Faculty Focus: August 2019

Getting to know Science Instructor and alumna Elizabeth Timmons ’04, who is entering her ninth year of teaching at Fenwick.

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Ms. Timmons spends a big chunk of her summer down in the Friars’ pool, coordinating swimming lessons for the Oak Park community.

What is your educational background?

I have a B.S. in Environmental Science with minors in Spanish and Anthropology from Santa Clara University. I also have a MAT degree in Chemistry from Dominican University.

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

I completed several outdoor education internships that included working at a National Wildlife Refuge in CA, an outdoor education center in Northern Michigan (through the winter!) and the Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation in Dundee, IL. I also subbed in the elementary schools in Forest Park and River Forest while I was getting my Master’s and teaching credentials.

What are you currently reading for enjoyment?

Sadly, it has been a while since I have read anything other than parenting articles online, but my goal is to finish Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming this summer. We will see how that goes with a one-year-old running around!

What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom?

I like to spend time with my family and be outside as much as possible. I love to go to the Morton Arboretum or the zoo, especially with my one-year-old. I love to swim and play water polo, even though I know I’m not very fast these days.

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

I was a member of the Varsity Swimming and Water Polo teams. I was also a member of NHS.

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

I am the moderator of the Environmental Club and I have been involved in the all of the Aquatics programs in various ways over the years.

What quality/characteristic marks a Fenwick student?

The quality that most stands out to me in our Fenwick students is their resourcefulness. Our students here are very ambitious and constantly looking to successfully meet objectives and expectations. They will find extra resources when they need them and are willing to put in the hard work required to excel in the classroom.

Fenwick students also look out for each other. The Fenwick Community is a place that is always welcoming, regardless of how long ago you were a student. The Fenwick Community is strong, and I have always felt that we pull together to celebrate the triumphs and work through the trials. The statement, “Once a Friar, Always a Friar” is definitely true.

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

I like to say that I went into the family business, but I guess that’s not technically correct since we don’t own a school or anything. Both of my parents were teachers, so I got to see some incredible examples of what it means to be passionate about what you are doing every day while I was growing up. My dad [Hall of Famer the late Dave Perry] taught at Fenwick and my mom taught at Morton East for most of their careers. I started babysitting, teaching swim lessons and coaching at a young age, so I always wanted to teach in some form. As things worked out, I made my way back home and am now enjoying teaching at Fenwick.

What personal strengths do you find especially helpful in your teaching?

I have a desire to see those around me happy and successful. I work really hard to make my class a place where each student can experience successes that they can be proud of, even if they are not going to continue to study chemistry.

I am also a perfectionist, so I work really hard to foresee issues that might arise before they happen and try to do whatever I can to prevent those issues. This can definitely work against me, though, as I can get stressed when things don’t go according to my plan. Having a one-year-old is definitely helping me decrease my perfectionist ways and the stress I allow this to have in my life, because nothing ever goes according to my plan these days!

What are your favorite classes to teach?

I have loved teaching chemistry at the CP (college prep) and Honors levels for the past eight years. I have learned so much from my students and love to see how far they come during the course of the year. That being said, I am really excited to take on the new adventure of teaching AP Environmental Science this year. I majored in Environmental Science and it has always been my greatest passion (with Chemistry a close second) so I can’t wait to start this new journey with my students.

What is the greatest success you have had in teaching?

My biggest successes are always when I get to witness that ‘ah-ha’ moment in my students. This is especially cool for students who have been struggling through a topic and then it just clicks all of a sudden. I also love to see the transition for a student who comes into my class and doesn’t really enjoy science, but leaves wanting to study more science. Those are the most powerful experiences in teaching for me.

What challenges face students today?

The ease at which they can get information. Google is an amazing thing, but sometimes it takes the work out of doing research and, if we are not careful, we might stumble upon information that is not peer reviewed or is based on opinions/emotions instead of facts. We must always remember to have a critical eye when researching and make sure there is enough evidence provided. In addition, we must remember that the most important things are the ones worth working for, so push through when the going gets tough!

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A Heartfelt Message of Gratitude, Forgiveness and Love

Families and students in attendance at the 2018 NHS Induction Ceremony heard a rare blend of wisdom and wit from Mr. Tom Draski – with famous quotations ‘peppered in’ for emphasis.

The Fenwick National Honor Society (NHS) recognized 147 seniors at this year’s induction ceremony held Oct. 14th at St. Vincent Ferrer Church in River Forest, IL. Science Teacher and Tennis Coach Mr. Tom Draski was invited to address the inductees and their parents. (Mr. Draski is the 2018 Rev. George Conway Outstanding Teacher Award Recipient.)

Mr. Draski

Mr. Draski prepared remarks mixed around teaching ideas, personal stories and quotations. His speech was themed around the NHS’s four pillars and on a personal message: Seven words that can make you rich.

1st NHS Pillar: Scholarship

Mr. Draski questioned the group on how smart they really were:

  • Are you smart enough to recognize good friends?
  • Smart enough to recognize the wisdom of their parents?
  • Smart enough to recognize what makes you happy?
  • Smart enough to see thru problems?
  • Smart enough to recognize how unique and special God made you?

To highlight these points, he employed quotes from Mark Twain, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Christiane Collange.

2nd NHS Pillar: Leadership

How do individuals inspire others to do more than they thought they could do? Are you a leader in your family, among your friends? Quotes used by Mr. Draski to highlight leadership came from John C. Maxwell, Robin Sharma and Mary Pickford.

3rd NHS Pillar: Service

Mr. Draski stressed remembering service, to each other, to our country, to our planet and to God.

  • Service is our beliefs and thoughts turned into action.
  • Service can happen all the time, not once in a while.
  • Service is sharing peace with others.

Quotes used to highlight this pillar came from Saint Mother Teresa, Sister Mary Macaluso and Mary Kay Ash.

4th NHS Pillar: Character

What is character?

  • If you have character, you always do your best.
  • If you have character, you are a person with a giving heart.
  • If you have character, you know the real secret of happiness.
  • If you have character, you look on the bright side.
  • If you have character, you know what is important to fight for.

Quotes used to highlight character came from John McCain, Thomas Edison, J.M. Barrie, Henry Ward Beecher and Abraham Lincoln.

After talking about the four pillars of NHS, Mr. Draski gave the group a message on how to become rich. It involves investing in the use of seven words. These seven words may not make you rich financially, but your heart will overflow with treasure:

THANK YOU

Mr. Draski emphasized the importance of using these words to anyone who has made an impact on your life in many different ways — from teachers, to coaches, to friends and classmates, to relatives, to people you meet only once in your life, and especially to your parents. (Quotes used in this section by Mr. Draski were by Albert Schweitzer, Georgia O’Keefe, and Confucius.)

I’M SORRY

Mr. Draski mentioned times we put off saying we are sorry. Don’t put it off. Feel a weight lifted from you and gain respect from another. (Quotes: from Louisa May Alcott.)

I LOVE YOU

Practice saying I love you often. Don’t be afraid of saying I love you. Tell your friends you love them. Tell your parents you love them. And tell all the rest of the remarkable people in the world who have made you who you are, “I love you.” Mr. Draski used quotes in this section from Walter Winchell, Jennie Churchill, the Bible-Leviticus 19:18 and Erma Bombeck. “I love you all,” he told the church audience.

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Fenwick Faculty Focus: Biology Teacher Dan Wnek

Science/Biology Teacher Mr. Wnek dons his summer-school attire (below). The father of three young daughters came to Fenwick seven years ago from St. Patrick High School in Chicago.

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W
hat is your educational background?

DW: I have a B.S. in Biology with a minor in Philosophy from Loyola University Chicago, and I’m currently working on my Master’s in Biology from Clemson University.

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

DW: I taught Chemistry and Biology at St. Patrick High School, where I also coached track, cross-country, soccer and volleyball.

What are you currently reading for enjoyment?

DW: The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss.  Both myself and my one-year-old daughter, Julia, enjoy it immensely.

What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom?

DW: Outside of the classroom, my main interest is my family, which includes three daughters under the age of six.  When I find extra time, I enjoy playing volleyball, ping pong, soccer and cooking.

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

DW: I ran track and cross country, and was part of the NHS [National Honor Society].

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

DW: At Fenwick, I coach track and cross country.  I’m also part of the Robotics Club and Kairos.

What quality/characteristic marks a Fenwick student?

DW: Motivated and courteous.

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

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Faculty Focus: December 2017

Brigid (Baier) Esposito

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Mrs. Esposito is in her 14th year of teaching science at Fenwick.

What is your educational background?

BE: I am a Fenwick alumna and member of the 1996 first co-educational class. After high school, I attended Washington University in St. Louis and completed degrees in Chemical Engineering and Systems Science. In college, I developed a passion for service through active participation in the Catholic Student Center. I worked two wonderful co-operative experiences at DuPont (making soy protein) and Proctor and Gamble (making Cascade) and enjoyed both experiences immensely. After college, I decided to pursue my passion for education by participating in the Notre Dame ACE (Alliance for Catholic Education) program. Through that program, I taught in a Catholic high school in St. Petersburg, FL, for three years and earned a Master’s in Education.  After returning to teach at Fenwick, I attended night school and finished my Master in Applied Physics at DePaul University.

What are you currently reading for enjoyment?

BE: I have a five-year old and an eight-year old boy so, more often than not, I find myself reading parenting books in my downtime. I am currently reading “UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World” by Dr. Michele Borba.

What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom?

BE: Taking care of my family is already an active job, but I also try to squeeze in a workout whenever I can. I recently started taking Tae-kwan-do with my two boys. My eight-year-old, Stephen, is a brown belt and my five-year-old, Johnny, and I are both white belts. My husband, Steve, earned his black belt when he was in high school. I have also enjoyed doing a little amateur fitness boxing with other Fenwick alumnae.

My Catholic faith is an important part of my life and I enjoy spending quality time praying, listening to Catholic hymns, and reading spiritual books like Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation.

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

BE: As a student at Fenwick, I was involved in Blackfriars Guild, Marching and Concert Band, State Math Team, Soccer and Running. Blackfriars is such a wonderful organization because it always felt like family to me. I have many wonderful memories of the late-night dress rehearsals, snack trips to 7-11 and cast parties. State Math Team is the activity that provided the best preparation for engineering school as we learned to solve problems quickly and think outside of the box.

Which clubs/Sports/Activities do you run at Fenwick?

BE: I coach the Oral Event of the State Math Team. Each year we have a different topic, and the students work hard to become experts on that topic and prepare for an oral exam and presentation in front of a panel of mathematics experts. This year’s topic is Markov chains.

What quality/characteristic marks a Fenwick student?

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Faculty Focus: Meet Science Teacher and Alumnus Kevin Roche

Science Teacher Kevin Roche is the subject of our monthly series focusing on Fenwick’s fabulous, award-winning faculty.

What is your educational background?

After graduating Fenwick, I attended U of I to get my degree in civil engineering. I also minored in Spanish there. I also am about to get [fingers crossed!!] my Masters in the Art of Teaching Math from Dominican University in May.

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

I was a technology consultant for Accenture (a consulting and professional services firm). My main role over those two years was working with electric utilities to better engage customers with their usage information. We designed and implemented online portals and in-home devices that would update in near real time so customers would see how their actions impact their energy. We also worked on the social science side to better motivate customers to save on their energy usage.

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John Polka, Beloved Biology Teacher and Hall-of-Fame Track Coach, Has Retired After 52 Years at Fenwick

Brother Rice alumnus who put the science in service for a half-century was fêted on June 15th.

Science teacher John Polka graduated with a B.A. in biology from St. Mary’s University (Winona, MN) in 1964, taught at a public school for one year, and has been at Fenwick High School ever since. Teaching some 5,000 students at the same school over a 52-year stretch is a milestone that few educators have achieved, but Polka comes by his love of teaching honestly: He is one of nine teachers in his family. The Brother Rice alumnus says he always had an interest in science and has taught biology since day one. Later, he earned a master’s degree in biology from Chicago State University.

Of his students at Fenwick, “They’re alive academically,” says Polka, who resides in River Forest. “They want to learn — it’s not dumb to be smart. And they challenge you; they keep you alive academically.” Polka developed the Ecology of the Rainforest and Marine Biology programs, traveling with students into the rainforests of Costa Rica and Peru. A trip to Belize featured hands-on marine biology lessons. A love of running is as much his passion as anything related to the classroom.

Continue reading “John Polka, Beloved Biology Teacher and Hall-of-Fame Track Coach, Has Retired After 52 Years at Fenwick”