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Archdiocese of Chicago Announces Winners of the 2018 Heart of the School Awards

Eighteen teachers, administrators and staff members were selected from 500 nominations

Chicago, IL (May 9, 2018) – The Archdiocese of Chicago is proud to announce that 18 teachers, administrators and staff members from across its 214 Catholic schools were selected as the 2018 Heart of the School Award winners. For many years the Archdiocese has honored its outstanding Catholic school employees through the Heart of the School Awards, and 500 nominations were received this year. The winners, who represent Catholic elementary and high schools across the two-county Archdiocese, were selected based on their outstanding contributions to the schools and the students they serve.

“I am constantly amazed at the quality and passion of our teachers, leaders and staff members,” said Dr. Jim Rigg, Superintendent of Catholic Schools, Archdiocese of Chicago. “Their outstanding dedication is a big reason for the success of our schools. I am incredibly grateful for the talents, dedication, and faith of our school employees.”

The 2018 Heart of the School Award Winners
The Archdiocese’s Heart of the School Awards encompass nine award areas, with two nominees selected for each award. Additional information on each award winner is included in the Appendix section of this news release.

Heart of Christ: Christ is the true center of any Catholic school. Recipients of this award are outstanding examples of Christian service, love and compassion. Through both work and witness, they live out our Catholic mission every day. 

Award Winners:

  • Katie Olson, Assistant Principal, Christ the King Jesuit College Preparatory School (Chicago)
  • Pamela Howell, Grade 8 Teacher and Assistant Principal, Queen of the Universe School (Chicago)

Heart of Connection: Recipients of this award recognize that the school is part of a greater community, and actively seek to build connections between the community and the school. Through successful outreach to parishes, universities and/or other organizations, awardees consistently leverage outside resources to support the school and in turn enable the school to benefit the surrounding community. 

Award Winners:

  • Cristina Zavattero, Grade 3 Teacher, St. Joseph School (Wilmette)
  • Dan McGrath, President, Leo High School (Chicago)


Heart of Enrichment: Catholic schools seek to teach the “whole child,” providing each student with enrichment opportunities beyond the core subjects. This award recognizes school employees who excel at providing instruction and activities in one or more enrichment area (e.g. art, music, foreign language, physical education, etc.).  

Award Winners:

  • Julie McKee, Music, Physical Education and Performing Arts Faculty Member, Mother McAuley Liberal Arts High School (Chicago)
  • Mary McDermott, Band Teacher, St. James School (Arlington Heights)


Heart of Excellence: This award is given to teachers who foster the highest quality of teaching and learning in their classrooms. Through rigorous 21st century instruction, awardees demonstrate an ability to motivate each student to reach his or her greatest academic potential.

Award Winners:

  • Angel Oates, Grade 5 Teacher, St. Sabina Academy (Chicago)
  • Mary Vitaioli, Junior High Teacher, St. Athanasius School (Evanston)


Heart of Inclusion: Christ calls us to welcome all who come to us. This award is given to teachers, staff members and administrators who foster inclusion in education by welcoming and serving all students, regardless of their socioeconomic background or the presence of defined learning needs. 

Award Winners:

  • Jeana Caminiti, Grade 1 Teacher, St. Ann School (Chicago)
  • Kristin Enriquez, Head of Inclusion, St. Benedict Preparatory School (Chicago)


Heart of Innovation: Excellent educators are willing to innovate, infusing their work with the latest teaching practices and instructional technology. Recipients of this award reflect the ability to successfully serve students through adaptation and innovation. 

Award Winners:

  • Sandra Locher, Mathematics Department Co-Chair and Teacher, Regina Dominican High School (Wilmette)
  • Suzanne Leahy, Grade 4 Teacher, St. Albert the Great School (Burbank)


Heart of Leadership: Recipients of this award demonstrate leadership in their school through mentoring, inspiring others and setting a clear vision. Awardees are not necessarily school administrators, but rather leaders who constantly motivate the school towards excellence, faith and service. 

Award Winners:

  • Angela Jenks, Grade 6 and Junior High Literature and Language Arts Teacher, Ss. Faith, Hope and Charity School (Winnetka)
  • Rev. Patrick W. Render, C.S.V., Pastor, St. Viator Parish and School (Chicago)


Heart of Service: This award recognizes individuals who provide excellent support to the school community. Often not people who are “front and center,” awardees work behind the scenes to ensure the school successfully meets the mission of service to God’s children. 

Award Winners:

  • Rose Koch, Junior High Teacher Aide, St. Michael School (Orland Park)
  • Tiffany Schiff, Preschool Teacher Aide, St. Joseph School (Libertyville)


Heart of the Future: This award recognizes employees who have worked in education for three years or less and demonstrate outstanding excellence, leadership and service. Awardees are people who inspire those around them with their enthusiasm and support of our educational mission. 

Award Winners:

  • Christine Aguirre, Grades 3 and 4 Teacher, St. John de la Salle Catholic Academy (Chicago)
  • Elizabeth Kelly, Spanish Teacher, St. Patrick School (Wadsworth)


The Archdiocese will honor the awardees during a celebration on Thursday, May 10 at 11:30 a.m. at Ditka’s Restaurant, 2 Mid America Plaza, #100, Oakbrook Terrace. Winners will be joined by their school colleagues, as well as family and friends, at the celebration.



About the 2018 Heart of the School Award Winners

Additional information available on our Archdiocese of Chicago Catholic Schools Facebook page.


Heart of Christ
Katie Olson
Assistant Principal
Christ the King Jesuit College Preparatory School (Chicago)

Katie Olson is an experienced Catholic school educator and leader committed to making quality educational opportunities available to all students. In her current role at Christ the King Jesuit College Preparatory School in the Austin community, Katie is an assistant principal with responsibility for freshman and sophomore students, admissions/enrollment, and the school’s after-school academic center.

Immediately prior to working at Christ the King Jesuit, Katie served as the principal of Our Lady of Charity elementary school in Cicero. She previously taught third and fourth grades at St. Sabina Academy. She graduated from the University of Notre Dame, and received a master’s degree in elementary education and social policy from Northwestern University. She went on to earn a master’s degree in education administration from the University of Notre Dame, as part of the Remick Leadership program. She also serves on the Chicago Jesuit Academy Academic Committee, and as a Catholic Charities of Chicago Advisory Board member.

An excerpt from one of Katie’s nominations: Katie can be found at our daily masses and prayer services and participates in prayer groups outside of school. She is truly an apostle of Christ and is a personification of God's love in our school community.

Pamela Howell
Grade 8 Teacher and Assistant Principal
Queen of the Universe School (Chicago)

Pamela Howell began her career at Queen of the Universe School in 1997 as a fourth-grade teacher. Currently, she teaches math, social studies and religion for students in fifth through eighth grade. Pamela prepares and guides her eighth-grade students for the Sacrament of Confirmation. For the past seven years, Pamela has organized the Feast of St. Francis/St. Michael the Archangel Prayer Service at Queen of the Universe School, in which the Chicago Mounted Police have participated. Pamela also coordinates the Saints’ Procession for the Feast of All Saints, the procession of the children dressed in regional costumes on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and May Crowning. She schedules all family and school Masses, and coordinates the Masses for Catechetical Sunday and Catholic Schools Week while taking on additional responsibilities as assistant principal. She is moderator of the student council in which the students participate in various service projects. Pamela graduated from Governors State University with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education.

An excerpt from one of Pamela’s nominations: Because of Pam, we are constantly reminded of special feast days honoring our patroness, and she gives us ideas of how to honor and remember the important Catholic traditions that are unique to our faith. We are very blessed to have Pam on our staff, as an example of profound faith, and the joy that accompanies it. 


Heart of Connection
Cristina Zavattero
Grade 3 Teacher
St. Joseph School (Wilmette)

Cristina Zavattero, a teacher for over 20 years, has been teaching students that “knowledge is power” since 1996 and has been a member of the St. Joseph faculty since 2009. She is credentialed in K-12 general education in both Illinois and California and has taught in several public, private, and Catholic schools in both states. Originally from Wilmette, she graduated from New Trier High School and then went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from the University of Southern California.

Cristina is no stranger to St. Joseph School having attended there as a student. Her impact in the school and the community is significant. You will find her at every school function, in the pews at St. Joseph Church, or in the bleachers at sporting events cheering on the Trailblazers. The community truly admires Cristina’s unwavering dedication to making sure that St. Joseph school lives up to its Blue-Ribbon status.

An excerpt from one of Cristina’s nominations: Her connection started back when she was a student at St. Joe's, then came back to be a teacher at her alma mater. Cristina now lives in the St. Joe's/Wilmette community and has sent her children through St. Joe's. Cristina does more than just teach her 3rd grade class, she lives and breathes St. Joe's.

Dan McGrath
Leo High School (Chicago)

Dan McGrath is completing his eighth year as president of Leo High School. A 1968 graduate of Leo, Dan studied journalism at Marquette University before embarking on a newspaper career that spanned several cities over 30-plus years. The last 13 years he was a sports editor with the Chicago Tribune.

Dan returned to Chicago in 1996 and began volunteering at Leo, joining the school’s advisory board in 2000. When the previous school president retired in 2009, Dan was honored by the opportunity to take over and give back to a place that he believes helped him get off to a good start in life. With Principal Shaka Rawls and the other members of the Leo leadership team, he shares a mission and a determination to keep Leo alive and thriving.

An excerpt from one of Dan’s nominations: Dan McGrath has the unique ability to connect and make everyone feel at home at Leo. Despite his talent and accomplishments in journalism, Mr. McGrath is one of the most down to earth people, you could meet. Regardless of who he meets, Mr. McGrath sings the praises of Leo High School. 


Heart of Enrichment
Julie McKee
Music, Physical Education and Performing Arts Faculty Member
Mother McAuley Liberal Arts High School (Chicago)

For the past 18 years, Julie McKee has been a choral and theatre instructor at Mother McAuley Liberal Arts High School. She directs the school’s annual fall musical production, spring play, a cappella choir, and is co-director of the popular “Curtain Call” summer performing arts camp. Julie channels confidence, compassion and mercy into everything she does. Inspired by Catherine McAuley’s prayer, The Suscipé, Julie created a choral arrangement of the beautiful words of Catherine. This song now is sung at nearly every school event, from liturgies, to athletic games, alumnae and donor events, and every Friday during morning prayer.

Julie eagerly seeks to expand and enrich students’ theatrical talents and ambitions. In 2015, she accompanied McAuley’s choral students to Rome and the Vatican to perform for His Holiness, Pope Francis, as part of the Pueri Cantores youth choir, an international Catholic choral organization. She annually escorts students to New York City to attend Broadway shows – with meet-and-greet with performers – as well as to Chicago productions. Under Julie’s direction, McAuley students have made frequent appearances on the WGN Morning News, CBS2 Morning News and the Dean Richards radio program. They perform for groups and organizations around Chicagoland, including singing the National Anthem for the Chicago White Sox.

An excerpt from one of Julie’s nominations: Whether she is teaching in the classroom, coaching on the stage, or directing a choir in a Church, Music Teacher and Director Julie McKee exemplifies the Mercy charism and values of the founder of the Sisters of Mercy, Catherine McAuley. Much like Catherine, Julie is a pioneer and visionary, channeling confidence, compassion and vision of mercy into everything she does.

Mary McDermott
Band Teacher
St. James School (Arlington Heights)

Mary McDermott is in her twelfth year of teaching band at St. James School. She holds a master’s degree with a certification in music education. She creatively encourages the school’s musicians to develop their gift of music to its full potential by inviting them to participate in band, solo and ensemble festival, school events, assemblies, parades, woodwind, brass and percussion ensembles, and most profoundly in service at the Lutheran Home, Backstretch, local mission trips, retreats and music ministry. She also loves to arrange music for the St. James musicians. Mary is an active member of St. James Parish and directs the Middle School Ensemble, is a member of the ADORE Team, a 10 a.m. choir member, has served on the liturgy board, and was the interim director for the local mission trip this past summer. Mary has volunteered for the Youth Ministry FUEL and IGNITE Programs, including living stations, and taught religion in the religious education program. Mary always encourages school alumni to stop in for a visit and join in song with their friends in faith at any time.

An excerpt from one of Mary’s nominations: Mrs. McDermott provides a wonderful and positive example to the students of the importance of giving of yourself to the school, parish and God. She inspires students to celebrate their faith through music in the school band and choir (ensemble) at Masses, parades, school functions and in the community. 

Heart of Excellence
Angel Oates
Grade 5 Teacher
St. Sabina Academy (Chicago)

Angel Oates joined the St. Sabina Academy ministry of education team in August of 2001. She previously taught at St. Leo Catholic elementary school. Angel has taught first grade, second grade and is currently teaching fifth grade at St. Sabina Academy. Her classroom environment is exemplary and one that other teachers look to as a model. Her students are always engaged and she is quiet but assertive. Visitors marvel at Angel’s instructional methodology and the way in which she guides her students to understanding and skills development.

Angel continually strives to be the best educator that she can be and models lifelong learning. She is a role model for countless students and parents, as well as her peers. She completed her master’s degree in educational administration at Concordia University, and completed the Harvard University Data Wise Program. She aspires to be a principal.

An excerpt from one of Angel’s nominations: She is a phenomenal teacher with a beautiful and engaging classroom environment. She keeps her children engaged employing technology, cooperative learning, differentiated instruction, peer tutoring, and critical thinking. She is a master at motivating students and communicating with parents.

Mary Vitaioli
Junior High Teacher
St. Athanasius School (Evanston)

Mary Vitaioli has taught at St. Athanasius School since 2013. Mary is a junior high science teacher who embraces project-based learning and STEM initiatives within her classes. She holds every student to a high academic standard and, under her direction, St. Athanasius has won the Top School Award at the Illinois Junior Academy of Science Regional Science Fair three of the last four years. She obtained her bachelor’s degree from Elmhurst College, and her master’s degree from National Lewis University.

An excerpt from one of Mary’s nominations: Mrs. V always goes above and beyond. Her doors are open early before school for extra support. She sees students at lunch. At nights and weekends, you can often find her watching, supervising, and coaching kids in science projects all over the city (and state). Mrs. V is a truly outstanding teacher who is paving the way for our future leaders in STEM. She's inspired my own daughter to take an interest in all things science and to consider a future in a scientific field.


Heart of Inclusion
Jeana Caminiti
Grade 1 Teacher
St. Ann School (Chicago)

After graduating from the University of Notre Dame with a degree in finance and a minor in education, schooling, and society, Jeana Caminiti enrolled in the Loyola University-Choice teaching program. She taught second grade at Alphonsus Academy while earning her master's degree from Loyola University.

Four years ago, Jeana joined the faculty of St. Ann School as the first-grade teacher and has been a champion of inclusion ever since she arrived. She has been the Response to Intervention (RtI) Team Coordinator for the past three years with responsibilities that include, scheduling meetings, making the agendas, organizing all documentation, and facilitating the weekly meetings. Under Jeana's leadership, the RtI team has serviced dozens of students. Jeana is also currently enrolled in the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Leadership Academy in order to learn more ways to strengthen her school community.

An excerpt from one of Jeana’s nominations: Under Jeana's leadership, the RtI team has serviced dozens of students by helping teachers with research-based behavioral and academic intervention strategies, creating ICEPs, and working with CPS and Judy Doyle to obtain on-site services at Saint Ann. In addition, Jeana has helped with bringing in supporters to our network of donors, leading to over $10,000 in financial aid to needy families. 

Kristin Enriquez
Head of Inclusion
St. Benedict Preparatory School (Chicago)

Kristin Enriquez serves as the head of inclusion (PK-12) and inclusion facilitator for grades third through fifth at St. Benedict Preparatory School. Seven years ago, she started as a kindergarten teacher, but changed roles as St. Benedict Prep was building their inclusion program to help make all students successful in their classrooms. As she wraps up her fourth year as an inclusion facilitator, she strives to show all learners the power of education. She received a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Indiana University and a master’s degree in special education from National Louis University.

An excerpt from one of Kristin’s nominations: Kristi is a master communicator when establishing positive parent partnerships. She is dedicated to keeping parents informed on their child's progress. Kristi promptly takes on weekly phone calls with parents and therapists to make sure the student's needs are being met. Her prompt and kind personality allow the parent/teacher partnerships in the inclusion program to flourish.


Heart of Innovation
Sandra Locher
Mathematics Department Co-Chair and Teacher
Regina Dominican High School (Wilmette)

Sandra Locher is a mathematics and engineering teacher at Regina Dominican High School who has a passion for inspiring young women to pursue careers in the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). A chemical engineer herself, Sandra recognizes the qualities that define a successful engineer.  Along with determination and aptitude, engineers must also possess excellent problem-solving skills and a strong desire to improve the quality of life for others. For these reasons, Sandra believes women are uniquely qualified to excel as professional engineers. 

Sandra’s main goal is to make certain her students are aware of the career opportunities available to engineers. She developed and teaches Regina Dominican’s first “Principles of Engineering” class. In this hands-on, project-based class, students follow the Engineering Design Process completing projects in areas including, Design Thinking, 3-D printing, coding, and cardboard construction. Students visit local manufacturing facilities and meet with women studying or working in the STEM fields. Sandra created Regina Dominican’s first STEAM laboratory (STEM with the inclusion of the Arts) complete with 3D printers and collaborative workspaces. Sandra holds a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and a master’s degree in mathematics from Northeastern Illinois University.

An excerpt from one of Sandra’s nominations: Sandra Locher is the reason that Regina Dominican High School has an engineering program. A few years ago, Sandra started a STEAM Club to provide a forum for students to learn more about engineering and to promote interest in the field, which is especially important in an all-girls' school. She then proposed the "Principles of Engineering" course that is now one of the electives offered for Mathematics or Science credit. She has developed the curriculum from scratch and has worked to improve the curriculum every semester by integrating new projects and ideas.

Suzanne Leahy
Grade 4 Teacher
St. Albert the Great School (Burbank)

After graduating from Albion College and moving to the Chicago area from suburban Detroit, Suzanne Leahy worked in the business world. She was then a stay-at-home mom until her youngest child began school full-time, at which time she was drawn to substitute teaching and began substituting in 1997. In 2006, Suzanne took the position of part-time computer instructor as St. Albert the Great School. She initiated a computer curriculum, using Common Sense Media, to teach safe and effective use of the internet, and introduced students to a variety of online educational resources. With colleagues, she helped with the implementation of new technology (iPads, SMART boards, online resources) at the school.

In 2015, Suzanne was given the opportunity to attend Harvard University Graduate School of Education’s Summer Leadership Institute Data Wise Program. There, with other professionals from the Archdiocese and elsewhere, she examined ways to use student data to improve instruction and learning outcomes to share with her peers. Suzanne continues her education as part of LEAP Innovations Personalized Learning cohort, implementing strategies and techniques to help students become an integral part of their own education.

An excerpt from one of Suzanne’s nominations: Her daily work is filled with innovation. Sue's use of technology and gathering of data really launched our school forward in exploring data and using the technology to guide instruction. Our school would literally not be where it is today, as a recipient of the CME Grant for Personalized Learning with Sue Leahy.

Heart of Leadership
Angela Jenks
Grade 6 and Junior High Literature and Language Arts Teacher
Ss. Faith, Hope and Charity School (Winnetka)

Angela Jenks received a degree from Michigan State University in communications and public relations. While working in online advertising, she noticed something meaningful missing in her day-to-day life. She felt a calling to return to school to pursue teaching and obtained a master's degree from DePaul University in education. Angela joined Ss. Faith, Hope and Charity School in the fall of 2014. Prior to this, she taught kindergarten in the Chicago Public Schools.

During her time at Faith Hope, Angela has taught fifth through eighth grade literature, language arts and religion classes. She has a deep passion and commitment to her students and her curriculum, as well as for the surrounding community of supportive families that make up the parish and school. Most importantly, she values practicing and growing in her faith alongside her students and colleagues. Over the past few years, Angela has spearheaded many programs and enjoys taking the lead on committees and new projects. She loves and values being a part of a Catholic community.

An excerpt from one of Angela’s nominations: Angela is a strong leader in that she models some of the toughest character traits to show. She is not afraid to try new things, take risks for a common goal, and doesn't mind putting in a whole lot of work. She is goal driven and not afraid to fail and hit restart. She puts others and her work first, believing in the good of all over the good of one. She does not teach to an average group but teaches to each individual student. Angela cares about the curriculum but also cares about the whole child and their future connection to others on this planet. I often look to her for guidance and am happy to follow her lead. I do not say this about many people, but her path is a path worth following.

Rev. Patrick W. Render, C.S.V.
St. Viator Parish and School (Chicago)

Rev. Patrick Render, C.S.V., the pastor of St. Viator Parish in Chicago, began his ministry working in secondary education. After ordination in 1968 he was assigned to St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights as a classroom teacher and part-time dean of students. Over fifteen years at the high school, he worked in many capacities as a teacher, dean, pastoral minister, assistant principal, principal, and president of the school. During that time, he completed his graduate study earning a master’s degree in educational administration.

In 1983, Fr. Pat was elected to congregational leadership and spent more than nine years working with Viatorian priests and brothers in the high schools and parishes where they serve in the United States and in Bogota, Colombia. After a sabbatical year in 1993, he began 24 years of parochial ministry which included serving as a pastor in the Diocese of Springfield and as pastor in the Diocese of Las Vegas. In 2015, he returned to the Archdiocese of Chicago as pastor of St. Viator.

An excerpt from one of Fr. Pat’s nominations: He has prioritized resources for growing the youth group, and helped a parent start a teen group. Fr. Pat will show up at school dances, open houses, attends meetings regularly, takes on leadership roles within the Viatorian community, and answers the rectory door when the receptionist is out sick. Since he became our pastor, St. Viator is in a position to be a cornerstone in the community, and be here for many more generations to come.

Heart of Service
Rose Koch
Junior High Teacher Aide
St. Michael School (Orland Park)

Rose Koch has been an invaluable member of the St. Michael Parish and School for over 30 years and has given tirelessly of herself in a wide variety of roles. As a parish youth minister, she has provided enriching faith experiences to hundreds of young students. This has included local trips to the soup kitchen, summers in the Appalachian Mountains to build homes, and exposing students to the world during World Youth Day. She is the director of Parish Quest Program, which pairs teens with parish families through a four-year faith journey. This inspires and solidifies the faith of many teens and reignites the faith for many of school’s Quest families.

Her work within the school is instrumental for other teachers. Rose creates a stronger connection and engages with students daily as a junior high instructional aide. She works with groups of students, teaching Spanish and religion class when needed, and helping mentor new teachers. Rose will take on any task if it will benefit the children of St. Michael Parish. Her energy is contagious, and laughter can be heard throughout the Parish. She is truly devoted to the teachings of Jesus Christ and St. Michael Parish is better because of her presence.

An excerpt from one of Rose’s nominations: Rose Koch is an amazing and irreplaceable asset to our school community. She gives of her time to our school and youth to plan, organize and run not only fun events such as dances, trips to Great America, skiing, and much more but also events where they learn to give back on a larger scale to communities in need. Rose has also been a crucial resource in our school environment.

Tiffany Schiff
Preschool Teacher Aide
St. Joseph School (Libertyville)

Tiffany Schiff serves St. Joseph School as both a parent and employee. She is a loving mother of four children, two of whom currently attend St. Joseph School. As a parent in the school, she has led the school’s parent association board for many years and has brought new community events to the school and increased family attendance at many of the school’s long-standing events. As an employee for four years, Tiffany is a dedicated member of the preschool team. She recognizes that ‘great things in schools are never done by one person; they are done by a team of people working together’. She embodies the spirit of a “team player.” 

An excerpt from one of Tiffany’s nominations: Her life is to make sure every child has a smile on their face and loves coming to school, but also that the parents are happy and want to be part of the school. Tiffany has said many of times that Parent Involvement and Parent Engagement are the key elements for true success in a school. She works very hard to bring the school community together and maybe that is the reason why St. Joseph Catholic School is so successful in number of attendance.

Heart of the Future
Christine Aguirre
Grades 3 and 4 Teacher
St. John de la Salle Catholic Academy (Chicago)

Christine Aguirre always wanted to be a teacher, but first followed a path to be a stay-at-home mother to her three children. After working ten years as a nursing assistant, Christine again felt called to pursue her true passion: teaching. In December 2012, she graduated Cum Laude from Governors State University with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and middle school social science endorsement.

Christine felt drawn to teaching at St. John de la Salle and has said she feels a part of the community among her peers and students. During the school day, it is not uncommon to walk past her door and hear her yell out something like “Macaroni & Cheese” and 26 third and fourth graders reply in unison “Everybody freeze!” She values collaboration. Her students are constantly engaged in science labs, novel studies, and her rigorous curriculum of high expectations. Christine instills the importance of faith and service by collecting money for the victims of Hurricane Harvey and holding a hat and mitten drive for Catholic Charities. This year her class had the largest Lenten Rice Bowl collection at St. John de la Salle. Christine mentors first-year teachers on staff and also co-coaches St. John de la Salle’s first ever robotics team.

An excerpt from one of Christine’s nominations: One would never know that Christine Aguirre is only in her 3rd year of teaching. Christine is the first teacher in the building every morning and the last to leave, setting up amazing science labs or putting together extra groups and plans. She is always pushing herself, and her students to strive for more, and to not settle for anything less than their best.

Elizabeth Kelly
Spanish Teacher
St. Patrick School (Wadsworth)

Elizabeth Kelly graduated from Carmel Catholic High School in Mundelein. She continued her Catholic education by attending Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas where she received her bachelor’s degree in secondary education and Spanish in May of 2017. Elizabeth teaches fourth through eighth grade Spanish at St. Patrick utilizing a variety of instructional strategies. She enjoys volunteering, traveling, cooking, riding horses, and trying new things.

Elizabeth loves to use music and songs to help her students learn another language, as well as service-learning projects to learn about other cultures. This year, Elizabeth implemented the Pulsera Project that connected the St. Patrick School eighth graders with families in need living in Guatemala. Students sold bracelets made by the families. Funds raised were given to help Guatemalans secure food, shelter and education. She shared with her principal what she had learned during her own studies, “if a teacher can provide a memorable experience for his or her students, it will be something they will remember and carry with them always.”

An excerpt from one of Elizabeth’s nominations: It is also a breath of fresh air watching her share her faith with her students each and every day. They begin each class with prayer and she often relies on the Gospel to direct her classes. She has been a remarkable asset to St. Patrick School and certainly one I would highly recommend for the award because of her faith, enthusiasm and excellence in teaching! Some teachers are born to teach...she is one of those teachers.