
I love being a part of the Elm family. I am fortunate to work with amazing co-teachers who honor and support all students and push them to be the best they can be each day. I enjoy how middle school students keep me on my toes, make me laugh, teach me new things and rise up to the high expectations that Elm teachers hold for each of them.

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