Ashley Talip

Position: Social Worker

School: Lowrie Elementary School

School District: School District U-46

City, State: Elgin, Illinois

About the Nominee: Ashley Talip was nominated by David O'Donnell, a member of the community. Ms. Talip always gives as much of her time and money as she can to the students of Lowrie Elementary. Her nominator, David, states that he’s never met anyone that goes so far above and beyond what is expected from them, and he wanted to do his best to prove it. David went around the school and spoke with the staff about nominating her for LifeChanger of the Year. Every response he received had two things in common: authentic excitement and a resounding "she deserves it." The remainder of this profile is a collection of responses from the staff at Lowrie Elementary, where 87% of the students economically disadvantaged as determined by qualification for free/reduced lunch, and the majority of students speak English as a second language.

David posed a simple question: What is something Ms. Talip does that would make her deserving of the LifeChanger of the Year award? The following is a list of responses:

--Ms. Talip supervises breakfast duty every other week, where she is able to greet the students in the morning, help them open up their food, teach them social skills and proper table manners while in the cafeteria and learn new things about them.

--She is a PBIS Tier 2 Check-in/Check-out coach for students, meeting with them every morning to see how they are doing. She gives students their sheets and helps them set behavioral and academic goals for their day. At the end of the day, the students check-out with her, where they discuss, celebrate and set goals for the next day.

--Ms. Talip is part of the MTSS team, PBIS Universal/Leadership Team, PBIS Tier 2/Tier 3 Team and Attendance Team. In addition, she makes herself available to meet and collaborate with staff members, as well as answer answer emails, phone calls and texts from colleagues at all hours of the day, nights, and weekends.

--As part of the attendance team, Ms. Talip created attendance check-in/check-out for students who have chronic absences or tardies. The intervention begins after a meeting with the students’ parents. Each morning, they check-in with the school nurse. The students earn points, stickers or another reward for arriving at school on time each day, and they work towards a prize that is individualized for them. The whole school also participates in an attendance incentive game to encourage all students to be at school on time each day. Classrooms are competing against each other for prizes, as well.

--Ms. Talip is part of the Social Work Department Committee. This team helps makes decisions for all of the district social workers.

--She is in charge of compiling, creating, selling and distributing the school yearbook each year. She also does bus duty at dismissal time to be able to spend time with the students and find out how their day went.

--Ms. Talip has provided immediate mental health support to countless students who were in crisis and is able to delegate to the appropriate professionals when necessary.

--For three years in a row, she has organized winter clothing drives for the entire school so that not a single student was left cold during the winter.

--She has worked actively as a special education team member, heads a social work team for an entire district and works cooperatively with support staff, not only in her school building, but in many other buildings, as well.

--She assists teachers on a daily basis by providing encouragement, helpful tips, and strategies on ways of helping students.

--Ms. Talip develops behavioral implementation plans and revises individualized education plans and 504's so that students’ mental health needs are being met while they are in school.

--Ms. Talip uses active recognition to support students in developing positive self-images. She supports staff in the understanding of restorative justice vs. harsh discipline methods. She also works collaboratively with family members to “WRAP” the student, leading to a strong home-school team connection. Additionally, she purchases various incentives and rewards for students to earn through positive choices and goal-setting.

--Ms. Talip provides opportunities by seeking out community partnerships and resources that benefit students and families. She stock and organizes “Dress for Success” clothing and provides students/families with necessities and resources. For example, she finds rent assistance programs for families, food banks, clothing resources, medical care, etc.

Lastly, Ms. Talip’s principal, Kelly O’Brien, states that she is an integral part of the school community and is often the key puzzle piece needed to better understand, and then support, her school’s most vulnerable students.

Ms. Talip works extremely hard and is a LifeChanger in her community!

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Peggy Buck

Position: APL Instructor

School: Urbana Adult Education

School District: Urbana School District 116

City, State: Urbana, Illinois

About the Nominee: Peggy Buck was nominated by a colleague, Marcellos Gray. For generations, Ms. Buck's generosity and nurturing demeanor have given students the footing and empowerment they need in order go to college, achieve stability with gainful employment and become active participants in their community. Ms. Buck has taught in Urbana School District for 29 years, and she currently teaches the Social Studies curriculum for her school's high school diploma program. Although her leadership was recognized by the IACEA's Teacher of the Year Award in 2011, the positive impact that she has had on her students and school is innumerable and invaluable.

Ms. Buck believes in the personal giftedness of every student. She is steadfast when working with students and never gives up on any of them, regardless of their circumstances. This insight and confidence represent not only her love for teaching, but her authentic commitment to student equity. When asked about her proudest moments as a teacher, Ms. Buck's responses include watching students become parents and participate in their children’s schools, seeing students receive their high school diplomas, and being there when students get jobs after she has helped them prepare for interviews with clothes, coaching, haircuts and/or transportation. Her commitment to her students' self-sufficiency and personal betterment reaches far beyond the classroom walls. She has helped students with security deposits, utility bills, baby clothes and many other building blocks for their wellbeing. Additionally, Ms. Buck actively engages in community outreach for her church, and she writes to inmates to let them know that they have value, worth and potential.

One of Ms. Buck's primary goals as a teacher is to empower adult education students to become agents of change in their own lives and in their communities. She strives to give students the confidence and tools to advocate for the changes they want to see in the world. She unifies social and historical knowledge from the curriculum and teaches its practical application. This speaks to her belief in the relationship of knowledge to social empowerment. Ms. Buck has made social justice the defining framework of her career. Her actions and words reflect this value. In her words, she “…believe[s] we can make a better world through authentic relationships and acceptance of those who are different from ourselves.” Ms. Buck believes that we, as a society, are a work in progress. She applies this belief by supporting colleagues and students because, “we all need support at some point within our lives to experience true growth.” As a result, she has been an instrument in social stability and the achievement of her students’ education goals for many years. Overall, Ms. Buck is a LifeChanger because she has made positive change in the lives of her students, who have been the central force of her career.

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Teresa Genovese

Position: Freshmen Algebra Teacher, Cheer Team Volunteer

School: Joliet Central High School

School District: Joliet Township High School District 204

City, State: Joliet, Illinois

About the Nominee: Teresa Genovese was nominated by a colleague, Mary Spata. Ms. Genovese has been teaching math at Joliet Central for the past seven years. She is someone who helps her students excel, both academically and personally. She's the reason that some students show up to school on difficult days. Ms. Genovese demonstrates to her students that she cares about their education, insecurities and problems. Most importantly, her students know she's there to support them.

Ms. Genovese is a role model. Past students come back to visit her and seek her advice. She doesn't fit into only one category of teachers. She keeps her class in order, yet manages to make it fun at the same time. Ms. Genovese is always available for academic and personal help. She tries hard to teach her students to appreciate the little things, to never judge and to be happy about who they are and what they can accomplish. Coaches ask her to provide special help for their athletics. As she does this, she assists students with scholarship requirements that have truly paid off.

Ms. Genovese is not only a LifeChanger because of her incredible teaching abilities, but because she makes a difference in many students' lives. She shows students that hard work pays off, and that they should never give up. These lessons will continue to have an effect on students throughout their lives.

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Carl Cannon

Position: Founder, Chairman of Elite Youth Re-entry Program

School: Lincoln K-8 School

School District: Peoria School District

City, State: Peoria, Illinois

About the Nominee: UPDATE: December 1st, 2016Mr. Cannon is not employed at Lincoln K-8 School or Peoria School District. Although he is not eligible for the LifeChanger of the Year cash prizes, we recognize the outstanding work he has done through the ELITE Re-entry. We're leaving his profile up to honor his dedication and commitment to helping juvenile offenders become re-acquainted with school and avoid going back to prison.

Carl Cannon was nominated by a family member, Edwards Williams.

Mr. Cannon started his community outreach ten years ago, when he decided to create a jobs program to help keep young men and women from going back to prison. To date, the ELITE re-entry program has an amazing 80% success rate at keeping ex-offenders from going back to prison.

However, even with the success Mr. Cannon and his ELITE program have experienced, he still has a burning desire to reach an even younger group. After working in prisons for the majority of his life, it became obvious as he looked around that the prison population was increasingly becoming younger and younger.

This outlook led to the formation of the ELITE high school program, which quickly became a jobs program that teaches the soft skills needed for today's job market and encourages high school age youth to have respect for themselves and others. Mr. Cannon was not satisfied with the success of the re-entry and high school programs, so he created a program that is currently running full time in three of Peoria's middle schools. This program is specifically designed to support teachers and administrators of inner-city schools. The goal of the K-8 program is to slow and eliminate any behaviors that impede and disrupt the learning environment.

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Patti Olsem

Position: Preschool Teacher

School: Lincoln Early Learning Center

School District: Fremont School District 79

City, State: Mundelein, Illinois

About the Nominee: Patti Olsem was nominated by her principal, Carol Bennett. Ms. Olsem has been working in Fremont School District 79 for four years. She teaches an At-Risk Program funded through a grant from the state of Illinois. Students qualify for this program based on a variety of at-risk factors.

Last school year, Fremont entered into a shared agreement with Mundelein School District and Hawthorn School District to create an Early Learning Center at Lincoln School in Mundelein. Ms. Olsem was the veteran member of the Fremont Team, which includes only 15 staff members. She mentored three new teachers as they adjusted to a new setting and new team all while this was a fairly new district for herself. Ms. Olsem emerged as a leader for her team and district by keeping up-to-date with preschool standards and new strategies, as well as supporting parents. She is creative, engaging, warm and welcoming, and she truly prepares students for kindergarten in all areas, from cognitive and social-emotional skills to fine and gross motor, language and behavioral skills.

Ms. Olsem embraces students and challenges them while setting an example of showing kindness, respect and patience. She has been the rock of the Fremont team and has helped them unite with the other two districts. Her kind approach and willingness to adapt to each child's individual needs truly embodies an exceptional teacher who sets the tone for the rest of each child's educational experience.

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