Meet Amundsen Learning Behavior Specialist II and Algebra Teacher Brian McMahon

Q: What’s something few people know about you?

A: What people do not know about me is that I create my own brand of organic soaps. 

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Q: What brought you to your current position? What do you like best about it?

A: I have a Master’s Degree in Special Education Curriculum Adaptation and Leadership. Upon interviewing for my current position at Amundsen as a Co-Teacher/Instructional Algebra 1 teacher, I immediately felt that the administration recognized the talents I could bring to students. Also, the reputation that Amundsen carries now had a great appeal to me, as I knew I would be able to work among such strong, dedicated teachers and staff.

Q: What was your own high school like? How was it similar to or different from the school where you work?

A: When I was in high school many years ago, my experience was cold and one-sided. As students, we did not have any connections to teachers and were expected to imitate whatever was provided by the teacher in order to obtain credit. There were very limited additional strategies or support if you struggled in a subject. There were not any co-taught classes. This experience is very different from what we provide at Amundsen, where it is an expectation of teachers to have a connection with our students. This builds the capacity for students to make mistakes in a safe, trusting environment. Students’ skillsets are closely monitored, and students are placed where they will receive the support they need. We provide a variety of settings so that students are successful. We, as teachers, provide many strategies to accomplish the same skills. We recognize that students all learn differently. 

Q: What’s one thing you wish people knew about your school? 

A: I would like people to know that the entire staff is dedicated to the success of all our students. We believe every student will grow and succeed. 

Q: Please share one of the best moments you’ve had working at this school. 

A: Every day at Amundsen is awesome. It is hard to pick just one awesome moment. That being said, a special moment that stands out is being asked by our case manager to assist in the development of supports for our diverse learners. By doing so I have been able to utilize all the leadership and adaptation skills I have acquired. 

Q: What advice would you give to a student just starting out at your school?

A: The advice I would provide to incoming Amundsen students would be to establish a good relationship with their teachers and to obtain a structure for homework completion. It is essential that the homework be attempted so that the skills are reinforced to use on future quizzes and exams. 

Meet Lake View Physical Education Teacher and Co-Athletic Director John Neal

Q: What’s something few people know about you?

A: I've competed in over 100 bike races in Utah, Idaho, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Georgia, and Ohio.

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Q: What brought you to your current position? What do you like best about it?

A: My wife and I decided to move to Chicago in 2001 from a small town in Michigan. I taught physical education (PE) at the same elementary school in Pilsen from 2001-2018. I went to grad school at DePaul with the former athletic director at Lake View. He had asked if I wanted to coach at Lake View, and I ended up coaching junior varsity basketball and varsity softball from 2015-18. I got to know the students and climate of the school and really just enjoyed it so much that I wanted to teach there. Everything just kind of lined up this year, and a PE position opened up, which I interviewed for and was offered the position. After taking the PE position, I also was fortunate to take on the co-athletic director role. I now share those duties with Maria Ramirez, which has been fantastic. I love being involved with all the sports. I feel like I'm getting to know all the players from each team. It's made my connection to Lake View awesome.

Q: What was your own high school like? How was it similar to or different from the school where you work?

A: I'm from a very small town in Michigan. You know everyone in your class and most likely in every grade. Lake View is similar to my background in athletics, which is one of the really unique things about sports. It doesn't matter who you are or where you're from, the connection you have with your team and coach is the same everywhere.

Q: What’s one thing you wish people knew about your school?

A: There are a lot of options at Lake View that assist students in finding their group to connect with in the school. Lake View is a first option for many students when looking at CPS high schools.

Q: Please share one of the best moments you’ve had working at this school.

A: I really enjoy the sports teams, but I've really connected with some of my PE students who don’t necessarily have an athletic background and might be a little hesitant about getting involved in PE class. I take a lot of pride in trying to encourage students to participate. 

Q: What advice would you give to a student just starting out at your school?

A: You're going to be happy at Lake View. Teachers really care, and there are a lot of options for a huge variety of students. The improvements that have been made in the recent years make Lake View one of the best schools in the city. 

Meet Lake View School Clerk & Co-Athletic Director Maria Ramirez

This is part of a continuing series of Q&A interviews with the people of Lake View and Amundsen high schools.

Q: What’s something few people know about you?

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A: A few people know that I have a great memory. I can recall things that someone said or did a long time ago. Sometimes I even remember the exact date and time. It’s CRAZY!

Q: What brought you to your current position? What do you like best about it?

A: I worked at an elementary school before coming to Lake View. Though I loved my co-workers and the students, I did not have the chance to grow there, so I decided to move onto bigger things like a high school. Luckily at Lake View, I’ve had the opportunity to lead many events and programs such as prom, boys’ and girls’ soccer, and senior committee.

Q: What was your own high school like? How was it similar to or different from the school where you work?

A: I feel that my experience was very different. Though my high school did have sports and clubs, I did not feel that the culture of the school was welcoming, so I decided to join only soccer. A great example: In my high school, we wanted to create a safe space for LGTB students, but our proposal was rejected. Reflecting back, I wish I had joined clubs and participated in more competitions. At Lake View, our teachers work closely with our students to create cool extracurricular activities, and the climate and culture is welcoming regardless of your individual interests.

Q: What’s one thing you wish people knew about your school?

A: Lake View has great diversity, and it is great to work with people of different backgrounds. Diversity is one our school’s greatest strengths, as it helps expand our views and pushes us to get out of our comfort zone and find solutions that take into account everyone’s perspective.

Q: Please share one of the best moments you’ve had working at this school.

A: This is a hard one. As I mentioned, I used to work at an elementary school. Many of the students from my previous school have the opportunity to attend Lake View, so I’ve known many of the students since they were in pre-K. Seeing these students grow and reach their goals is fantastic! Seeing everyone happy on graduation day is just amazing, and I’d like to think that throughout their elementary and high school years, I contributed at least a bit to set them up for success.

Q: What advice would you give to a student just starting out at your school?

A: I would tell them to get involved! Lake View has two-dozen student-led clubs and 20+ competitive sports teams, and students are bound to find something that caters to their interests. If they don’t find anything, then students can create their own space by launching a club. The staff here is very supportive of the student voice.

Meet Amundsen Administrative Clerk Enid Chinchilla

This is part of a continuing series of Q&A interviews with the people of Amundsen and Lake View high schools.

Q: What’s something few people know about you? 

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A: I went to college to become a youth minister.

Q: What brought you to your current position? 

A: I was a college student on track to becoming a youth minister when I was offered work as an administrative assistant at a CPS high school. I accepted the position and served there for about 7 years. At that time I met my current principal, Anna Pavichevich, who was supporting our school as an interim principal. Soon after, Ms. Pavichevich accepted a principal position at Amundsen and offered me an opportunity to join her team. I've been a proud Viking ever since.

Q: What do you like best about your work at Amundsen? 

A: My work allows me to support students during their high school years as they prepare to achieve their highest potential in their post-secondary endeavors. I enjoy working alongside the counseling team and business office providing numerous supports and services to our students, parents, staff and community. 

Q: What was your own high school like? How was it similar to or different from Amundsen?

A: I went to a small, all-girls private school. It was a great experience. It felt like family. The school spirit was felt heavily throughout my time there. In that way, it was similar to Amundsen. From the moment I came on staff, I knew I was part of a special group of people trying to do something exceptional. You feel it when you walk through the halls, talk to the students, collaborate with colleagues. I feel very fortunate to be at Amundsen.

Q: What’s one thing you wish people knew about your school?  

A: I think the buzz is getting around. Amundsen is a contender. We're working diligently as a school community to achieve high-level results year after year. We're all in, and we're in it together achieving Level 1+ status as a neighborhood high school for the second year in a row. 

Q: Please share one of the best moments you’ve had working at this school.

A: My favorite time of year at Amundsen is homecoming week. We fill it with fun themes and activities, decorate the halls with balloons and streamers as our athletic teams prepare to be celebrated at our all-school pep rally. It's all about school spirit as the stadium is filled with our staff and students all at the same time. It's good seeing the kids—with their painted faces, spirit wear and athletic uniforms—cheering and just being kids. The buildup and the energy is great. I look forward to it every year. It makes me proud to be a Viking.

Q: What advice would you give to a student just starting out at your school?  

A: Get connected. There are so many ways to get involved and so many people waiting to support you. You have a place here. We want you to reach your greatest potential while enjoying all that Amundsen has to offer.

Meet the Parents! Highlights from the GROW Parent-to-Parent Panel

On October 27, we hosted the GROW Parent-to-Parent Panel and Reception at O’Donovan’s. Prospective parents had the opportunity to hear from current Amundsen High School and Lake View High School parents about their experiences at the two GROW high schools and navigating the transition from elementary to high school.

Thank you to all the prospective parents who attended and especially to our parent panelists: Lake View parents, Peggy Herrington and Amy Smolensky, and Amundsen parents, Lauren Bell and Beneen Prendiville. Missed the event? Read on for discussion highlights!

The Path to Amundsen & Lake View

We’ve always been supportive of the concept of neighborhood schools. I’m not anti-selective enrollment—I just think it’s a flawed system, and it’s very difficult and stressful. In deciding on Lake View, we felt if there’s a great neighborhood option, why wouldn’t we take that path?
— Amy, Lake View Parent
I don’t think we could have predicted how things would have gone so great…We kind of drank the Kool-Aid that the only answer in Chicago was selective, but we’re here to say otherwise. My son is doing well at Lake View. He’s applying to amazing colleges. I am so proud of him.
— Peggy, Lake View Parent
We went and signed up for swimming lessons at Winnemac Park, just so I could sort of spy on Amundsen, because I knew the pool was in Amundsen. This was even before the current principal was there, and there was something about the building that just felt really good. Then the next year, Anna (the current principal) came, and I started getting involved with Friends of Amundsen. So when my oldest was in sixth grade and my youngest was in fourth, I just started telling both of my girls, ‘You guys are Vikings. You guys are Vikings. You guys are Vikings.’
— Beneen, Amundsen Parent
We allowed our son to make the final decision. He did test. He was accepted into Whitney and Amundsen. He’s in the IB program at Amundsen. He’s a very analytical kid so he spent a lot of time really thinking through. I asked him, ‘What’s important to you if you set aside academics and extracurricular options? Because you’ll have access to those regardless of where you go.’ And one of the biggest things for him was that he said he wanted to make good friends, and that was one of the deciding factors in the end. My kids go to Newberry, which is a magnet, for elementary, which we love. Except everybody comes from all over the city, so it’s very hard to get together with kids after school. And that was something that was important to him: to be surrounded by good people and not just be thinking test, test, test, test, test, and top scores.
— Lauren, Amundsen Parent
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The Transition to High School

Open communication is key. High school transition is a big thing. The first thing that I do the first week of school is email every teacher just to introduce myself, tell them that I like open communication. So that starts a dialogue. Also, for freshmen, get to know their counselor right away. They tend to have the same counselor throughout high school, and they’re the ones that are really going to get to know your kids and help them with their post high school track. It’s also great because they’ll help you identify any challenges that your kids are having academically, socially, everything like that.
— Beneen, Amundsen Parent
In his freshman year, my son was a rower at Chicago Rowing Foundation, so he was not staying at school after school. And I think that made a difference. He really didn’t get to know people after school as much. So we talked about that the summer after freshman year, and we thought, ‘You know, why not give it a chance? Maybe join something at school.’ He did. He joined cross country, and he loved it. He met more people. It was really a good experience for him…It’s something that I wish someone told me early on—encourage your children to join clubs, sports, athletics, after school things. Because the more you join up front, you meet people, you decide what is the best fit for you.
— Peggy, Lake View Parent
There’s not been anything that has really been a struggle for him, I think partially because he kind of immersed himself into the experience before he even got there. And just the support that you get walking in the first day from everybody, staff on down. Upper classmen that reach out to the kids as they come in…They really care about each other as students there, and the teachers do, so the whole environment is very conducive to helping them grow into that next phase.
— Lauren, Amundsen Parent
I would recommend for all students to join a club or a sport where you are with kids that are interested in something that you’re interested in. It helps. But I will say, having gone through this two years in a row, the transition to high school takes time for every child no matter what school they go to.
— Amy, Lake View Parent
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Kudos

My son was asked last year, as a student ambassador, to work at a high school fair at North Park Elementary. He was the representative student at the Lake View table. I went, helped set it up, and I stood in the back and watched him. I was like, ‘Who is this kid?’ I was so amazed. He was very proud of his school. He was bragging about all the highlights—all the sports, clubs, everything. So he took pride in his school, which as a parent, that makes you feel good, like it’s all working out.
— Peggy, Lake View Parent
I encourage my daughter to be social and get out, but the one thing that I love is that she can walk to school. She can take the bus to school. She can walk to friends’ houses. She can explore nearby neighborhoods—walk to Andersonville, for example—with her friends.
— Beneen, Amundsen Parent
We’ve been completely blown away by the level of academics and the teachers at Lake View. When I went to our first open house, I was really overwhelmed by how well-rounded the teachers were and the deep thinking they were putting into the classes. I was also impressed by how well they knew my child, after just a few weeks into the school year. It was really nice.
— Amy, Lake View Parent
I went to public high school in a suburb of Chicago, and it was diverse in terms of backgrounds but also ability levels. And that’s something that I think is mirrored at Amundsen, as well. That’s one of the things we talked about with my son, too, before he decided: to think about his own experience at Newberry, where kids come from all over the city, and there are all different ability levels. Amundsen is representative of the people of Chicago. And we live in Chicago, so we wanted him to be exposed to the people of Chicago, and of the world.
— Lauren, Amundsen Parent
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Words of Wisdom

You know your kids best. So you know, along with them hopefully, what the best choice will be, no matter what anyone says. And you’re probably going to get a lot of flak if you don’t choose whatever option most people would choose—which we have from people that are very close to us. And we smile and nod and say, ‘He’s doing great, and we’re very happy with our choice.’ And it’s interesting now, the kids in our neighborhood—a lot of them that our kids know—their parents are saying, ‘Oh, your son’s going to Amundsen? Oh, ok.’ And they’re happy to hear this. Now it’s becoming something that they’re thinking about, which is wonderful.
— Lauren, Amundsen Parent
Don’t just go along when a particular school has been labeled good or bad. Every school is good in some ways, and every school has flaws. We don’t need to put all this pressure on ourselves as parents or on our kids to think that these four years are everything. It’s high school—and it’s what you make of it. As long as you know your child is safe and comfortable and has an opportunity to flourish academically and socially, that’s all you really need to think about.
— Amy, Lake View Parent
I tell people all the time when they’re curious about a school, go visit. It’s sort of like when you walk into that home that you’re going to buy—you know it’s your home before you even get out of the first step. You’ll know it’s your school. The other thing is, challenge stereotypes. I have people still say, to this day, ‘Well, what about safety?’ And I question, ‘Well, what do you mean? What did you hear? What do you think?’ Don’t assume that everybody really knows what’s going on. And they’ll say things like, ‘Well, there’s a police car outside.’ My response is, there’s a police car outside of every high school in Chicago. A lot of people don’t realize these things.
— Beneen, Amundsen Parent
I think you guys already know this, but it just helps: Talk to other parents like us who have kids in neighborhood schools. Ask whatever questions. Reach out. Call the school if you want to talk to teachers at the school. At Lake View, our teachers are wonderful. They’ll sit down with you. They’ll meet with you if you have questions.
— Peggy, Lake View Parent

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Meet Lake View Science Teacher Vyjayanti Joshi

This is part of a continuing series of Q&A interviews with the people of Lake View and Amundsen high schools.

Q: What’s something few people know about you?

A: Few people know that I was awarded a gold medal for securing the highest percentage in my Master's program by the Chancellor of my university. This award is a matter of prestige in Indian academics, and I was extremely grateful to have received this recognition.

Q: What brought you to your current position? What do you like best about it?

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A: I believe that my passion for teaching shaped me in becoming a hard-working person who truly cares about cultivating the knowledge of Lake View students. As the Science Department Instructional Lead, I enjoy collaborating with my fellow teachers in improving instruction that will help Lake View students become future leaders. Not only do I love learning from my team, but I also enjoy working with students in order to help them better understand scientific topics.

Q: What was your own high school like? How was it similar or different to the school where you work?

A: I attended an urban high school in India. It was quite different, as the class size was approximately double the average Lake View class. In addition, its focus centered on having students master one specific interest in contrast to providing a well-rounded education, like here in the United States. Additionally, I have witnessed far more sophisticated technological advancements here at my workplace compared to my high school in India. We did not have any clubs or activities that students can be a part of. I am proud that Lake View can offer these things to its students. Regardless of these differences, the values of respect, collaboration, and ambition remain consistent between my high school and Lake View.

Q: What’s one thing you wish people knew about your school?

A: One thing that I wish people knew about my school is that it is filled with so much diversity and passion. I am reminded every day that there is a drive that stems from each and every single student here at Lake View. Our school is filled with so many amazing students and teachers. It is truly an amazing experience to connect with these awesome people on a daily basis.

Q: Please share one of the best moments you’ve had working at this school.

A: I love it when students who have already graduated from Lake View come and visit me during their college breaks. Last year, I had a college student come visit whom I had taught in my Honors Biology, Honors Biotechnology, and Dual-Credit Biology classes. He brought me some lovely flowers on Mother's Day and shared his college experience with me. This student is hardworking, interested in the biological field, and ambitious about becoming a well-rounded professional. I was so touched to see how I am a part of such students' paths to success and how I am blessed with the opportunity to contribute to their interest in biology.

Q: What advice would you give to a student just starting out at your school?

A: Freshman year can be challenging, but the transition is much smoother when you learn to seek help from teachers when needed. I would also suggest that students take full advantage of the eclectic activities that Lake View has to offer, including field trips, clubs, and sports. I'd say it is important to establish connections outside of the academic setting, as becoming involved in the Lake View community really allows a student to grow and learn about the environment they are exposed to.

Meet Amundsen Special Education Teacher Benjamin Craig

This is part of a continuing series of Q&A interviews with the people of Amundsen and Lake View high schools.

Q: What’s something few people know about you?

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A: Amundsen was not my first teaching position. I taught in Tallahassee, Florida; Kaohsiung, Taiwan; Marathon, Florida; and Ft. Myers, Florida, before returning to Chicago with my wife. 

Q: What brought you to your current position? What do you like best about it?

A: I’m currently a special education teacher for Amundsen’s cluster program. What I like best about teaching in the cluster program is the incredible students I get to work with every day. We have the opportunity to focus on community-based instruction, and this allows us to explore Chicago with our students. 

Q: What was your own high school like? How was it similar or different to the school where you work?

A: I attended Glenbard South High School in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. It is a small public high school with a college preparatory focus and wonderful sports programs. It is similar to Amundsen in that it has incredible teachers who are invested in their students’ successes.

Q: What’s one thing you wish people know about your school?

A: Amundsen has one of the best and most dedicated staffs I’ve ever worked with. I’ve had the opportunity to work in seven different high schools throughout my career, and Amundsen is unique because of the support of your fellow teachers. We are a family here.

Q: Please share one of the best moments you’ve had working at this school. 

A: One of the best moments I’ve had at Amundsen is getting involved with Special Olympics. The students, coaches, parents, and families that support the program at Amundsen are amazing. Starting in 2014, the program has grown every year and constantly reminds me of our remarkable students.   

Q: What advice would you give to a student just starting out at your school?

A: High school is not a sprint; it’s a marathon. Start out strong, stay organized, and don’t be afraid to try new things.

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

-Ferris Bueller

 

Coffee Chat with GROW High School Parents Amy Smolensky and Lauren DeJulio Bell

Coffee Chat with GROW High School Parents Amy Smolensky and Lauren DeJulio Bell

By Brady K. Jones

I am the mother of two very young children—two and four. As I commute to work or push them around our neighborhood in our huge double stroller, I often run into high school students from Lake View and Amundsen hanging out in parks, eating at restaurants, or walking to and from class. I am always curious about what the schools and students are like, and I know our own high school decisions will come more quickly than I can believe. I was thrilled, then, to have the opportunity to sit down recently with Amy Smolensky, a communications consultant, and Lauren DeJulio Bell, an instructor at UIC, to talk about their children’s experiences at our two GROW high schools.

The Journey to GROW Schools

Lake View parent Amy Smolensky

Lake View parent Amy Smolensky

Amy is the mother of Nathan and Leo, both Lake View students. Lauren is a mother of four, and her oldest son, Matthew, just started as a freshman at Amundsen. I asked the two to describe how their children chose these schools—what their journeys to Lake View and Amundsen were like.

Both parents explained that the choice to attend a GROW high school was a combination of parental guidance and their sons’ preferences. Both Amy and Lauren have experience in and commitment to neighborhood schools as well as hesitations about selective enrollment high schools. They shared these values in conversations with their kids—then they both stepped back. They gave their children a chance to visit high schools they were interested in, encouraged their children to consider what they wanted out of their high school experience, and let them make their own decisions.

They are thrilled with the choices Nathan, Leo, and Matthew have made. Both of Amy’s children chose Lake View, while Matthew opted for Amundsen. Amy and Lauren tout the warm, familial atmospheres of the schools, the emphasis on social/emotional growth, the experienced teachers, and the extra time their sons have with family and friends because they chose a neighborhood high school rather than one across the city.

“My boys aren’t spending hours commuting to and from school, which gives them more time in their day to spend with friends and family, get homework done, and to simply relax,” says Amy. “With practices and extracurriculars after school, I have much more peace of mind knowing they are only 10 minutes away and can be home by 5:30 or 6 p.m. instead of on a bus or train at 8 or 9.”

The two mothers also share a strong belief that neighborhood high schools can be top options. For both families, these neighborhood high schools were their first choice, not a Plan B. Amy explains, “CPS Elementary schools used to be considered subpar, but then parents started getting involved and the schools flourished. I’m a big believer that that didn’t happen by accident. We’re sort of at a time now where that’s bubbling up to high schools. Selective enrollment has become a really stressful process. It became an expectation that everyone had to go, and people didn’t feel like there were any alternatives. But we have really good alternatives. Most schools have really good things about them and downsides about them. But in general, high school is high school. I’ve always told my children, wherever you go, it’s what you make of it.”

Amundsen parent Lauren DeJulio Bell

Amundsen parent Lauren DeJulio Bell

Lauren adds that it is her strong belief that when parents invest in their neighborhood schools, they give their families a deep sense of community. She recounts, “My son could’ve gone to selective enrollment, but it was ultimately his decision to go to Amundsen. I asked him to think about what was important to him in high school, aside from academics and extracurricular activities, and he said he really wanted to make good friends. He said it was a family feel when he walked into Amundsen. He likes that it’s diverse in terms of abilities and in terms of cultures. I think it comes down to where your own child feels best.”

The School Year So Far

Amy and Lauren’s freshmen sons are adjusting quickly to their new schools. Amy’s son Leo has the benefit of an older brother already at Lake View as well as a “critical mass” of friends from his elementary school. And Lauren describes Matthew’s transition as “seamless.” He attended Amundsen’s orientation as well as its Freshman Connection Program, which allowed him to start meeting teachers and students and connected him early with potential extracurricular programs. He was even offered a midsummer spot playing on Amundsen’s baseball team and started cross country practice before the school year officially began. Amy’s sons are also involved in sports, and last year Nathan participated in Innovation Academy, a club focused on problem solving and technology. When I spoke to Amy and Lauren, the boys were preparing to participate in Homecoming.

Final Words of Wisdom

I asked Amy and Lauren to share any final words of wisdom with parents anticipating the high school decision-making process. Again, the two moms were likeminded.

“No matter what everybody says,” Lauren advised, “make the decision that’s best for you and your family. You’ll get a lot of feedback and suggestions from others, but go with what you feel is best. And go and see what’s happening in the schools. Don’t take anyone’s word for it. Have the kids do the shadow days and see what’s happening. And talk to teachers in the different buildings. Talk to staff members. Talk to students. That’ll give you a true sense of what it’s like. You can’t just assume good or bad things without this interaction.”

Amy agreed, and added, “Don’t discount your neighborhood school. I think for a large population of people, it’s not even on their radar. Just go there. Do a shadow day. Having your kid spend some time in the school as an 8th grader is a great opportunity. It teaches them what high school is like, not just Lake View or Amundsen. And don’t make the decision life or death. It’s high school. Wherever your kid goes, they’re going to find their place. And wherever they go isn’t going to determine their lot in life. It’s going to help them develop as people no matter what.”

Brady K. Jones is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at The University of St. Francis in Joliet, Illinois. She lives in Ravenswood with her husband, two children and exuberant dog. Brady loves traveling, reading, movies, coffee and the city of Chicago.

 

Wrap-Up: GROWCommunity High School Fair 2018

The GROWCommunity High School Fair was Thursday, October 11, at Amundsen High School. Here's a sampling of the sights with Lake View and Amundsen!

Thank you to everyone who attended, participated and helped organize the fair!

Meet Lake View English Teacher Karen Krausen-Ferrer

This is part of a continuing series of Q&A interviews with the people of Lake View and Amundsen high schools.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your career so far?

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What college did you attend?

A: I took the long route through college. I started at Clark University in Massachusetts and after two years dropped out. I moved back to my home of Los Angeles, where I attended a couple of community colleges before transferring to University of California Los Angeles, UCLA. After I finished college I attended grad school twice, at Long Island University Brooklyn in New York and at California State University Dominguez Hills in California. 

What did you study?

A: At UCLA, I was a Women's Studies major with a concentration in LGBT Studies. At Long Island University Brooklyn, I received a M.S. in Adolescent Special Education, and finally at California State Dominguez Hills, I got my M.A. in Educational Administration. 

Why did you choose teaching?

A: I chose teaching because at a time in my life when I was trying on many different careers, a good friend suggested I could be good at teaching. She set me up with a day at her school to visit multiple classes. I had a really meaningful experience, and it was during that time that I decided to be a teacher. I had never considered it before, and I am grateful for having had that opportunity. 

Q: What classes do you teach at Lake View High School?

A: I teach English I, II, and IV; they are for grades 9, 10, and 12.

Q: Do you sponsor or coach any clubs or sports? 

A: I sponsor SAGA, the Sexualities and Genders Alliance. It is a space where all students are welcome and everyone is accepted for who they are. Recently, in honor of World AIDS Day, we had a presenter come from Lurie Children's Hospital to give a lesson on the history of AIDS activism, education, and prevention. The young people were really excited and turned the event into a Health Education Service Learning Project.

Q: How do you see your students' high school experiences as similar to or different from your own?

A: It can feel very different because of technology, but also feels just the same. With social media, everything just happens so fast! When I was in high school it would take a minute for rumors to spread; now it takes like a nano second. Aside from the technology, though, I will say, it feels the same because both to me in high school and to a typical high school student today, what's most important are friends, friends, friends! I cared about school and college, but mostly I just wanted to be with my friends.

Q: What do you like best about teaching at Lake View?

A: I really like the students the most. They are a really fun group of young people; they make me laugh all the time. I also really enjoy working with the other teachers. Everyone is so dedicated to their students and the school. It's great to work in a community like Lake View.

Q: What are Lake View's greatest strengths?

A: Our greatest strengths at Lake View are the students. They work hard and are caring and compassionate.

Q: Can you describe one particularly great moment you've had as a teacher at Lake View?

A: A great moment I had as a teacher this year was when we were discussing the main character from Flight, a novel by Sherman Alexie. The students were debating if the character was real or magical, and listening to them discuss the novel, I realized I had never thought about the character in the same way. I was blown away by their analysis of him and by their constant referencing of the text to debate one another. The students are really the center of my classroom, and on that day (like many days), they taught me something new.

Q: What advice would you give to students just choosing Lake View? How can they get the most out of their high school years there?

A: My advice would be to keep an open mind and get involved with what the school has to offer. There are a variety of clubs, sports, great music, and art programs, and there are annual international trips over breaks. I would also say, remember that high school is different, it takes a while to adjust to the expectations. There is a lot more independence and responsibility.

 

Meet Lake View Teacher Katherine Thiele

This is part of a continuing series of Q&A interviews with the people of Lake View and Amundsen high schools.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your career so far?

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A: I attended Illinois Wesleyan University and majored in English and Secondary Education. Three years into teaching, I began my Masters in Reading at Northeastern University and am a Reading Specialist. I also taught the AVID program my third year of teaching, which has shaped my teaching style. My fifth-year teaching, I became National Board Certified in English. My ninth year of teaching, I received my Health and Physical Education endorsements. This is my 14th year teaching and 11th year at Lake View.

Q: What classes do you teach at Lake View?

A: I used to teach senior Honors English IV and junior Reading Language Arts, but now I teach freshmen Health and senior honors Senior Leaders, and a senior Physical Education class. I love talking about books and helping students become better writers for college, but wearing sweatpants to work every day is pretty great too.

Q: Do you sponsor or coach any clubs or sports? If so, please share a recent highlight.

A: I coach cross country and track and field, basically year-round. When I was training for my first Ironman triathlon, the track coach approached me about assistant coaching the distance runners, and I became hooked. Coaching provides a whole new dynamic with the students and improves my rapport with all of my kids. Highlights include seeing my seniors on the team go off to 4-year colleges. My most committed athletes are usually my most academically driven.

Q: How do you see your students' high school experiences as similar to or different from your own?

A: I was a high school athlete, balancing honors classes, work, and practice. I see my kids balancing homework with sports, and I relate to my own high school experience in that way.

Q: What do you like best about teaching at Lake View?

A: I like how joyous and charismatic students are at Lake View. They have been though many challenges, and I value supporting students in any way possible. Having been at Lake View for a while now, I love having younger siblings in classes years later. It is fun to meet different kids from the same family. I also love when students come back to visit and hearing about all the amazing things they are doing.

Q: What are Lake View's greatest strengths?

A: Lake View's greatest strength is its students. They are very diverse and from almost every area of Chicago. Students take the CTA from near and far, and their various backgrounds provide the school with a wonderful group of kids from everywhere.

Q: Can you describe one particularly great moment you've had as a teacher at Lake View?

A: I cannot give one great moment, because the greatest moments have happened with multiple students, multiple times. My great moments in teaching usually stem from kids coming from difficult backgrounds but overcoming the odds through hard work and support. Lake View has an amazing CARE team who targets struggling students with the idea that all students can be successful when provided the proper supports. Being a small part of a homeless student's journey to college, helping a student be the first in their family to be a senior in high school, or writing a recommendation letter for a student so they can be accepted to the university of their dreams makes for pretty fulfilling days.

Q: What advice would you give to students just choosing Lake View? How can they get the most out of their high school years there?

A: The way to get the most out of Lake View or any high school is to be involved and connected. Whether it is a club or a sport, the more students join, the more connection and motivation they feel in their day. Clubs and sports teach character and time management. They expand students' networks and provide a larger safety net of support, so no matter what challenges they are facing in their lives, they have a large group of people that care about getting them back on track. 

Meet Lake View Math Teacher Matt Rosenberg

This is part of a continuing series of Q&A interviews with the people of Lake View and Amundsen high schools.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your career so far?

Quick questions:

  • What college did you attend? University of Michigan
  • What did you study? Mathematics and Philosophy
  • Why did you choose teaching? Love of Mathematics and working with students.

Q: What classes do you teach at Lake View? 

A: Sophomore Geometry

Q: Do you sponsor or coach any clubs or sports? If so, please share a recent highlight.

A: I sponsor the Lake View Math Team, which competes against schools across the city in monthly math competitions. We have a team of extremely bright students that love learning about advanced math topics. Our Geometry team is currently ranked 2nd place out of 19 in our division.

Q: How do you see your students' high school experiences as similar to or different from your own?

A: I think the largest difference is size. I was in a much smaller high school and as a result didn't have access to as many amazing teachers, after school clubs or sports. Lake View has so much to offer students that it can be hard to keep track of everything!

Q: What do you like best about teaching at Lake View? 

A: I love that I get a chance to work with an awesome group of students that come from all over the city.

Q: What are Lake View's greatest strengths? 

A: I would have to say that our dedicated staff and our amazing students are our greatest strengths. Staff members push themselves everyday to bring top notch lessons to our students and are constantly seeking out learning opportunities and resources to enrich their classrooms. Every day I find myself learning new things from colleagues about how to best approach a new lesson or how to improve an instructional practice of mine.

Q: Can you describe one particularly great moment you've had as a teacher at Lake View? 

A: I have many fond memories of teaching at Lake View, but it always makes me most proud when students return to Lake View after graduating to share their amazing accomplishments. Just the other day, a student visited who will be graduating this spring with an engineering degree from U of I. It was awesome to hear that he went on to use the Math he learned at Lake View to find his passion.

Q: What advice would you give to students just choosing Lake View? How can they get the most out of their high school years there?

A: Reach out to your teachers if you need any help. They are here to help you learn and grow. Never be afraid to ask a question when you need extra help.

Get involved in a club or a sport! There are a ton of great opportunities at Lake View that will help you grow as an individual, meet new friends and become part of the Lake View community.

Stay on top of your work! The transition to high school can be difficult with so much new stuff; keep up to date on your work so you don't get overwhelmed!

 

Meet Amundsen Director of Orchestras Sean Reidy

This is part of a continuing series of Q&A interviews with the people of Amundsen and Lake View high schools.

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Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your career so far? What college did you attend? What did you study?

A: I attended the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University for my bachelor's in music performance, MMED Vandercook after that. I was a jazz performance major (upright bass) for my bachelor's. We basically played all day; it was amazing. For my master's degree, I studied all things music, attaining K-12 certification in Band, Chorus and Orchestra. I recently quit bartending after 12 years and was a full-time carpenter for the six years between my degrees. The reason I mention that is because it taught me the discipline and patience I needed to become a teacher.

Q: Why did you choose teaching?

A: Why teaching? I've always had a chip on my shoulder; I remember as a performance major in college, the education major students were often scoffed at...the famous Woody Allen quote (those who can...do, those who can't...teach...those who can't teach...teach gym). I always thought that was elitist, because my mom was a teacher for 20 years. CPS wasn't my "second choice"; I got my master's on the south side and immediately felt a connection to the system. 

Q: What classes do you teach at Amundsen?

A: I teach beginning orchestra, IB orchestra and advanced orchestra. Literally on my feet all day.

Q: Do you sponsor or coach any clubs or sports? If so, please share a recent highlight.

A: I run a service learning project that mentors students at Chappell Elementary every Wednesday. My advanced players become "Viking Buddies" with Chappell students and help them. The program is called the Amundsen String Ambassadors. This year I sponsored (and won) a grant via CPS Ingenuity and the Negaunee Music Institute of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The grant purchased over $10,000 in instruments for Chappell and enabled them to begin a full-time orchestra for all 4th graders. My goal is to utilize community high schools as a neighborhood "beacon" in order to replicate similar programs throughout the system. This replicates the suburban model, where access to a quality and complete music education begins at the 4th grade. For me that entails a robust, full-time offering of Band, Orchestra and Chorus.

Recent highlights: Starting a permanent orchestra is one of my proudest accomplishments ever. The grant also brought the CSO to perform at Amundsen last week and Civic Orchestra members (10 of them) will be mentoring our advanced players for a co-concert (Amundsen, Chappell and Civic Orchestra) on May 30. 

Q: How do you see your students' high school experiences as similar to or different from your own?

A: Most of my students come to me with very little formal music training. We start from the very beginning.

Q: What do you like best about teaching at Amundsen?

A: It's very challenging, the kids keep me young, my co-workers are amazing. I really feel like I'm making a difference in the lives of these kids....my job really has nothing to do with music actually.

Q: What are Amundsen's greatest strengths?

A: Amundsen's greatest strength: Our diversity...the chip on our shoulder.

Q: Can you describe one particularly great moment you've had as a teacher at Amundsen?

A: Too many!

Q: What advice would you give to students just choosing Amundsen? How can they get the most out of their high school years there?

A: Take advantage of all the collaborations, clubs and sports offered; this staff works very hard to provide incredible opportunities and experiences for students.   

An Evening with Amundsen and Lake View at Coonley Elementary, April 4, 2018

By Joe Alter

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Last week’s gathering at Coonley, one of the 17 GROWCommunity elementary schools, was a powerful testament to the demand for high-quality neighborhood high school options, not just in GROW’s community, but across the city.

On a brisk April school night evening, more than 375 prospective students and their parents, representing more than 30 public and private elementary schools, streamed into Coonley’s gym and multipurpose room eager to learn more about the first-class programming and offerings at GROW’s two anchor high schools, Amundsen and Lake View. Guests were welcomed by a team of volunteers decked out in blue GROWCommunity t-shirts.

Busloads — literally — of students and staff from Lake View and Amundsen set up a pop-up GROWCommunity neighborhood high school fair along the perimeter of Coonley’s gym and multipurpose room with informational tables, musical performances, robotic demonstrations, crafting stations and more.

In the gym, Lake View Principal Paul J. Karafiol touted the school’s college and career readiness metrics and his school’s comprehensive, school-wide commitment to STEM instruction and learning frameworks across all grades, subject areas and student abilities. In the multipurpose room, Amundsen Principal Anna Pavichevich explained the newly announced expansion of the school’s IB programme to make Amundsen a Wall-to-Wall IB school, benefiting the entire school community with a unified pedagogical approach grounded in inquiry, research and citizenship.

The buzz around both schools was palpable as the curious guests gathered around tables staffed by engaged and enthusiastic high school students, instructors and counselors. As I made my way around both sessions, I was able to speak with some parents and students, all of whom seemed impressed by what they saw.

Many families reported hearing about the event from their child’s elementary school. Others, like Ana Atanasio, a parent of a 7th grader at Pierce Elementary, found out through GROWCommunity’s Facebook page. Her daughter is interested in architecture and was eager to find out more about high school engineering opportunities.

Many parents shared that while they researched and considered a range of high schools, their kids just felt more comfortable at their neighborhood schools, and they were simultaneously confident in the academic rigor and depth of programming. Surveying the audience during her introductory remarks, Principal Pavichevich reflected on how much this embrace of neighborhood high schools means not just to Amundsen and Lake View, but to rising neighborhood schools across the city and the communities they serve.

The pictures say it all: a full house of inspiration, warmth, commitment and community investment in our dynamic neighborhood schools.

Joe Alter is a social work student, a research assistant at the Metropolitan Planning Council and a longtime GROWCommunity groupie. He lives in Rogers Park with his wife and son who is a second grader at New Field Elementary School.

 

Meet Amundsen Dean of Students and Athletic Director Demetrio Javier

This is part of a continuing series of Q&A interviews with the people of Amundsen and Lake View high schools.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your career so far? What college did you attend? What did you study? Why did you choose to work in K-12 education? What is your role at Amundsen?

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A: So I started in CPS in 2004, I believe it was, shortly after getting out of the Marines. After several years, I made the decision to enroll in college to become a teacher. I started off at City Colleges of Chicago, then transferred to Northeastern where I went into a non-traditional degree program, because they credited me for my military service. This changed my teaching trajectory, as I ended up becoming a dean of discipline for a high school in the neighborhood I grew up in. I was there for a year before being asked to transition to Amundsen to become dean here. I managed to obtain my Masters in Educational Leadership online while here at Amundsen, and I am still working as Dean of Students while also now serving as the Athletic Director for three years. This is my sixth year here at Amundsen. 

Q: Do you sponsor or coach any clubs or sports? If so, please share a recent highlight.

A: While I don't coach any sports currently, I did coach girls bowling last school year. It was a great experience for me. The girls went undefeated for the season, won conference champs, and I was actually given a Coach of the Year award that season. I also was the Sociology Club sponsor for two years. This was also a great experience, as I was able to work with some amazing students that were very socially aware and wanted others to be as well. It was very enlightening.   

Q: What do you like best about working at Amundsen? What are Amundsen's greatest strengths?

A: I really enjoy the work I do. I feel as though my life's experiences have really allowed me to connect with students in ways that others are not always able to. The relationships that are established here at Amundsen are something that I feel is unique. Our staff as a whole is very nurturing and caring, allowing for students to feel connected and comfortable speaking to an adult about any issue. This is definitely something that I never had in my high school experience, and what I feel may be our biggest strength. We have an amazing school in so many ways, but when you have the supportive environment we have here, it really makes for a great high school experience for the kids and a great working environment for the adults. There is just so much to do here – so much to get involved in and be a part of. There is something for everyone. It's great. 

Q: Can you describe one particularly great moment you've had at Amundsen?

A; We have come a long way here at Amundsen. Six and a half years ago, when I arrived here, this was a school that had been on probation for many years. Things have definitely turned around, to where we are now a Level 1+ school. That is amazing and perhaps the greatest moment for me at this school. It was validation of the hard work and dedication that our staff and students had been working towards. We knew we were always great and had a great environment for teachers to teach and students to learn, but now we had the recognition for it.

In my pitch to prospective parents and students over the years, I would always say, "We are a hidden gem here...a diamond in the rough." We are no longer either. We are confident in what we have built here, and we are still working tirelessly on how we could make things even better.

Meet Lake View French Teacher Valerie Wadycki

This is part of a continuing series of Q&A interviews with the people of Lake View and Amundsen high schools.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your career so far? What college did you attend? What did you study? Why did you choose teaching?

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A: I attended the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana where I studied French. During my time at U of I, I was fortunate enough to study abroad in Paris. In addition to my classes at the Sorbonne, I held a part-time job teaching English in a French high school. This early experience in the classroom left an impression on me and reinforced my desire to teach. I’d be remiss not to mention that teaching is in my DNA as my mother was a CPS elementary school teacher and my father a professor at UIC.

Q: What classes do you teach at Lake View High School?

A: I currently teach French 2 and French 3/4, which is a split class. However, our World Language program is growing so we are looking to offer a full level 4 class next year, which is exciting.

Q: How do you see your students' high school experiences as similar to or different from your own?

A: I graduated from Von Steuben so there are definite similarities I notice in my students’ experiences when thinking of my own. I ran in the same Cross Country meets at Horner Park in which my students now compete. Students still get excited over pizza parties or school dances and pep rallies. That has not changed. However, what really differs from my experience is the role of technology. No longer do students pass notes during class, as notes are now digital.

One story I always share with my students was the circumstance which led me to become a French teacher. When I was in high school, I signed up to take Spanish and got placed in French. My students have sometimes experienced this same scenario. The moral of the story, however, is to always keep an open mind. I ended up loving the language, the class and my teacher, so you never know what life will bring you when you are open to it.

Q: What do you like best about teaching at Lake View High School?

A: It’s really difficult to pinpoint which aspect of teaching at Lake View is the best. I wake up every morning happy to come to work. I look forward to working with our students who never cease to impress me. On an academic level, I am proud when I see my students taking risks and getting out of their comfort zone using French. On a personal level, my students shine as they are respectful, thoughtful and fun to be around. I must also acknowledge my colleagues, as I work with a wonderful team of teachers who embrace collaboration and are extremely supportive. Not everyone gets to work with their friends, and it’s a real perk.

Q: What are Lake View High School's greatest strengths?

A: I think the leadership at Lake View is one of our greatest strengths. As a teacher I feel both supported and challenged to push my practice further. Our administration has implemented so many positive initiatives like the STEM program and the Innovation Academy. They are leading the way in expanding Advanced Placement and Dual Credit course offerings. Finally, they’ve forged partnerships with universities, corporations and our local community.

Q: Can you describe one particularly great moment you've had as a teacher at Lake View High School?

A: One particularly great moment I’ve had as a Lake View teacher was when one of my students arrived to class beaming ear to ear with a letter in his hand. He handed me the letter and (with his permission) I read it to the class as they burst into applause. It announced that he was receiving scholarship money to continue his French studies in college.