The desks were turned earlier this month when Brookfield East High School teachers sat attentively as their students gave lectures at the Venice Club.
The top 15 academically achieving seniors from Brookfield East were asked to pick a teacher and write a short essay about how they had changed their lives for the better, and then offer a heartfelt, homemade gift of their appreciation. Students from Brookfield Central did the same a week before.
The Elmbrook Education Foundation and the Elmbrook Parent Leadership Council co-sponsored the second annual most-influential educator banquet to honor teachers who have made a special impact on Elmbrook students.
Once a teacher, always a teacher
At the banquet, Superintendent Mark Hansen told teachers he was humbled by their work, and their ability to inspire kids to a lifelong interest in learning.
"Teaching is one of the most important professions, and you can all stand a little taller tonight because you have demonstrated that a commitment to teaching remains to have a huge community impact and a benefit to kids and families. Thank you for what you do," he said.
Although the 15 students honored teachers for different reasons, one thing was clear: The best teachers teach from the heart, not just the book. As Hansen put it, teachers are moms and dads as needed.
Collin Steen brought that lesson home with his story.
One day in grade school, Steen was suddenly sent to the principal's office. He couldn't figure it out. He wasn't a troublemaker.
When he got to the office, his younger sister was already there. She had no idea what was going on either. Grandma soon arrived to take them home. The kids thought maybe they were going on a surprise vacation.
"That was when I thought about my mom. She had cancer and we knew that she was going to die soon. Was I getting picked up because my mom was dead? I told myself that couldn't be possible," Steen said.
Steen had just started third grade in Bonnie Sullivan's class at Tonawanda Elementary School when his world was turned upside down. He wondered how his life would change without a mom.
"I didn't need to worry about this too long, because I soon discovered that there were many other 'moms' in my life who would help me through this tough time," Steen said. "Mrs. Sullivan stepped in and gave me daily hugs, lots of encouragement and smiles. She created a classroom that instantly became my extended family."
Sullivan had Steen's classmates make a quilt bearing positive messages, which he still has.
"Mrs. Sullivan was a huge support for me as I navigated the uncertain feelings I had after such a tragic family event. Plus, she taught me cursive, which I think is a pretty remarkable feat in and of itself," Steen said.
Sullivan's signature homework assignments had students perform two good deeds at home every night. Those small lessons inspired Steen to a lifelong commitment to serving others, even in the face of hardship, he said.
Wrapping up his speech, Steen announced that as a token of his appreciation, his gift to his teacher was two, adult-sized good deeds.
"My first good deed is to consistently give back to the greater community through service and volunteering," he said. "My second good deed is to always show love and appreciation for my family, just as you have always shown for me."
Sullivan said she was humbled to be recognized with the award.
"Every teacher hopes that they make a little bit of a positive impact on each student, and to have something like this is amazing," she said.
· Sarah Allen, Hillside
· Honore Schiro, Brookfield Central
· Mary Mann, Brookfield Central
· Sandra Aslakson, Brookfield Central
· Matt Dapelo, Brookfield Central
· Craig Keir, Brookfield Central
· Mark Mueller, Brookfield Central
· James Rieger, Brookfield Central
· Louise Thompson, Brookfield Central
· Jeff Gryzwa, Brookfield Central
· Dennis Gillingham, Brookfield Central
· Elyce Moschella, Brookfield Central
· Betsy McGinn, Wisconsin Hills
· Jill Cook, Brookfield Central
· Tony Spence, Swanson
· Anne Peterson, Brookfield East
· Tim Kroening, Pilgrim Park
· Amy Kosmider, Brookfield East
· Ben Westphal, Brookfield East
· Jennifer Austino, Brookfield East
· Emira Hot, Brookfield East
· Kevin Allen, Pilgrim Park
· John Harder, Brookfield East
· Patrick Coffey, Brookfield East
· Nick Havlik, Brookfield East
· Kelli Kwiatkowski, Brookfield East
· Mark Ritter, Brookfield East
· Bonnie Sullivan, Tonawanda
· Jeff Ortman, Brookfield East
· Bob Crandall, Brookfield East
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