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Honoring Educators Who Make a Difference

Five high school teachers to be honored for exemplary teaching

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April 23, 2012 | by Wendy Leopold

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Five high school teachers who have made a big difference in the lives of five Northwestern seniors will join their former students and receive special awards during Honors Day (June 14) and Commencement (June 15) at Northwestern University.

The five educators  -- selected from a pool of more than 80 nominations -- are the recipients of the second annual Northwestern University Distinguished Secondary Teacher Awards. The awards honor high school teachers who have touched the lives of Northwestern students, and include $2,500 for each teacher and $2,500 for their schools. 

The distinguished teaching award is co-sponsored by the Associated Student Government and Office of the President. Eugene Lowe, assistant to Northwestern President Morton Schapiro and senior lecturer in religious studies, co-chaired the 2012 selection committee with Austin Young, Associated Student Government president.

Last fall’s call for nominations by President Schapiro resulted in essays by 84 seniors who recommended their former high school teachers for the award. The selection committee considered those essays as well as portfolios submitted by the nominated teachers that included an explanation of their teaching philosophy and letters of recommendation.

The 2012 winners teach in high schools across the country, including an independent college preparatory school for boys in New Jersey, a private college preparatory school in Florida, a public college preparatory school in Chicago, a public high school in southern Illinois and a public high school in Pennsylvania. They are:

Greg Devine, an Advanced Placement (AP) physics teacher at Delbarton School in Morristown, N.J., who also serves as an advisor to the Engineering and Design Club and director of the school’s wind and brass ensembles. He was nominated by McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science senior Luke Francis Hemenetz. “Greg Devine sparks a passion for learning in his students and his students respond in kind,” says Delbarton School Headmaster Brother Paul Diveny of the physics teacher. “With a true passion for teaching and self-renewal, Greg is a life-long learner himself, and this is what he models to his students.”

Rafael Arechabaleta, an honors and AP physics teacher at University School of Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., was nominated by five Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences seniors. Michael Dornbusch, Jonathan Schwartz, Matthew Adam Bartnovsky, Mitchell Drew and Kelly Flowers each expressed admiration for their Cuba-born teacher who received his undergraduate degree in the former Soviet Union. Of his own teaching philosophy, Arechabaleta says: “Education provides students the latitude to form their own opinions and to challenge themselves and society around them. Having been educated in Communist Cuba where free thought was discouraged and educational resources were limited, I truly appreciate educational freedom and strive to provide my students the opportunity to design their own curriculum.” He is the second teacher from University School of Nova Southeastern University to be awarded the Distinguished Secondary Teaching Award.

John F. Belcaster, a Northwestern University alumnus who, prior to teaching, worked alongside now President Barack Obama at the Chicago law firm of Miner, Barnhill & Galland, teaches honors American and world history at Walter Payton College Preparatory High School in Chicago. He previously taught AP economics and history at Chicago’s Northside College Preparatory High School, where he taught Weinberg senior Patricia Radkowski, who nominated him for the award.  She describes Belcaster as “passionate about his position and his students and incredibly educated.” Tim Devine, principal of Walter Payton College Prep, praises him as “unparalleled at creating a student-centered environment.”

Amanda Bright teaches journalism and composition at Mattoon High School in Mattoon, Ill., where she developed the journalism curriculum. She is student advisor to the high school’s award-winning newspaper. Medill senior Sarah Eberspacher credits her former teacher with inspiring her to pursue journalism in college. In describing her teaching method, Bright notes: “The moment I become static and unresponsive to the changes in my students and our culture, I will lose all effectiveness.” Eberspacher says her former teacher has no cause to worry: “When I left Mattoon High School, the notion of studying journalism in college was relatively nonexistent. Just four years later, there are three or four students heading off each year with plans to become the next Al Neuharth, Bob Costas or Anna Quindlen. The woman behind that is Mrs. Bright.”

Christine Jawork teaches African and Asian studies at Harriton Senior High School in Rosemont, Pa., where she also directs the Students Building Community Team and coaches the Mock Trial Team and World Affairs Club. Lauren Marcuson, her school prinicipal, describes Jawork as “an advocate for her students.” Jawork says her primary goal as an educator “is to help students re-discover their own passion for knowledge, which, by high school, has often long been in latency.” Weinberg senior Benjamin Goldberg nominated his former teacher and says that she “forced her students to confront unchallenged assumption and to think critically about history and the study of culture. She taught with an incredible energy and charisma, bringing her whole self into the classroom and inspiring us to learn. I looked forward to her class every day.”

Other members of the distinguished teaching award committee include Andrea Abel, coordinator of special projects, Office of the President; Renee Engeln-Maddox, senior lecturer in psychology at Weinberg; Michael Peshkin, professor of mechanical engineering at McCormick; School of Education and Social Policy Dean Penelope Peterson; Associate Provost Ronald Braeutigam, Office of the Provost, and undergraduate students Gabrielle Daniels, Andrew Duble, Zoe Goodman, Kira Hooks, Ash Jaidev, Kseniya Povod, Morgan Purrier and Todd Siegel.