Sonia O. Belmontes
2nd Grade, Spanish – Barbour Language Academy
M.A., Arts Education – Aurora University
B.A., Education – Rockford College
When Sonia arrived from Mexico at age 10, speaking only Spanish, her sixth grade teacher became the glue in her new life in America. Because her teacher had high expectations and believed in her, Sonia has spent her professional teaching life repeating that same commitment, and she does so daily with great fluency in both English and Spanish. At an early age, she learned from her social worker mother to be empathetic, helpful, and nonjudgmental. Sonia’s infectious energy, respect, humor, and positive style encourage former students to volunteer their free time to help in the classroom. She writes, “Making genuine connections with my students opens the door to good communication, trust, and ultimately learning” and lifetime friendships as well.
Whether her students are singing a song to remember math or donning gloves, goggles, smocks, and stethoscopes to become scientists and hear each others’ heartbeats,
Sonia constantly engages her students to problem solve and be critical thinkers. She teaches the “whole” child, and they are excited to learn. With two dozen diverse learners, Sonia subtly teaches independent and collaborative learning, cooperation to the highest degree, and peer helping. Her students write their autobiographies from home interviews, publish their works in hardback, and include their families in Readers’ Theater, Scary Story Time, and celebrations.
Sonia is a strong advocate and constantly continues to build a community with her class, parents, colleagues, and former students, inspiring others to love learning for a lifetime.
Early Childhood- Fairview Early Education Center
M.A. Speech-Language Pathology-University of Illinois
B.A. Speech-Language Pathology-Adelphi University
A.A. Liberal Arts-Nassau Community College
Professional colleagues write, “Pioneer in her field” and “cherished educator” in remarks about Bev. She inspires others to do their very best. She smiles all the time. Her face lights up, as does anyone else in response to her, including all her parents lured into her wise influence. As her days are spent inspiring pre-schoolers, thirty percent of whom are special education eligibles, Bev lights up young lives with her attentiveness and care.
As music, art, drama, and movement amend all learning processes, children in Bev’s classroom take in information on all levels. This is their first experience with a group in a cooperative atmosphere. Bev plays guitar and sings, and her students sing, drum rhythms, clap, dance, and learn words, numbers, shapes and colors. She is a storyteller, using child experiences to help her little Shakespeares relive stories with heroes and heroines, teaching about courage, strength, love and doing what is right. Even the most timid become brave. Bev is an artist, as her photography is evidenced in her classroom with student faces on walls, accompanied by student art. Bev is a naturalist, celebrating beauty while hatching chicks in her room, unfolding butterflies from cocoons, caring for the courtyard flowers, and watching red maple leaves and gentle snows.
In the bigger picture, Bev is a highly skilled speech/language pathologist and a staunch advocate for the pre-school child. Recently, she was key in saving the Rockford Early childhood Program by educating the community and politicians in Springfield about the importance of continuing to award the $8.8K grant for young children of Rockford . Her principal writes, “Without her passion for saving the preschool program, our community would have suffered.”
2nd Grade – Rockford Lutheran Academy
B.A., Elementary Education, Concordia University - Wisconsin
As a little girl, Jennifer played teacher with her sister in their basement. It made her happy then, and it still does. Whether she dresses as Mrs. Frizzle from The Magic Bus Series in her homemade solar system sweater or writes her weekly “What’s New in Grade Two” to parents, Jennifer has become a master teacher among colleagues. She anticipates every need and moment in the classroom, avoiding wasted time getting out materials or finding websites. To do this, Jennifer is tireless, spending countless extra hours, weekends and summers making manipulatives, setting up science projects, rebuilding entire subjects, creating self-instruction math centers and studying endless new techniques for differential reading and math. In her classroom, all transitions from Antarctica to subtraction to writing letters or melting Skittles to demonstrate erosion weave seamlessly throughout the day. She has a “passion and drive for educational excellence”, writes her principal.
Whether her students dress as Civil War characters in their traveling Wax Museum, participate in the Ancient Olympics or attend school in Ancient Egypt, Jennifer’s classes are engaged on all levels – to touch, to hear, to see, to present, to critique, to record, and sometimes to act a part. She constantly encourages critical thinking and mastery of concept. That must be why Jennifer was asked to chair the School Improvement Plan – responding also to the school’s initiative to the nationwide problem of bullying, supporting RLA’s philosophy of mutual respect for educational diversity.
Another colleague writes that “clarity is her biggest strength” adding that Jennifer’s “less is more” orderliness in her uncluttered classroom and quiet, positive teaching style reinforce student focus and constant engagement. Jennifer’s childhood dream of being an influential teacher has been nurtured in future generations, as former students are now entering college and the field of education.
4th grade – Kinnikinnick Elementary School
B.S. Elementary Education – Illinois State University
“I believe that success breeds success,” writes Debbie. Her classroom is a home away from home, and she constantly strives to push students beyond their comfort zone while noticing every little change that needs complimenting, from new glasses to haircuts. As a child, Debbie says, she loved school and always wanted to be a teacher. Now a veteran of thirty-three years, she teaches children of former students at their request.
Students in her classroom become history detectives, silhouette bodies for digestive system mapping, book characters, and proficient in Hands on Equations at the sixth grade level. Furthering her collaborative techniques, Debbie successfully follows her latest goal of partnering with special education teachers and some of their students into her classroom, combining students in a science project that asks descriptions of a mixture from one group, then classification of that description from the other group. Concrete and abstract ideas are melted together. Debbie builds rapport with parents and community by inviting guest visitors to speak on space, circulatory system, and nature. Her fourth graders collected bur oak acorns for reforesting and won a trip to Nygren Wetlands in Rockton.
One colleague calls Debbie a “star educator”, affecting her young students as well as potential teachers. Among her many mentored student teachers, one was voted Rockford College ’s Student Teacher of the Year. Her Superintendent writes that Debbie is “something special” as she encourages creative and independent thinking, “seeks to understand, asks critical questions, and strives to find solutions that will help her be the best she can be for her students”.
“Retirement, when it comes, will be a challenge for me” says Debbie. “I am a Teacher – it is what I do and who I am.”
Gina Marie Tulla
5th Grade – Whitman Post
M.A. Administration and Supervision – St. Xavier University
M.A. Teaching and Leadership – St. Xavier University
B.S. Elementary Education (Minor: Psychology) – Rockford College
“Gina is the kind of teacher and human being that raises the bar for all of us in a way that constantly brings to mind how much difference one person can make,” says her principal.
She is a “peacemaker” with the skills of a foreign ambassador, a role model for fellow teachers and students. As a trained mentor, Gina was asked by the Rockton Induction Committee to mentor new teachers, because of her expertise in the teaching process and “amazing” personal characteristics.
The Quantum Teaching Approach is Gina’s constant mantra. She follows those tenets faithfully, particularly three that dictate that all moments are purposeful teaching moments, leaving no room for wasted “fillers”, providing enrichment and re-teaching; every student effort deserves recognition, and a wrong answer is important; and “if it’s worth learning, it’s worth celebrating”, which means her students dance, stand in awe of their accomplishments, or celebrate with “Elvis” (hunka, hunka love) or “Cheese Grater”. Celebrating learning is positive reinforcement and encourages more seeking of knowledge, a personal tenet for Gina. “My passion is that my students will become lifelong learners,” she says. Each of her fifth graders is a mentor and “book buddy” to a third grader in Gina’s co-teaching/collaboration efforts.
Collaboration with parents is also crucial. Gina creates a weekly newsletter, a website with parent portal, online resources, and a Twitter widget link to communicate reminders. She implements after-school reading andn math programs, is the District's math coordinator, supervises the Forensics, organizes the environmental overnight trip to Timber-lee, oversees the newspaper, presents an Assembly on Character Education, and extends her time in numerous community activities. "Each child leaves a lasting impact on me," says Gina. "This is why I teach."