Special Feature: Commencement 2011

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High School Teachers to be Honored

Former teachers of Northwestern graduates to receive inaugural teaching award at commencement

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May 17, 2011 | by Pat Vaughan Tremmel

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Four high school teachers who have made a big difference in the lives of five Northwestern University seniors will join the soon-to-be graduates at commencement June 17.

They are recipients of the inaugural Northwestern University Distinguished Secondary School Teacher Award. Each of the four teachers and each of the high schools where they teach will receive an award of $2,500.

Northwestern President Morton Schapiro’s call for nominations for the award brought dozens of essays from Northwestern seniors. The essays overwhelmingly pointed to the passion, know-how, heart and innovation of the high school teachers they nominated.   

Choosing among the teachers who responded to the nominations was difficult. But the video interviews with the four recipients, following readings of the essays singing their praises, confirmed the nominating committee’s choices.

The four honorees are Theresa Fischer, John Holloran, Edwardo Johnson and Georgia Stohr. They teach, respectively, at a public high school an hour outside of New York City, at an independent college preparatory school in Florida, at a college preparatory school in Portland, Ore., and at a public school two hours outside of Chicago.

“Northwestern is rich with incredibly talented students, and so much of the credit goes to high school teachers,” Schapiro said. “We are particularly grateful to the award recipients who played such a vital role in helping shape five of our 2011 graduates.”

The Distinguished Secondary School Teacher Award is co-sponsored by the Associated Student Government and the office of the president; the selection committee is co-chaired by Josh Wasserman, a senior in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, and Eugene Y. Lowe, Jr., assistant to the president and senior lecturer in religious studies.

Students nominated 46 teachers, 25 teachers submitted materials for committee consideration and 11 teachers were selected for interviews. The committee recommended the four winners of the award to President Schapiro.

“It has been gratifying to work with such a committed group of Northwestern students and the Associated Student Government on the selection process for this award,” Lowe said. “We shared the privilege of engaging a remarkable group of teachers who play such critical roles in the lives of students.”

Theresa Fischer

Fischer teaches AP Economics and American Government and Politics at Ridgefield High School in Ridgefield, Conn., and is the advisor for Model UN. “During my time at Northwestern as an economics major, I have found that Ms. Fischer’s AP Economics class prepared me very well for collegiate academics,” said Nicole Marie Ablondi, a senior in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. “AP economics and Model UN were without doubt some of the most challenging and most rewarding of all my high school experiences,” she said. “At the end of my high school career, I learned more than how to find the deadweight loss on a graph or research a topic for a debate -- I learned how to believe in myself and what I could accomplish. Fischer is widely acclaimed for loving what she does and truly caring about her students,” Ablondi said.

John Holloran

Holloran began his tenure at Oregon Episcopal School (OES) by introducing himself and his partner with a skit, in which they pretended to be on cell phones, bantering, for example, about their transition from schools in New York. Then Holloran, who teaches history, hesitantly asked, ‘Do you think they know we’re gay?’ said Monica Josselyn Scheer, a senior in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. An eruption of laughter followed. “I can remember so many meaningful moments with John,” she said, stressing the importance he placed on listening. At the start of each class he would ask what the students wanted to learn that day. “He often would reference something that had happened in chapel or a conversation he had with a colleague to make his lessons relevant to our interests,” she said. “He taught me the most important lesson I’ve ever learned -- that listening is the most important thing you can do for someone.”

Edwardo Johnson

Johnson previously taught high school in Jamaica, where he is originally from, and in the Bahamas before joining the faculty of the University School of Nova Southeastern University (Upper School) in Davie, Fla., where he serves as curriculum coordinator for world languages. One of his nominators, Alex Leibowich, who will graduate from the School of Communication, was a student in his Spanish class. “I learned more about myself, about the people around me and about the human experience as a whole, than any language could have ever taught me,” he said. What Johnson taught, “could not be translated into Spanish or any language for that matter; it’s something you had to experience.” Beyond that, Leibowich said, “He taught us how to be proud of life – to appreciate it for everything that it is and everything that it will be, no matter what obstacles we face.” (Johnson also was nominated by Carl Michael Blumenfeld, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.)

Georgia Stohr

Stohr heads up the freshman honors program in the English department and is an adviser for the yearbook at LaSalle-Peru Township High School in LaSalle, Ill. “Ms. Stohr teaches her students much more than Greek mythology or Adobe InDesign,”said Samantha Rose Reed, a senior in the School of Education and Social Policy. “With honesty and respect, she coaches them through some of the most difficult and formative years of their lives.” The countless hours Stohr worked before and after class, particularly in her advocacy for the yearbook, also was noted by Reed. Each year she takes the yearbook staff to camp in the summer, prepares them for journalism competitions and submits their work for scholastic recognition. “I still have coffee with Georgia Stohr or visit her classroom whenever I go home for a few days…she has become as much my friend as my teacher,” Reed said.

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