Mark Peterson of Algonquin is in his sixth year of teaching Reading and ESL at Rockford’s Auburn High School. With 12 years of teaching experience, he has taught an assortment of English content classes: speech, Reading Intervention, Writing, World Literature, Film Criticism and more. Eileen Morrissey, an art and special education teacher at West Middle School, worked at Auburn with Peterson for two years. She recommended him, writing that he is a huge reason why test scores increased each year. “I have witnessed students who hated to read develop a love for reading.” Barbara Dowdakin, reading specialist at Auburn, shared, “Although students in need of reading intervention at the high school level have faced many years of defeat, Mark has created a success-oriented educational setting that reflects both compassion and vision.” June Cavarretta knows Peterson as a former peer at Dundee-Crown High School, but also is the parent of a student he reached despite her daughter’s usual lack of interest in school. She says, “he was particularly effective with the harder-to-reach students. He had a way of challenging them to challenge themselves, of encouraging them to stretch their minds and open them to new ways of thinking, while treating them with dignity and respect, and, maybe most important of all, never losing his sense of humor through it all.” Clearly, Peterson is a champion for students others may have let flounder. They have behavioral issues, broken and low-income families, learning disabilities. Their first language is not English; learning frustrates them. Yet they show up. You might wonder why Peterson’s students are so important to him. He says he can connect with these students because he was one of them. Despite all the odds (raised by a single mother of 4 who was low income and worked night shifts), he and his siblings all went to college thanks to the support they received from family members, teachers and coaches. They were raised to value education and respect teachers. When Peterson was initially just teaching English classes, he found that his students “were still learning to read, not reading to learn.” To meet their needs, he pursued a master’s degree in literacy and became a reading specialist. Beyond this endeavor, he saw the need to reach students struggling with basic English proficiency. Peterson applied for and was named a 2015 Project DREAMS Scholar by Northern Illinois University. He earned his ESL endorsement through the free year of graduate level ESL classes that came with that scholarship. In addition to much assessment, relationship building and one-on-one monitoring of his students, Peterson finds communicating with their family members exceptionally rewarding, for everyone involved. There’s nothing like meeting parents at conferences who share that they had to meet the teacher their child keeps mentioning and who transformed their child from someone not interested in reading or school into someone who reads and talks about books at home! Peterson also values working with fellow reading teachers and his ESL students’ content teachers, even requesting that they have lunch time together to review challenges, successes and suggestions. “Good teaching requires collaborating well”!