Lucky 7: New Courses Coming for Fenwick’s 92nd Academic Year

Four advanced computer science classes, one advanced theatre class, Mandarin and yoga headline exciting curriculum additions for Friar students and teachers!

By Mark Vruno

The Fenwick administration and faculty are excited to offer several new courses to students this coming school year. A series of four Advanced Computer Topics (ACT) classes as well as a new World Language course (Mandarin), an Advanced Theatre class and a new Physical-education class (yoga).

Dave Kleinhans

In discussing the new Advanced Computer courses, “Close to 30% of Fenwick’s graduates pursue a degree in STEM [science, technology, engineering or mathematics],” reports Computer Science & Physics Dept. Co-chair Dave Kleinhans. “Our investment in courses and physical spaces must match this interest.” The school’s new Computer Science Engineering & 3D Printing Lab, which debuted in the fall of 2019, will support four new advanced Computer Science (CS) classes: Data Structures & Algorithms, Introduction to Robotics, 3D Printing and IT Fundamentals for Cybersecurity.

The four, half-credit “ACT” classes are designed for students interested in diving deeper into the so-called computer sciences. They will have the opportunity to explore specific topics beyond the College Board’s AP Curriculum in an online format during scheduled CS class time. Each course has a programming or computer-aided design (CAD) requirement and is taught via an online, education-software platform.

Don Nelson joined Fenwick’s faculty in the 2019-20 school year.

“These topics represent areas that provide valuable preparation to students interested in pursuing technical disciplines — and those that are hot in today’s computing market,” adds CS/Physics Teacher Don Nelson. He should know. Mr. Nelson spent 30 years as a business person/nuclear engineer before embarking on a second career in education. (Prior to coming to Fenwick in 2019, Nelson taught at the Illinois Institute of Technology and DePaul Prep, formerly Gordon Tech.)

“Each of the classes offers students with experience and advanced knowledge of CS through two primary activities,” Nelson explains:

  • The online format is offered through Coursera and more than 100 partner universities (e.g., University of Illinois, Northwestern) and private corporations (e.g., IBM).
  • A capstone project complements the online format with a hands-on application of the concepts presented.

Upon successful completion, the student will receive a digital certificate and hands-on experience valued by universities and prospective employers. “With Don and our five other engineers serving as teachers here, combined with our recent physical space and course investments,” Mr. Kleinhans continues, “Fenwick is uniquely positioned in the high-school arena to serve students interested in STEM.” (See sidebar for additional course details.)

 

“If you want to talk to someone, speak in your language. But if you want to connect with someone, speak in theirs.”

– Nelson Mandela

 

Mandarin I (1.0 credit)

“The sixth language offered by Fenwick will be Mandarin [Chinese],” reports Principal Peter Groom. It is the language of government and education of the Chinese mainland and Taiwan (with the notable exceptions of Hong Kong and Macau, where a local dialect of Chinese called Cantonese is more often used.) Mandarin is one of five major regional languages of China.

At admissions-sponsored events over the past two years or so, “we have heard repeatedly from families that this is an area we needed to seriously consider,” Mr. Groom continues. “We have a current freshman student with some background in Mandarin.” He adds that the language fits within the wheelhouse of faculty member Shana Wang, who offered to teach it as a pilot program this school year.

Shana Wang

Last year, incoming Friar prospect Dylan Zorovich ’23 “was looking for a language but could not find it at Fenwick,” recounts Ms. Wang, who describes the free-thinking freshman from Elmhurst, IL, as both “diligent and delightful.” In true Dominican fashion, mentor and student set out on a journey this past August. “Our quest? To find a common language,” says Wang, who has taught in China.

Principal Peter Groom

The full-fledged course next school year seeks to provide a lively and challenging introduction to the basics of reading, writing, speaking and listening in Mandarin. Students will aim to identify at least 300 Chinese characters by the end of the year and write at least 150 Chinese characters using the correct stroke order. These characters are used to construct simple sentences while employing the proper grammatical conventions. In addition to learning Chinese characters, students will partake in continuous speaking and listening practice. They will watch videos, listen to dialogues and make presentations about important historical figures and events in China, Taiwan and Singapore. There will also be a focus on various Chinese cultures and their specific contributions to the global society.

Theatre II  (0.5 credit)

Caleb Faille

This course is geared toward musical theatre, performance and design, building on the student experiences learned in Theatre I (which is a prerequisite). Students will engage in activities including music and text analysis, staging, scene analysis, choreography, theatre tech, lighting design, stage management and production. The course will culminate with a musical revue including solo and group numbers. The skills learned will not only enhance students’ musical theatre experience but also expose them to careers off the stage. 

“Theatre I is for students with no theatre background,” Mr. Groom notes. “This second-level addition will attract those who do have some background in theatre.” Therefore, previous experience is required, as is approval from Theatre Teacher Mr. Caleb Faille, whose responsibilities within Fenwick’s Expressive Arts Dept. gradually have been increasing. “Mr. Faille now is in charge of our spring musicals,” Groom reports. An additional benefit is that Blackfriars Guild members can study their craft during the school day, he adds.

 

“Yoga is like music; the rhythm of the body, the melody of the mind and the harmony of the soul create the symphony of life.”

 – B.K.S. Iyengar

 

Yoga (0.5 credit)

Also coming to the Fenwick curriculum in 2020-21 is a yoga course, “which can fulfill the P.E. [physical education] requirement, for sophomores,” Groom says. Expressive Arts Chairperson Rizelle Capito will teach the course. She has conducted yoga instruction for Fenwick faculty as well as for the varsity football team.

Rizelle Capito

Ms. Capito says, “Studies and research have shown that yoga and mindfulness exercises not only promote physical health, but also mental health. Our students are under a lot of pressure and stress and we need to provide them with healthy ways of dealing with their stress. The class will include the physical practice of yoga to build physical strength and flexibility, meditation and mindfulness exercises. The hope is that the students will take these tools and incorporate them into their daily lives as a means of staying both physically and mentally healthy.”

Sophomores have the option to choose a regular PE class or yoga as their physical-education credit. (Placement is not guaranteed and is dependent on period availability and scheduling.) The course is designed to introduce students, safely and accessibly, to the basic postures, breathing techniques, and relaxation methods of yoga.  Areas of focus will be on low-impact activities to improve overall flexibility, strength, core and cardiovascular endurance.

Find complete course descriptions in Fenwick’s 2020-21 Course Selection Guide.

Continue reading “Lucky 7: New Courses Coming for Fenwick’s 92nd Academic Year”

Faculty Focus: July 2020

Math Teacher Mrs. Toni Dactilidis, who recently completed her 12th year at Fenwick, is entering her 23rd year as an educator.

What is your educational background?

TD: I was educated in the City of Steel and Stone: Joliet, Illinois. From preschool at the Little Red Schoolhouse to my Master’s Degree at the University of St. Francis, I feel so fortunate that I grew up in a diverse city with valuable lessons surrounding me at every turn. I am reminded of a beautiful quote from the Greek philosopher Diogenes that I saw every day in high school proudly displayed in the building, ‘the foundation of every state is the education of its youth.’  I love my hometown and, as I grow older, I search for ways to give back to show appreciation for all the education I received in that city. I relish all the lessons learned – from sports to dance, music to the Greek language – my education began at a very young age thanks to my mother, Mary Ann, and all the resources she found for me in Joliet.  

If you have never visited Joliet, please do! My high school alma mater, Joliet Central, is one of the most beautiful schools I have ever seen – Forever the Steelmen! I tell my students that the reason I teach high school students is because I loved my high school experience so much. Thank you to all my teachers, both in the classroom and beyond, in Joliet throughout the years! 

What did you do prior to becoming a teacher at Fenwick?

TD: I will begin my 23rd year of teaching in August. Next month will definitely look different than other school year beginnings; but, I am excited to connect with a new group of Friars. I started teaching young people right out of college. I have taught students from the grade school level up to the college level for the past 22 years at Gompers Junior High School to Joliet Junior College. I completed my student teaching at Joliet Catholic Academy, where I truly witnessed the power of a Catholic high school education for young people. Prior to Fenwick, I taught at Rich Central High School [Olympia Fields, IL], where I really fell in love with teaching high school students. As a novice teacher, I was surrounded by amazing mentors who supported and guided me. My students there were wonderful, strong, smart young people that worked hard toward all their goals. I loved my time at Rich Central. But my experience at JCA inspired me to teach at a Catholic institution one day; luckily, I found Fenwick in 2008 in search of an AP Statistics teacher and a crew moderator for theater productions, all of which, I had experience with at Rich Central. Needless to say, the stars aligned for me perfectly. 

As I reflect back on my 22 years in education, I think about all the wonderful mentors from whom I have learned. Anna White, the Gompers principal, comes to mind. She taught me so many great lessons on being an effective educator. She created a school climate where students felt loved and had a safe environment to learn. Ms. White showed me daily that loving your students must still involve having good structure and discipline – a priceless lesson indeed! I thoroughly believe love is the foundation of every classroom where learning and supporting each other will then fill the room. From the very beginning of the year, I show my students that I love and care for them as people with hopes, desires, dreams and ambitions. I start the year with a project no matter what the class is and incorporate our mathematical concepts into the project. My students feel loved and appreciated right from the onset because I create a supportive environment where we all feel comfortable to learn together. The ‘T-Shirt’ project is one of my favorites – come by my room during the year; I love to hang the “T-Shirts” up so we are reminded each day of the strong community we have together.

What are you currently reading for enjoyment?  

TD: Shout out to my book club – we just finished reading and then discussing Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips: a beautifully written book with themes and experiences that speak to all of us in America even though the book’s setting is the Kamchatka Peninsula of Russia. I have wonderful colleagues at Fenwick that are dear friends and we share a passion for reading and continuing to learn and grow in all we do. We love to gather as well: community! 

I am currently reading Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning; I enjoy reading about history, and this book is challenging me to think so very differently from the historical stories I usually read. Next on my list is Talking To Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell; this has been on my reading list since Dr. Tracy Gau recommended it to me in January. Gladwell’s books have always been favorites of mine. 

What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom?

Ms. Dactilidis likes to travel the world, too.

TD: I have so many interests and now [summer] is the time when I can really enjoy so many of them. I love being outside all year round but the summertime allows me to do that more than ever. In the summer, one will usually find me around the yard playing in the dirt. I have a big garden filled with delicious vegetables – lettuce, spinach, onions, beets, herbs, peas and beans are some of the veggies that I have enjoyed up to this point in the summer. My zucchini are close to harvest and then cucumbers will be coming in. I cannot wait for the peppers and tomatoes to start exploding as well! My husband and I start everything from seed and it is truly a labor of love to tend to a thriving garden. Each year, I become more enamored with my perennial flowers – I love the ability to transplant them and separate them to expand my garden or share with family and friends. I relish the quiet time in my veggie or flower garden in the morning as the warmth of the summer sun rises over me. It is precious quiet time that is so appreciated after a long school year. It is a time to rejuvenate mind, body and spirit. 

Besides my yard, another favorite location of mine is Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve. I enjoy hiking, biking and cross country skiing through the preserve, which is a short walk from my backyard – nature at your doorstep! 

My family jokes that I sponsor ‘Camp Toni’ at my house as well during the summer. I teach my youngest family members how to swim, explore nature and be active just as kids are meant to be! These are some of my favorite summertime endeavors. Time is the most meaningful thing we can give one another. I love that I am able to spend so much time with them during the summer. 

Continue reading “Faculty Focus: July 2020”

Faculty Focus: June 2020

Math Teacher and Coach Matt Barabasz will begin his fourth school year at Fenwick in August.

What is your educational background?

MB: I graduated in 2014 with a BS from Illinois State University in Secondary Mathematics with a Middle Level Education Endorsement. In 2019 I earned my MA from Concordia University (River Forest) in Educational Leadership Program. Right now, I am looking to begin a Doctorate Program in Educational Leadership; currently looking into Lewis University.

What did you do prior to becoming a teacher at Fenwick?

MB: Upon graduation from college I took my first teaching job at Saint Patrick High School. During my first year teaching, I also coached the sophomore football team and both varsity/JV track. The following year I was named the head sophomore football coach and head varsity track coach, which I continued to hold until I made my move to Fenwick.

During my time teaching and coaching, I also gave presentations on different educational philosophies and skills that I have been learning and using within my years as a new teacher. In 2015, I presented “Brain Breaks” at the Illinois Council of Teachers of Mathematics (ICTM) Conference, and in 2017 I presented “The Use of iPads to Create an Engaging Classroom” at the Mathematics Teacher Association of Chicago (MTA) dinner. (Roger Finnell has been on the board of this committee since 1968.)

What are you currently reading for enjoyment?

MB: I am reading Teacher Man by Frank McCourt, which is a tribute to teachers everywhere. I was given this book from my then great mentor and now friend, Chad Cluver. Chad was my corresponding teacher while I was a student teacher at Moroa-Forsyth [near Bloomington, IL]. During the year I spent there, I learned and grew an incredible amount due to Chad and the amount he continued to push and support me. He is currently doing amazing things both in and out of the classroom. I am truly blessed to have a great friend to continually provide me advice and guidance.

What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom?

MB: I have many interests that take up my time outside of the classroom. Aside from continuing my education through completing various grants and courses, I also coach football for Fenwick. Away from Fenwick, still working within education, I am a member of AdvancED, which is an organization that conducts rigorous, on-site reviews of a variety of educational institutions and systems to ensure that all learners realize their full potential.

On a more personal level, I compete in many intramural leagues, football and softball, across the different neighborhoods in Chicago. I love animals and the outdoors. From sixth grade until I accepted my first teaching job, I volunteered and worked at the Park Ridge Park District Nature Center. When I was younger, I would volunteer every Saturday at the Nature Center. Once I turned 16 I took on many roles there. I was hired as a manager to oversee the volunteer staff, run nature birthday parties, run campfires, run outdoor skills courses, and for six years I ran one of their nature summer camps.

Animals have been and are a huge part of my life.  In the summer of 2018 I adopted my dog, Bella, and she takes up a lot of my time. Each day we go on a lot of walks and adventures around the city. Also, almost every summer morning I will drop my kayak into the Chicago River and spend a few hours paddling. 

When I have time I love to get out my old charcoal and graphite supplies to draw. Art has always been a big passion of mine as well. At Illinois State University, my original plan was to double major in Mathematics and Art; however, the scheduling did not work within the four-year constraint I wanted to complete it in.

Lastly, I am a huge Chicago sports fan. If there is a Bears, Cubs or Blackhawks game on, if I am not there I am watching it.

To what teams and/or clubs did you belong as a student?

MB: Going back to when I was in high school I was a member of Student Council, Art Club, Football and Track.

Which clubs/sports/activities do you run at Fenwick?

MB:

  • Sophomore Football Coach: 2017-19
  • Freshman Football Coach: 2020 – current
  • Sailing Club Moderator: 2019 – current
  • PAWS Club Moderator: 2019 – current

What quality/characteristic marks a Fenwick student?

MB: The two biggest qualities I see in all the students I teach are determination and self-advocacy. Each year I am continually surprised by how much I can educationally push these students and what they can achieve. Also, I am continually impressed by how much they will speak up for their learning and themselves. It is amazing to see this skill being engrained with so many of our students. So many people are okay being passive and not speaking up for themselves; however, at Fenwick the students advocate for themselves and their learning and will not settle for anything but the best.

When did you decide to become a teacher, and why did you choose this field?

MB: There are two distinct things that have paved my path. I remember sitting in my sophomore Geometry class, thinking, “What the heck are we learning?” This is a typical thought that runs through most sophomores’ heads as they are trying to grasp the brand new concept of Geometry. Mathematics was a subject that I was always okay in. I didn’t hate going to class, but most of the time, like most students, I felt lost and confused. It was in the Sophomore Geometry class where I started to realize [that] everyone is just as confused as I am! Once that reality clicked, I started to put more time into studying with friends and concepts started to click. As we would work together and learn, I gained a feeling of great accomplishment. When something finally makes sense to someone else, there’s this little look that always happens. It is that look and that feeling of accomplishment that partially drove me to the field education.

The second was my grandfather. As a child, I only had one pair of grandparents (my father’s parents both passed when he was a teenager). My grandfather was a man I cannot even begin to describe. Anytime there was something wrong, he was right there with me. He sparked my passion into the arts, being an incredible artist himself, and was always someone I needed by my side. When I was younger, I was always spending my weekends with my grandpa. My grandfather made a huge impact within the educational world. He was a teacher for many years, but then made his way to being the president of a Chicago school. To this day, my grandma shows me articles of the amazing things he had accomplished and all the recognition he gained for his hard work and dedication to the students and families. If I can become half the teacher and man that he was, I will have a very successful career and life. [Note: Matt’s grandfather, the late Dr. Allen Zak, retired in 1991 as superintendent of School District 102 in La Grange Park, IL. He also was a former superintendent of schools in West Northfield District 31 in Northbrook, IL.] 

Continue reading “Faculty Focus: June 2020”

Fenwick’s Staying Power Is Its People, says 9-year Friar Teaching Veteran

Fellowship among fellow teachers and their students is a key factor as to why faculty members stay with the Friars.

By Laura (Dixon) Gallinari, English Teacher

In the spring of 2011, on the verge of graduation from my MFA poetry program, I applied for every high school English and Spanish opening in Chicagoland, from Waukegan to Wheaton to Orland Park. I grew up in south Oak Park, and my husband and I had just purchased a house here. On a lark, I submitted my resume to Fenwick, even though no job was posted. So, why am I here? To start with, I figured it would be cool to live seven blocks from school.

Having attended OPRF, I was minimally familiar with Fenwick, aware of it as the local Catholic school that went co-ed while I was in high school. Kathy Curtin called to set up an interview. At the time, one of my mom’s best friends, Kathy Miller, had a sister who taught at Fenwick and agreed to meet with me in the teacher cafe before my interview. So my introduction to Fenwick was coffee with the unforgettable Mariana Curtin, who charmed me with her sincerity, warmth, wisdom, humor and occasional curse words.

To my great fortune, it turned out that Fenwick did have a need for one more English teacher, in a year that saw 17 new Fenwick teachers, several of them in the English department. I walked home from the interview, not quite a mile, and when Pete Groom called to say yes, it felt like providence.

That year marked a huge transition for me. I had taught and coached for 10 years before taking a break for my MFA, but for the past three years I had been paid to attend a few classes and write poetry. I read for hours every day and wrote hundreds of poems. I played basketball every week and even watched TV. It was dreamy. Then, I graduated, moved back to Chicago, bought a house, got married, got a dog, got a new job, and — yep, got pregnant. You know, just a few small changes.

I had long been told by doctors that it might be hard for me to get pregnant or to carry a pregnancy to term due to my unusual womb that has an extra wall in the middle, like a valentine heart. So Gabriel, our wedding-night baby, came as a bit of a surprise. In August before school started, I walked over to Fenwick and found Pete Groom shooting baskets with one of his kids in the gym. I sheepishly informed him that I hoped I would need a maternity sub in March, and in the meantime I would need to back out on coaching volleyball and basketball due to the high-risk nature of the pregnancy. I was more than a little nervous to be such a ‘problem child’ right out of the gates, but Pete met the news with a resigned but affable, nodding, red-faced smile that seemed to say, ‘Ah. Of course you do.’ (You all know that look.) I then apologetically explained the situation to Trish [Grigg in Human Resources], who just smiled and said, ‘That’s what God wanted.’ Somewhere else I might have been at risk of a pink slip, but not at Fenwick.

That first year, so many people helped me to find my way — both figuratively and, indeed, literally (as in the time I was assigned to sub in, uh, Room 46??). Andy Arellano, Jerry Lordan, Mary Marcotte, and John Schoeph shepherded me through. And a quick shout-out to Rick O’Connor, too, whose camaraderie in our first year meant the world.

Mutual respect and blessings

The first and most compelling reason that I have stayed at Fenwick is the people. I both like and respect all the people I answer to, and I have never before at another school been able to say that so uniformly. And my colleagues, all of you, are amazing. Truly. I am wowed by your dedication, expertise and enthusiasm every day. If I’m having a tough time, Pete Gallo will both crack me up and pray for me. When I need to respond to a tricky email, John Schoeph will sit down and talk it through with me. Coach [Kevin] Roche sets the bar so high that he makes us all better people. Arthur [Wickiewicz] greets me with an exploding fist bump daily. Hope [(Feist) Zelmer] gives me Hope. Maria Nowicki gives me hugs and pumpkin bread. Theresa Steinmeyer tells everyone, ‘You’re my favorite and sincerely means it every, single time. When I suffered my second of three miscarriages, Brigid Esposito brought me two roses and made me feel seen. Time and again, we lift each other up.

I am also here because I have a deep and abiding love for grading. KIDDING. NO. Like all of you, I am primarily here because of my students. Because my students are motivated, engaged, prepared, respectful and helpful, I am able to do my best work in the classroom. I can manage serious discipline issues, but here I mostly don’t have to. My students are allies in learning, and their intellectual curiosity propels us forward. With students so ready and eager to learn, I am free to show them what more is possible, to acquaint them with new ideas and engage in closer readings. Beyond their high level of academic accomplishment, my students’ decency, kindness, creativity and insight daily show me what more is possible. I’m here because Nate Jakaitis [Class of 2016] still sends me the latest cool thing he wrote in college; because Abbey Nowicki [also ’16] also sends me pumpkin bread; and because Robert Metaxatos [’17] takes the time to write me a letter by hand because he is reading Crime and Punishment and I first introduced him to Dostoevsky years ago in our Brothers Karamavoz reading group. My students are incredible people. They are incredible blessings.

Faculty and staff members read chapters of Moby-Dick at “Moby-Con” in January 2019.

I have been fortunate to teach subjects here that speak to my own intellectual passions — American literature and creative writing. And I think it’s an open secret that I sneak in 12 chapters of Moby-Dick when everyone else does two. I’m at Fenwick because six years ago my AP students were jealous of the Honors classes who got to read those 12 chapters and asked me to stay after school with them on Mondays to discuss the entire book. I’m here because every year since then, my Moby-Dick readers have recruited the next year’s crew. I’m here because when I brought our lunatic notion of Moby-Con to Pete Groom and Jerry Ruffino, they didn’t say no. They came aboard, as did dozens of you. I’m here because you tolerate (or dare I say even enjoy?) my whaling and sailing puns. It made my heart full that so many colleagues stepped up to chaperone and read at Moby-Con, that Father Peddicord was game to play Father Mapple, that Ernesto screened four film versions, that Rick O’Connor live-streamed the whole event with his Broadcasting club. Those students will never forget our marathon voyage, and I don’t know whether it would have happened at another school.

All of this adds up to true community, and people filled with genuine affection and compassion for their coworkers and students. People say teaching is a thankless job, but at least at Fenwick, I disagree. My students depart class daily with a parade of thank-yous — I mean, even in study hall! Seriously!

‘God wants me to be here’

One thing that makes Fenwick special is that we treat our work here as a vocation, a ministry. We are called to this work, and we are here to shape more than minds. Nowhere is this more apparent than in our Kairos program and the teachers and student leaders who work tirelessly to offer that spiritual experience to our students.

As a Protestant, I had no idea what to expect in coming here. Would I be out of place? How would people here treat the non-Catholic minority? Would even the statues give me the side-eye? I could not have imagined that Lucy White would ask me to speak at Kairos about the Christian Family or that Maria and Mary Beth would invite me to speak today at a Dominican spiritual retreat.

I am here because God wants me to be here. (Please write this down and look up when you have finished: I am here because — sorry, Kairos humor — but that is why I’m here.) As a religious institution, we are a community of learning and also a community of prayer. We celebrate God in our service to one another. And when you’re in need you can always be sure that Pete Gallo is not the only one praying for you.

To wrap up, I’d like to just tell a few anecdotes that speak to my time at Fenwick:

Continue reading “Fenwick’s Staying Power Is Its People, says 9-year Friar Teaching Veteran”

Faculty Focus: May 2020

Even from home, 3rd-year Fenwick Social Studies Teacher Brian Jerger loves Western Civilization — and working with freshmen!

What is your educational background?

BJ: I went to high school in the southwest suburbs — Oak Lawn Community High School (’09). I have my B.A. in History from the University of Notre Dame (’13). My M.Ed. is from Notre Dame as well (’15).

What did you do prior to becoming a teacher at Fenwick?

BJ: I was a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) teacher in Heredia, Costa Rica, for nearly a year before coming to Fenwick. Before that, I taught World Geography & Cultures to freshmen at Saint Joseph Academy in Brownsville, Texas as part, of Notre Dame’s ACE Teaching Fellows program (2013-15).

What are you currently reading for enjoyment?

BJ: It may not be for enjoyment, but it is almost impossible to avoid trying to stay current with the COVID-19 news. Aside from that, I am currently trying to finish The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom?

BJ: I really love to cook. Fall weekends are for ND football and the Green Bay Packers. Wednesday nights are Trivia Night for me. In the summer, I like to travel and try to get outside, whether it be for hiking, fishing, brunch, baseball games or something else. I also help out as a young adult leader for a youth group at my parish throughout the year. 

To what teams and/or clubs did you belong as a student?

BJ: A little bit of everything. I played golf and ran XC/distance track. I also participated in student council, class advisory boards, student helpers and a really unique group called Cross Countries — not to be confused with cross country. Cross Countries was a small group of eight students who fund-raised over $40,000 in three years to complete an international service trip to Bolivia to help build a hospital. I even did a group interpretation theater production my senior year. I was also really active in my youth group, Foundations, at Old St. Pat’s in West Loop.

Even eTeaching from his “home-classroom” can’t keep down Mr. Jerger!

Which clubs/sports/activities do you run at Fenwick?

BJ: I am the assistant debate coach and the assistant freshmen girls’ basketball coach. I also go on every Kairos [retreat] Mrs. Nowicki will let me!

What quality/characteristic marks a Fenwick student?

BJ: In general, I think they push themselves and are gritty. Fenwick is not the ‘easy’ choice; students are challenged here. That said, the strongest steel is forged in the hottest fire. Our students come out on the other end far ahead of their peers and ready to lead. And, in the end, they still wish they had “FOUR MORE YEARS!”

Continue reading “Faculty Focus: May 2020”

Why Do Teachers Stay at Fenwick?

At the Faculty Retreat in early March, an alumnus and English Chairperson (who also teaches French and Italian and directs the fall play) shared with colleagues two reasons why he hasn’t left the Friars.

By John Schoeph ’95

One of the things for which I’m most grateful is that I work in an environment that fosters scholarship. I can recall from Dr. Lordan’s class the importance of scholasticism as a facet of Thomism, as an important component to Dominicans’ approach to education. That approach continued when I attended a Dominican university. I feel blessed to work in, of all Catholic environments, a Dominican one that prizes scholarship.

We don’t try to keep up with teaching trends. We aim to be innovative within fields our teachers know well and continue to advance in. English teachers here don’t ‘kind of’ know English; they know it. Continued learning in our fields is important to us. So a personnel of scholars has tended to abound here, and I love being in that company and in a place that embraces that.

As department chair, how blessed am I to observe other teachers and get to witness the high level of preparation through conscientious and attentive research in varied aspects of English:

Shana Wang
  • Shana Wang’s research on the reportage of Isabel Allende and its effect on her fictionalization of the televised death of Omaira Sanchez.
  • Theresa Steinmeyer’s [Class of 2012 alumna] research on revolutions throughout Central and South America as reflected through Magical Realism.
  • Kyle Perry’s [Class of 2001 alumnus] research on Said’s Orientalism, its reactions, and observations of both in art and literature.
Kyle Perry ’01

This is an environment I want to be in.​

At Fenwick, I can teach up! At Fenwick, I have to be on my A-game; I wouldn’t want to be at a place where I can get away with winging it, where students wouldn’t be sharp enough or smart enough to call me out on a misspeak or a gap in knowledge. My primary goal here is not to motivate students because, by and large, they come to class excited and willing to learn.

I can recall a group of students who used to spend their lunch period in my class so that they could take notes on my lessons when I wasn’t their teacher that year; I can recall discussing a picture book on words that have no translation in other languages, or at least no direct translation to English, and three students stopping after class to ask me for the title and author of the book so that they could buy their own; one of my talking points at Open House is the time the football team called me over to their lunch table to weigh in on whether or not I thought Willie Loman was a tragic hero in Death of a Salesman because they were duking it out — at lunch!

I can recall when Mr. Finnell assigned me A Midsummer Night’s Dream for my directorial debut [in 2009] after eight years paying my dues as his assistant director. After working with the students on Shakespearean language, delivery and pacing, sitting through the first off-book rehearsal, which was all of Shakespeare’s ACT I — unabridged — I was smiling from ear to ear because no one called for a line — not even once. They had worked that hard on it. 

Best students in the land

And let’s face it, whether they’re the brightest scholar or lover of academics or not, they’re the best students in the land. I have many friends who are teachers at many schools, and when I’m out with them, it’s inevitable that I will run into my students. Every time I do, my friends are flabbergasted by my students’ comportment and interaction with me. Every time, my students run over to me and greet me, excited to see me.

One time, I walked into Chipotle where about 12 Fenwick students, juniors at the time, had formed one long table. I had taught only one of them as a freshman and didn’t know the others. I got my food and was heading to the counter when they waved me over to join them. I didn’t want to intrude, but they all immediately made room for me, welcomed me, and brought me over to eat — again, I had taught only one of them.

Another time, I was with my friends at the Oak Brook Mall when a group of students ran up to me. My friends were blown away that my students didn’t see me and walk the other way. Instead, they respectfully greeted my friends, chatted with me, and then suddenly darted away —because across the mall, they spotted Mrs. Megall and wanted to go say hi to her! And I know the same goes for so many of you. We could take this for granted — the academic caliber of our gifted and talented students, and the welcoming and warmth of our kind-hearted students — but knowing what other teachers experience helps me realize this gift. And I haven’t even talked about how great our students’ families are!

Continue reading “Why Do Teachers Stay at Fenwick?”

How High School Defines Us

At the Faculty & Staff Retreat earlier this month, a senior “mathlete” from Elmhurst shared a heartfelt reflection of his time at Fenwick.

By Nathan Crowell ’20

The four years of high school are some of the most influential years of our lives. Our lives change so much — from the things we learn about, to the friends we have, to our identities that we discover. High school molds us into the people we will be for the rest of our lives.

Good morning, everyone! For those of you who do not know me, my name is Nate Crowell. My story is all about finding my true identity and the role that I play in the Fenwick Community. I’m on the Math Team and the Scholastic Bowl Team. I play volleyball, I do TEAMS, WYSE, Friar Mentors and the Write Place. All the while being active in my church’s youth group. As you can probably tell, I’m what some would call “a nerd.” Now, I don’t think it is an insult at all because I love the activities that I do, and so what if I like math? It’s a part of my identity that I found here at Fenwick.

Who I am all begins with my family. I have two loving parents and two brothers: an older one named Ian and a younger one named Nolan. My family has had a big influence on the person I have become. Up until about my sophomore year of high school, I looked up to my brother for everything. From baseball to school, I always tried to do what he did. He batted lefty, so I had to bat lefty; he played the percussion, so I played percussion. He went to Fenwick, so I had to go to Fenwick. His influence on me has impacted my life more than I realize. I entered Fenwick trying to live up to the reputation he set before me. I tried my hardest to be as similar to Ian as I could. 

Other than my brother’s influence, my mom has also impacted my life a lot. From when I was young and still today, my mom and I love to do jigsaw puzzles. We would sit in the family room for hours doing these 550-piece jigsaw puzzles. It was doing these puzzles that molded the way I think, and they developed my love for problem solving. 

Family and Faith

Now, my parents have been bringing me to church for my entire life. But I never made my faith my own until middle school. It was the youth group that got me engaged in my faith, and to this day I’m very involved in my church. As my faith journey progressed and as I became more and more engaged at church, I grew to love the people in my youth group. As 7th grade began, I met one of my best friends and mentor. He was one of my small-group leaders then and, to this day, he is still my mentor, small-group leader and best friend. He has been there to guide me along my faith journey, helping me through my biggest times of doubt. 

My mentor is one of the most influential people in my life, and having someone there for you, no matter when or where, is crucial for every high schooler. The best part is, you all get that opportunity here at Fenwick. Many of the students here are going through some very stressful situations, and if you are able to be there for them, it makes a world of difference. So I encourage you to always be there for the students, because you never know what they may be going through or how great of an impact you can have on their life.

Faculty members listened intently to young Nate’s story in the library on March 6, 2020.

When 8th grade rolled around, I had to decide what high school I was going to go to. I was choosing between here and York, and the thing that sealed the deal for Fenwick was the community. The students, and especially the teachers, are all so welcoming. When I shadowed here, I felt like a part of the family already. I could tell that the Fenwick Community is there for each other no matter what. The biggest thing that I noticed was how nice everyone in the faculty was. You all are the reason Fenwick is the way it is. Without you, our community would not be as tightly knit and our students would not see Fenwick almost as a second home. You all foster a warm feeling that reminds the students of home, no matter how much we may hate doing school work.

Starting freshman year was scary. I didn’t know what to expect, especially only knowing two other kids going into Fenwick. I didn’t know what the other people would think of me. 

Now, I spent most of freshman year trying to find my place within the new school and getting to know all the new people. The only important things I remember from freshman year are being “invited” to join the Math Team (like I had a choice) and trying out for volleyball. However, the most impactful thing to happen to me freshman year was meeting THE Joe Zawacki. We met in Spanish class, where on the first day he got sniped with his phone out by Ms. Carraher. Later that day, we ended up sitting at the same lunch table. And, well, the rest is history.

Identity Crisis

When sophomore year rolled around, I found out that I had every class except two with Joe. We did everything together, and after all the time I spent with him, I thought I had to be like Joe. I “stole” Joe’s identity. I took it as my own and tried to be the person he is, not the person God made me to be. Besides adopting his identity as my own, I compared myself to him a lot, and I started to feel like I wasn’t special and that I didn’t have a place here in the Fenwick community. An emptiness started to grow inside of me. It quickly started to eat away at me. The emptiness got so bad that I almost transferred to York. I was strongly considering leaving this amazing community. I thought I didn’t have anything special that I could add to Fenwick.

But, preparing for junior year soon consumed my thoughts because I had a lot of decisions to make. What classes would I take? What activities would I do? How can I make myself look the best for colleges? 

“Our culture today puts so much value in doing.

Nate Crowell

As the school year began to pick up pace, I was bombarded with assignment after assignment. My day consisted of waking up, going to school, going to any after-school activity I had that day, going home, barely finishing my homework, then straight to sleep. My daily routine was jam-packed, and God slowly transitioned from being a part of my life to an afterthought, then to the point where I would go entire weeks without even thinking about Him. Our culture today puts so much value in doing. I especially felt that this year, as I wrote college apps. I had to do every after-school activity, be a part of every club I could; I never had time to slow down and connect with God. One thing I have learned is that we all need a break. We can do this by just spending time alone, without distractions.  It can be as short as 10 minutes or as long as two hours. 

On an annual trip my youth group would take, we would go to Arkansas and spend a week on houseboats, living on the lake. One thing that we did every year was, on the third morning, we would start the day in total silence. We woke up silently; we made breakfast silently; then we spent about another hour and a half in silence. We were supposed to just sit there and look out over the lake. Now, as a freshman and sophomore that task was DAUNTING. Being silent for two hours? I could barely stay quiet for a meal. Now, as a young freshman and sophomore, the challenge wasn’t being quiet for an hour and a half, it was staying awake for that hour and a half. I ended up asleep both times, but as successful as I was at being quiet, I totally missed the point of the activity. 

Being vs. Doing

The whole point wasn’t to torture us but to refect on life, and take a MUCH needed break from the busy-ness of today’s society. When I went before junior year, instead of taking a nap, I was actually able to stay awake the whole time! I just sat on the back of the boat, looking out across the lake. It was after that hour and a half that I realized I feel most at peace in nature. I was able to forget about all of the stresses of everyday life and just breathe. Now, whenever I need a break from the world, I’ll go out into nature and just take a walk. I now know about the importance of just being. There is so much doing in our world, that we forget to just BE. We all just need to take a break from the constant hustle and bustle of our lives.

First semester of senior year was full of constantly filling out this application, writing that essay, and just stressing about my future. But a quote I read last year said to: “Never let fear decide your fate.” I had to put my trust in God and His plan for me and my future. God is always here with us, whether we feel His presence or not. As the great Mr. Mulcahy said, “Our oneness with God is realized not created.”

Throughout my journey at Fenwick, I have wanted to make a huge impact here. I thought that when the time came, I could do some great action. When I reflected on how foolish that thought was, I was reminded of a quote from Mother Teresa that my mom keeps on her desk at home. It says: “We can do no great things; only small things with great love.” 

Continue reading “How High School Defines Us”

Optimism and Reality

By Eva Szeszko ’20

As a junior last school year, Eva Szeszko became the Illinois State Champion, representing the Optimist Club of Oak Park.

“Is there a fine line between optimism and reality?” The band Queen took the world by storm during its reign in the 1970s. They introduced the world to a new type of rock and produced hit songs that are still celebrated and sung today. Of these songs, “Bohemian Rhapsody” is perhaps the most well-known. The six-minute song is an unlikely source of optimism, but upon listening to the mere first verse, I was struck with the lyrics’ undiscovered potential. In these lyrics, I found the metaphorical line between optimism and reality.

Freddie Mercury begins the song by asking, “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?” His rhetorical questions are the same that we must ask ourselves. Are we approaching situations realistically? Are we optimistic in setting our goals? We must ask ourselves these questions before reaching a decision. It is not enough to approach every situation with a singularly realistic point of view. With no optimism, life becomes dreary. However, on the other hand, we must make certain that optimism does not overpower our decisions and goals. Further along in the first verse, Freddie Mercury also sings the line, “Easy come, easy go.” Through this assertion, he perfectly embodies the relationship between realism and optimism. One must be able to handle any situation accordingly, but the person must also have hope that the situation will get better. Not only did Queen release an American icon, they also unlocked the secret to optimism and realism.

Realism is the tendency to accept things as they are. Optimism, at its core, is just realism interspersed with hope. An optimist must be able to look at reality with positivity and hope for a better future. Because of their relationship, optimism and realism co-exist. Being too realistic can be harmful to one’s outlook on life. Imagine a doctor telling someone that they have been diagnosed with cancer and have a slim chance of overcoming the disease. A realist would accept the diagnosis and understand that the survival rate is very low. Yet, is there not more? How can we just accept a dire situation like this, and not hope and work for a better outcome? Because of this, being too realistic is not beneficial to one’s life. One must also sprinkle in a little bit of optimism in every situation encountered. The Optimist Creed states that we must “talk health, happiness, and prosperity to every person [we] meet.” In other words, every situation can use a bit of optimism. Through this codependency, one can find the blurred line between optimism and reality.

Freddie Mercury and Queen rocked out in the 1970s. “Bohemian Rhapsody” was released in 1975.

The stereotypical idea of an optimist is one who never stops smiling, no matter the circumstances. However, this is not an accurate description. True optimists use both optimism and realism to their advantage. They use realism to accept the situation that has been handed to them. They then use optimism to make the situation better. They are able to overlook the negativity and work for a better tomorrow. These optimists may not always be sporting a smile, but they remain hopeful for a better future. They do not solely rely on realism; nor do they solely rely on optimism. Similarly, we all must find the balance between these two philosophies in order to better ourselves.

“Bohemian Rhapsody,” although an unlikely source, has been my inspiration for optimism. This example goes to show that optimism is all around us, we just need to be willing to notice. Simply put, we must look at each situation realistically. Then, just over the horizon, the shining rays of optimism must be found. At that intersection, we all will find the “Fine Line Between Optimism and Reality.”

Optimist International is an international service club organization with almost 3,000 clubs and over 80,000 members in more than 20 countries. 

Continue reading “Optimism and Reality”

Finally at Full Power: Fenwick 2019-20 Girls Basketball

As the Friars’ young, female hoopers get healthy and march toward maturity, a Hall of Famer — with 40+ years of coaching experience — smiles at their timing.

By Mark Vruno

Chalk up another 20-win regular season for Fenwick girls’ basketball Head Coach Dave Power. But he says his young team (23-8, 3-3 in the GCAC) is not finished. In fact, the once injury-plagued Friars finally may be gaining momentum heading into post-season play.

She’s back: Senior guard Sheila Hogan (knee) recently returned to the Friars’ starting rotation.

Two weeks ago “marked the first game all season where we had every player fully healthy,” reports alumna and Assistant Coach Erin Power ’07, Dave’s daughter and once a stellar point guard for the Friars. “Sheila Hogan returned from an ACL [rehab]. Lily Reardon was out for several weeks with a separated shoulder. Mia [Caccitolo] had her knee injury. Mira [Schwanke] and Audrey [Hinrichs] both were out with ankle injuries at certain points. Katie Schneider was out for a few games with the flu.”

While their head coach isn’t in the habit of making excuses, he can confirm the busier-than-normal athletic training room traffic. “We’ve had at least nine players out for something,” a frustrated, elder Power says, lamenting that his squad lost games last month that they probably would have won at full strength. “We’ve had about 15 different starting line-ups this season. It’s hard to prepare for opponents when key, position players are out,” he explains, “be they rebounders or shooters.”

The strength of Fenwick’s sometimes-daunting schedule did not help matters. During a particularly difficult stretch in January – one that Athletic Director Scott Thies ’99 referred to as “the gauntlet” — Fenwick lost badly to Montini and then dropped consecutive games to four more Catholic-school rivals: St. Ignatius, Benet (which was close), Mother McAuley and Marist.

Buzzer-beaters: 6’1″ forward Audrey Hinrichs is one of five sophomores on the varsity. She and fellow soph Elise Heneghan (6’0″) combined for 41 points vs. Evanston on Feb. 4.

The Powers know, as experienced coaches do, that they can control only certain factors when it comes to their teams. Injuries, while preventable, are not necessarily controllable. Age is another element out of their control. Make no mistake: the Friars are young (five sophomores and four juniors). However, the youth is buoyed by strong leadership from upper-classwomen, Dave Power points out, giving a nod to his quartet of seniors, who all are guards: Hogan, Stephanie Morella, Reardon and Schneider.

Welcome distractions

Like most coaches, the Power duo dislikes distractions. But how do good Catholics say “no” to the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Chicago? When Cardinal Blase Cupich informed Fenwick President Fr. Richard Peddicord, O.P. last Thursday that he’d like to attend the next evening’s girls basketball game, the scramble began! But Power really didn’t mind. His Eminence’s presence was icing on the cake for the Friars’ Senior Night. The Cardinal sat on both sides of the bleachers, cheering for the Catholics. Our team was victorious, 58-50, over the Carmel Corsairs of Mundelein (18-8, 3-3).

Go, Catholics: On January 31, Cardinal Cupich received a Fenwick sweatshirt from the Friars. (Photo courtesy of Scott Hardesty/Fenwick.)

Another welcome distraction came this past Tuesday night, as Power’s girls capped a four-game winning streak by defeating top-ranked Evanston (20-4, 9-0) in their regular-season finale. A thrilling, half-court buzzer-beater by 6’0″ forward Elise Heneghan (24 pts.), one of the sophomores, sealed the deal: 45-43 in favor of the Friars.

The Wildkits fourth-year head coach is Fenwick alumna and All-Stater Brittany Johnson ’05 (Chicago). Johnson, who played at Boston College, averaged 18 points per game, six rebounds and five steals as a senior for the Friars. “I’m so proud of Britt,” Power beams. “She had a great career at BC and got her master’s degree. Hers is a great success story!”

In a pre-game ceremony, after Power hugged his former-player-turned-opposing-coach, the school officially named the locker room in its Fieldhouse Gym after him. Fenwick President Fr. Richard Peddicord, O.P. was in Florida visiting with alumni, but he sent a statement from afar: “It is a privilege to honor Coach Power’s commitment to our community with this dedication, along with a corresponding, generous gift of $500,000. The donor family wishes to remain anonymous, but their gesture truly is heartfelt.” (Read more.)

27 seasons at Fenwick: Coach Power posed with 21 of his basketball alumnae who showed up for the Feb. 4th ceremony. How many can you name, Friar fans? (Photo by Peter Durkin ’03/Fenwick.)

In Father Peddicord’s stead, President Emeritus Fr. Richard LaPata, O.P. ’50 stepped onto the Fenwick hardwood, talking about Dave Power’s legacy and their friendship, which now spans three decades. AD Thies also spoke, sharing stories about how Power has made an impact on his life and continued to pursue excellence relentlessly. “Coach Power [has] impacted so many lives, so many who have gone on to be successful in life,” Thies said.

Of The Power Locker Room naming and half-million-dollar donation, the coach himself says: “The generosity of this person – and I really don’t know who it is – is beyond overwhelming. I’m blown away that someone would be so generous – not for me, but for all the success the program has had; all the wonderful coaches and girls who’ve played for me … all their successes. I think of it as a dedication to them. It’s a great thing for Fenwick!”

One of the coaches sharing Power’s legacy is his late brother, Bill, who passed away in 2018. Another faithful assistant is Dale Heidloff, a science teacher at Fenwick who also is the head coach of the girls’ track team and an assistant coach for boy’s golf. “When I first started coaching with Dave 20 years ago, I had a much different view on the game of basketball,” Coach Heidloff shares. “I always believed strongly in playing defense, but Coach Power’s philosophy has always been to just ‘score more points than the other team.’ This simple philosophy has won him nearly 1,000 games, so I’ve learned to trust the methods, the madness and the magic of Coach Power.

“Beyond the X’s and O’s, however, I’ve been able to share unforgettable memories with a man who has become like a brother to me,” Heidloff continues. “We have both been fortunate enough to share in winning a state championship with our daughters [Kristin ’04 in 2001 and Erin in 2007] and have had the opportunity to coach the next generation of Friars alongside our daughters. His coaching legacy speaks for itself, but his true legacy is the impact he has had on his players and coaches, the fierce loyalty he has towards those he cares about, and his unwavering commitment to the Fenwick community.” 

Power acknowledges that coaching with daughter, Erin, at his side these past four years has been quite special. He adds that her title of assistant coach really is a disservice. “Erin’s role goes way beyond that,” he says. “She can relate to the young girls and is the definition of a role model: strong, intelligent and demanding. She demonstrates [techniques] in practice on the court, which I can’t do so well anymore. Plus, she knows how to do all that social media stuff!” he laughs.

Continue reading “Finally at Full Power: Fenwick 2019-20 Girls Basketball”