Five teachers win Christa McAuliffe awards

June 4, 2001

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Springfield -- Five Illinois teachers have been awarded a total of $33,000 as the 2001 Christa McAuliffe Fellows for 2001. 

The Christa McAuliffe Fellowship was created in 1987 to provide fellowships to classroom teachers in memory of Christa McAuliffe, the New Hampshire teacher who served as an astronaut on the space shuttle Challenger in January 1986.  The Council of Chief State School Officers in Washington, D.C. oversees the federally funded program.

“This is a unique state-based recognition program for experienced teachers, which results in improved classroom instruction by letting teachers work on projects that will improve their knowledge and skills,” said State Superintendent of Education Glenn W. McGee. 

“That, in turn, improves the education they give their students,” McGee said. “It is truly a win-win program!”

Illinois had 34 applicants for this year’s Fellowship program.  Eligibility is limited to full-time public and private school teachers (K-12) who have been employed as teachers for eight or more years and who are citizens or permanent residents of Illinois. The fellowship award period is 12 months or less. 

The focus of the fellowship program is not only to use outstanding and experienced teachers to assist in the implementation of the state’s improvement initiatives, but also to increase the skills of the teachers, directly resulting in the improvement of classroom instruction. A central tenet in the mission of the McAuliffe Fellowship Program is to maintain a direct connection to the classroom.

The new Fellows, each of whom receives a $15,000 grant, are Randy Steinheimer, a teacher at Freeman Partnership School in Aurora, and David Brown, a teacher at St. Peter School in Quincy. 

Steinheimer’s plan combines fourth grade students, reading, and future teachers.  Using a “Reading Workshop” approach composed of self-selected reading, response journals, word study, and literature circles, approximately 100 students will learn a variety of skills that will help them throughout their academic careers. 

Steinheimer’s program will also heighten Freeman School’s partnership with Aurora University. A Fourth Grade Teaching Team will co-teach a three-course “Literacy Strand” with University faculty.  Practical application of theory/best practice will occur in fourth grade classrooms during reading instruction.

The project’s formal title is “Teacher in P.A.C.E.” which means teacher in pursuit of the advancement of curricular excellence in the teaching of reading. Linked closely to the Illinois Learning Standards, the program will also incorporate technology and the development of an innovative educational program partnered with Aurora University’s School of Education.

Brown’s proposal is entitled “From the Watershed to the Estuary,” and is a field lab experience in grades 4-6.  One of the unique aspects of this project is that it involves students from both parochial and public schools in real scientific bio-monitoring field studies. 

He plans to have students focus on three major creek systems in Quincy.  The students will map out the watersheds, pools, sources of pollution, erosion and other significant features. Students will survey and collect data on plant and animal species with particular attention towards invasive exotic species.

Two monitoring stations will be set up on each creek, one at the headwaters, and one where the creek meets the Mississippi.

Students will collect and record data, report findings to the Illinois EPA, formulate and problem-solve solutions to problems found in the creek.  They will create three “creek kits” each containing a student made video, packets and information about each creek.  These kits will be available to all district schools.

Three other teachers will receive $1000 each to pursue their projects.  The team of Catherine Schaller and Jennifer Prieur from Beethoven Elementary School in Chicago will benefit from teachers being trained by math specialists, and partnered-collaboration with each other in and out of the classroom.

Florence Vaughan’s students at the University of Chicago Laboratory School will get the chance to experience virtual field trips incorporating the earth science curriculum. 

At the Hannah G. Solomon Elementary School in Chicago, students of Denise Edelson will get a closer look at native Illinois plants and animals.

A panel of seven exemplary educators from around the state made up the panel that selected the winners.