Urbana High School teacher Jill Lagerstam receives Excellence in Teaching Award

Jill Lagerstam, Urbana High School art teacher, was surprised with the Gene Amberg Excellence in Teaching Award from the Champaign Urbana Schools Foundation at an Urbana High School Staff meeting on May 12th. Ms. Lagerstam has been teaching in the Urbana School District for seven years, and Principal Matt Stark says, “She is always pushing her students to find the ideas or concepts that move them. The engagement in her room is a sight to behold.”

The award recognizes a teacher who exemplifies eight traits:

  • Utilizes imaginative approaches to keep his/her students interested,
  • Demonstrates a willingness to take the risk of pursuing needed learner solutions in their classroom(s),
  • Recognizes and practices that learning is continuous and mutual,
  • Practices the keen sense of criticality of relationships with his/her students,
  • Displays qualities of warmth and a caring attitude toward students, colleagues, and parents,
  • Communicates effectively with parents, both orally and written,
  • Applies the concepts of firm, fair, and friendly in the classroom, and
  • Maintains a sense of humor in dealing with peers, students, and stakeholders.

A former student praised Ms. Lagerstam was one of the best teachers she knew. “She encouraged me to push myself with my artwork in and outside of class. I feel like she genuinely cared about me as a student and as an artist.”  A colleague shared, “Jill excels at creating relationships with all types of students. I have seen students who struggle with negative behavior and attitudes in other settings find success in Jill’s classroom.  I have seen her gently challenge students to reach beyond their perceived limits and achieve amazing results.”

Ms. Lagerstam will receive a monetary award for three consecutive years to recognize her accomplishments.  Urbana High School will receive a portion of the award as well, as the school where Lagerstam teaches. The first Amberg Excellence in Teaching Award was given in 2006.  Ms. Lagerstam is the fifth recipient.

The award is named for Dr. Gene Amberg (Ph.D.) who began his career in public education in 1972 as an elementary school teacher in St. Louis, Missouri. He was named superintendent of Urbana School District in 1992. In 2003, the Champaign Urbana Schools Foundation Gene Amberg Excellence in Teaching Endowed Chair was established to honor Dr. Amberg’s leadership and dedication to children and educators throughout his career. Professional colleagues, friends, and family continue to contribute to this endowment, to be presented to an Urbana School District teacher every three years for excellence in teaching.

Visit CUSchoolsFoundation.org to learn more about the Foundation and its programs that benefit Champaign Unit 4 and Urbana District 116 students and schools.

Urbana High School’s Jill Lagerstam (L) appraises student art work with fellow art teacher Susan Gleason.

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Three Teachers Honored with Cupcake Awards from CU Schools Foundation

Champaign Urbana Schools Foundation will honor Steve Keepes, Kindergarten teacher at Bottenfield Elementary; Champaign Unit 4, Rhonda Turner, 4th grade teacher at King Elementary, Urbana School District 116; and Karen Kaplan CNA Instructor at Urbana Adult Education, Urbana School District 116 with 2017 Cupcake Awards. Selected teachers are nominated by their peers and exhibit exemplary service, extra efforts, enthusiastic attitude and innovative ideas that noticeably benefit their students.

 Steve Keepes has been teaching Kindergarten at Bottenfield Elementary for ten years but he didn’t start his career as a teacher. He was in community relations for Barnes and Noble and enjoyed working with the schools so much, he decided to pursue a teaching certificate.

At first Keepes wasn’t sure Kindergarten was the right fit, then he realized that a student’s experiences in Kindergarten set the stage for their entire school career.  “Kindergarten is the first year and if it isn’t fun, it will be a long 12 years.” According to his nominators, Keepes makes the school experience magical. He dresses up like a shark for ocean week, runs in the school 5K in a costume, creates Elf on the Shelf videos, and encourage students to take control of the classroom by offering flexible seating options.

Keepes says receiving the Cupcake Award is a nice surprise. “It helps validate that what you are doing makes a difference. It is humbling, and a nice boost.” But Keepes is quick to add that his students are all the motivation he needs.

If you ask Rhonda Turner how long she’s been at King Elementary in Urbana, she smiles and says, “forever.” Turner has been teaching at King for more than 15 years, and she began her education as an elementary student at King many years ago. Turner spends the bulk of her waking hours in the building.  In addition to teaching fourth grade, Turner has been Director of the 21st Century After-School Program at King Elementary for the past 5 years. Before that, she was site coordinator for the Teen REACH after school program. Turner says, “After school programming has been a part of my teaching career. After school is like an extra challenge. I don’t know anything else!”

A fellow teacher says Turner tailors her classroom and the after school program to accommodate different learning styles. For example, Turner organizes an annual Electricity Fair to showcase student projects. “Ms. Turner’s tenacity for teaching has allowed students to produce amazing projects from battery-powered boats to electric airplanes and robots. Students always look forward to entering 4th grade just for this learning opportunity alone.” Turner says, “I enjoy creating lessons that will engage ALL my students and then watching them create their own learning.”

Turner is honored to be a Cupcake Award recipient. “Who would have thought? I feel extremely special that a colleague thinks so highly of me as a teacher to nominate me for this prestigious award.”

According to her co-teacher at Urbana Adult Education, Karen Kaplan creates unique opportunities for her students. Kaplan has been teaching in the Certified Nursing Assistant program at Urbana for 5 years and was instrumental in obtaining a clinical partnership with Carle Hospital. This partnership allows students to obtain clinical experience in both a hospital and long-term care facility. Colleague Nancy Roth says, “Students have been overwhelmingly positive about this opportunity to learn skills in both types of health care facilities.” Carle has hired many of their graduates and several former students describe the CNA course as “life changing.”

Roth says Kaplan makes her curriculum engaging and has instituted tutoring sessions for students who are studying for their state certification exam. “Karen has given so much of herself to this program and works countless unpaid hours without complaint.” Their program has a 98% pass rate, compared to 75% at the state level.

Kaplan says the monetary portion of the Cupcake Award will be used to purchase new stethoscopes and blood pressure cuffs.  She is honored to receive the award and hopes it will bring attention to the program and her students. Kaplan adds, “The goal is for students to successfully complete the class, pass the state test and get a job as a CNA.”

All three teachers will receive a $500 grant for their classrooms and will be honored on Wednesday, May 10th at the 2017 Napleton’s Auto Park Teacher of the Year Ceremony at Pear Tree Estates in Champaign. The mission of the Champaign Urbana Schools Foundation is to elevate the excellence in Champaign and Urbana public schools by investing in educators and students. For more information call 217-398-2873 or contact Molly Delaney, delaney1@cuschoolsfoundation.org.

Rhonda Turner checks her math in front of her 4th grader class at King Elementary in Urbana.

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CU Schools Foundation to Recognize Five of Our Public High School Alumni at 2017 Gala

Champaign Urbana Schools Foundation (CUSF) will celebrate the accomplishments of five of our public high school alumni on Saturday, April 1 at the 2017 CUSF Alumni Recognition Gala at the Refinery in Champaign.  Three different awards will be presented:  Distinguished Alumni Award, Local Business Community Impact Award and the Local Hero Award.  The 2017 Distinguished Alumni honorees are Lisa Gaye Dixon, Centennial High School graduate, class of 1982; Dr. Robert C. Mock Jr., Urbana High School Class of 1984; and George Shapland, Champaign High School, Class of 1949.

Lisa Gaye Dixon has acted professionally both nationally and internationally, worked as a professional acting coach, directed numerous stage productions and recently appeared in two independent films.  Through her work, Ms. Dixon explores the topics of race, culture, economic class and gender.  Since 2005 she has served as an Associate Professor of Theater at the University of Illinois and in her nominator’s words, “has helped the Theatre Department move from a relatively obscure department to one that is graduating students who are nationally recognized in theatre, film, and television.”  In 2014 and 2015 she played the part of the Ghost of Christmas Present, in A Christmas Carol at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago where she drew rave reviews.

Dr. Robert C. Mock, Jr. spent the last 20 years of his life working in various capacities in higher education.  He currently serves as the President of Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte, NC and is the owner of RBM & Associates, Ltd., a professional consulting firm. Dr. Mock stands out as a remarkable servant leader.  Inspired by the events of 9/11, at the age of 36, he volunteered to serve in the U.S. Army National Guard and served honorably as an Officer for eight years.  Throughout his life he has consistently given his time to various community organizations including Urban League of Lexington, KY, Goodwill Industries Arkansas Statewide Board, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Committee in Northwest Arkansas, and Charlotte Regional Partnership Inc.

After graduating from Champaign High School, George Shapland, attended the University of Illinois, graduating in 1955, after serving in the Army Corp of Engineers during the Korean War. He settled in Champaign and started his own construction company. In 1973, he cofounded Flo-Con Systems (now Vesuvius Corporation) in a joint venture with US Steel and served as President until 1990.  Currently he is the President of Shapland Management Company, where he has been involved in numerous residential and commercial developments.  Throughout his career Mr. Shapland has left a positive mark on our community through his business leadership.  His nominator wrote, “What is most incredible to me is the kind, unassuming way George leads and offers his advice.”  He has served as chairman of both the University of Illinois Foundation and Carle Foundation boards and as a director of First Busey, Corp and News Gazette Inc. among many others.

Spencer Atkins of The Atkins Group and 1987 graduate of Central High School will be recognized with the Local Business Community Impact Award.  The Atkins Group strives “to always be committed to the success of Champaign County and actively give back to our community.” They have been instrumental in working with both Champaign and Urbana’s public school districts to ensure quality facilities and fiscal responsibility.

Erin Grace, Urbana High School graduate, class of 2002, will be awarded the Local Hero Award. After graduating from Florida State, Ms. Grace returned to Champaign and started a YoungLives Chapter, which offers support and essential service to teen moms. By providing resources and information about healthcare, jobs, housing and preparing children for school, the organization has positively impacted many young lives.

CUSF solicits nominations for the three alumni awards from the community at large. Distinguished Alumni honorees must have graduated from a Unit 4 or District 116 public high school at least 10 years ago and demonstrate distinguished contributions to our society.  The Local Business Community Impact Award recognizes local business owners who demonstrate an impact on the community through their commitment to philanthropy, service, volunteerism and support.  The Local Hero Award celebrates individuals who willingly volunteer their time and efforts to benefit the local community.  All nominations are reviewed by a selection committee comprised of representatives from the school districts, alumni groups and CU Schools Foundation.

The 2017 CUSF Alumni Recognition Gala will be on Saturday, April 1 at 6:00 pm at the Refinery in Champaign and is open to the public with advance ticket purchase. For tickets or additional information visit: www.CUSchoolsFoundation.org and click on the Benefit Events tab or call 217-398-2873. Proceeds from ticket sales support the mission of CUSF.

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CUSF Seeks Nominations for 2017 Alumni Awards

The Champaign Urbana Schools Foundation (CUSF) is encouraging community members to submit nominations for three public school alumni awards to be presented on April 1 at the 2017 CUSF Gala. The three different awards are:  the Distinguished Alumni Award, the Local Hero Award and the Local Business Community Impact Award.

The Distinguished Alumni Award recognizes graduates of Champaign Unit 4 and Urbana District 116 high schools, including Champaign Centennial High School, Champaign Central High School and Urbana High School, whose achievements, strength of character, and citizenship serve as models to inspire and challenge today’s youth. Distinguished Alumni honorees may be nominated by fellow professionals, friends, family, or local citizens. Nominees must have graduated from a Champaign Unit 4 or Urbana District 116 public high school in 2006 or earlier, and demonstrate exceptional contributions to our society.  Since 2003, this award has been presented to 25 local graduates including journalists Roger Ebert and Bill Geist, economist Sabina Alkire, trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater, and educator Emily Stipes Watts. A complete list of honorees can be found HERE.

The Local Hero Award celebrates an individual who willingly volunteers time and effort to benefit the local community.  The honoree must be a graduate of Urbana District 116 or Champaign Unit 4 high schools and live within either of the districts’ boundaries.

The Local Business Community Impact Award recognizes a local business owner (with the business located in District 116 or Unit 4 boundaries) who graduated from Champaign Unit 4 or Urbana School District 116 high schools. Award recipients will have demonstrated a commitment to philanthropy, service, volunteerism and support, with a particular emphasis on employing local high school graduates.

Nomination forms are available on the CU Schools Foundation web site, http://cuschoolsfoundation.org/events/benefit-gala/ or can be requested by calling the CUSF office at (217) 398-2873. Nominations should be mailed to CUSF, P.O. Box 1166, Champaign, IL  61824-1166 or emailed to info@cuschoolsfoundation.orgThe deadline for nominations for the three awards is January 13, 2017.   

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