#EOTY42 Week 1: Meet 9 Amazing Educators From Geneva, East Aurora and U-46
- For the 42nd annual Educator of the Year ceremony, 45 nominees will be honored in an ’80s-themed event on April 28 at the Q Center in St. Charles. Follow the excitement on social media using #EOTY42 and #leadassistinspire.
For the next five weeks, the Kane County Regional Office of Education will be highlighting the 45 inspirational nominees for the 42nd annual Educator of the Year awards. In addition to Educator of the Year, awards presented on April 28 will include the categories of Elementary Educator, Middle School Educator, High School Educator, School Administrator, Student Support Personnel, and Educational Service Personnel.
The following educators, administrators and support staff have been nominated and recognized as leaders in their education-related fields by their students, colleagues, and supervisors.
Ryan Herlihy from East Aurora High School — Nominated for High School Teacher of the Year
When asked why he wanted to become a math teacher, Ryan Herlihy of East Aurora High School said math is focused around problem-solving — and problem-solving is a core part of his personality.
Herlihy brings his problem-solving mindset not just to chalkboard equations but to all aspects of teaching at East. After nine years at the high school, he has become known by his colleagues as a teacher many students confide in for support.
“My focus is to help my students become better,” he said. “I truly believe that teachers need to find where their students are at, and then figure out how to help them improve themselves both academically and in life.”
Laurie Perry from Harrison Street Elementary School — Nominated for Elementary Teacher of the Year
When she was a little girl, Laurie Perry loved to pretend to be the teacher when she played with her friends and family. Later in life, when she had an opportunity to change careers, she became a real-life, honest-to-goodness fourth-grade teacher — and Harrison Street School in Geneva is a better place because she did.
Perry approaches teaching with a passion and with an energy that makes learning fun. After 13 years as a fourth-grade teacher at Harrison Street School, she is enjoying every moment as if it were year one.
“I really like to make learning fun and engaging for the kids,” she said. “I think the kids help give me more energy, and I strive to continue finding new ways to give them a lesson in an interactive environment where they are engaged in the learning.”
Angie Casebeer from Independence Early Learning Center — Nominated for Education Service Personnel of the Year
When asked about her most impactful experience as an educator, Angie Casebeer told a story of how she was working with a student who never talked in school. Casebeer was patient, and through encouragement and one-on-one attention, she was slowly able to help the student gain confidence and developer her verbal skills.
One day, Casebeer was surprised when the student started reciting the alphabet during class time.
It’s moments like these that drive Casebeer to come to school and do her best each day. She has been a paraprofessional at Independence Preschool in Bartlett for two years. Each day, she spends her time with students and aiding the teacher in the classroom.
“It’s just such a rewarding job to have,” she said. “You’re trying to impact the lives of a lot of children. That’s one of my favorite parts, too. You get to observe students growing and learning at a rapid pace, where you see the concepts clicking in their head each day.”
Noah Little from Krug Elementary School — Nominated for School Administrator of the Year
On a typical day walking into Krug Elementary School in East Aurora, you’ll see Noah Little visiting classrooms and interacting with students by giving them fist bumps, high-fives, compliments and encouragement.
As principal of Krug for the past four years, Little has been part of creating a family-like atmosphere in the school. Students and teachers alike know him as an effective listener and see him as someone who cares about them and their school.
“We have one goal in mind for our students, and that is to help them learn and grow both academically and socially,” Little said. “I’m trying to look at the big picture and our society, because our society is going to be what leads us into the future.”
Rene Swidenbank from Geneva High School — Nominated for High School Teacher of the Year
When learning a foreign language, the best method is to immerse yourself in the language. That is exactly what Rene Swidenbank did during her studies. She traveled to Germany and lived there for five years to gain a strong understanding of the language and culture before becoming a teacher.
In her 15 years teaching German at Geneva High School, Swidenbank has brought the German culture into her classroom through immersion days, field trips, and class trips to Europe.
She has loved every day teaching and seeing her students develop their skills and a love of the German culture.
“What I want to inspire my students to do is to go out and see the world and see how much there is out there,” she said. “That adventure is a great way to open up their eyes and their minds to the world.”
Bonnie Droesch from Independence Early Learning Center — Nominated for Educational Service Personnel of the Year
Secretaries are the face of the school and typically the first person who greets a parent or grandparent, who sees students entering the school and who is there for kids when they need help. Each day for them is unique, and that is one of the many reasons Bonnie Droesch loves being a secretary.
Droesch has worked at Independence Preschool for the past 17 years. She has enjoyed not only interacting with her co-workers each day, but also getting to see how the school has evolved over the years.
“It’s very rewarding because you get to see the students grow up,” she said. “They start here when they are 3 years old, and you can see them learning how to talk and do other things. It’s great seeing them start as a young 3-year-old and grow up to be a 5-year-old ready for kindergarten”.
Annie Hughes from East Aurora High School — Nominated for Student Support Personnel of the Year
If you ask students about Annie Hughes, virtually all of them will tell you about the open and honest conversations they’ve had with her. She has a way of making them feel comfortable and to open up.
Hughes has been a social worker at East Aurora High School for six years. Students are inspired by her and learn that they are not defined by their circumstances.
“We’re not just teaching them math, English, and history,” she said. “We’re also teaching them the social and coping skills that will help them become productive individuals in their community.”
Matt Gain from Geneva Middle School South — Nominated for Middle School Teacher of the Year
Like many great scientists, Matt Gain got his start at a young age by tinkering with anything that he could get his hands on. While his parents may not have loved coming home to see him taking apart their telephone or stereo, it was through this that Matt started to find his love of science.
Inspired by his own teachers as a student, Gain decided to pursue teaching. He has spent the past 16 years teaching chemistry and physics at Geneva Middle School South. His unique style of teaching incorporates storytelling and characters to make his lessons interesting and memorable.
“I think what drove me to teaching versus working in a lab was the interactions with students,” he said. “It’s not that I’m just there to give them information. It’s also that there is a deeper relationship that happens too that makes each day different and exciting.”
Angie Rojas from Independence Early Learning Center — Nominated for Preschool Teacher of the Year
Angie Rojas’ passion for teaching started from raising her own children. When one of her children was diagnosed on the autism spectrum, she learned everything she could to help her daughter in her learning.
Rojas has been teaching at Independence Preschool for the past 10 years as a self-contained special education teacher. Parents of her students know that Rojas is someone they can turn to for advice when it comes to their child’s education.
“Just when I see the students make the littlest bit of progress, it pushes me forward.,” she said. “I don’t look for just big steps. I’m able to find joy even in the little things that the students do and it affirms that I’m doing the right thing to help them learn.”
About the Kane County Regional Office of Education
Led by Regional Superintendent of Schools Patricia Dal Santo, the Kane County ROE is located in Geneva and serves nine school districts. From teacher licensure assistance to professional development, the ROE’s mission is to advocate for education, provide leadership and perform regulatory functions. Learn more about the ROE’s offerings on Facebook, Twitter and by signing up for the semimonthly newsletter.