You might as well call it DeGarmo Hall North.
At Marlowe Middle School in Lake in the Hills, northwest of Chicago, there are 16 Illinois State University alumni on staff. In the principal’s office, you’ll see an ISU banner, a Redbird gnome, and the principal’s ISU diplomas. On College Apparel Day, you can spot Redbird gear all over the hallways.
Marlowe’s ISU alumni share more than just stories about their old professors, or following Redbird Athletics, or meeting up at Pub II. They also share an uncommon passion and level of preparedness for their craft—an expertise they put into practice with Marlowe’s 1,422 students every day.
“There’s definitely a special kind of pride, without a doubt, with ISU’s reputation and being founded as a teachers’ college,” said Principal Adam Zehr, ’00, M.S.E. ’09. “The people coming from ISU carry that into the profession and realize that going to ISU is viewed as, ‘You are prepared.’ That carries a lot of weight.”
The numbers suggest there are probably lots of Marlowes around the state, filled with ISU alumni. About 1 in 8 Illinois public school teachers graduated from ISU—the largest preparer of teachers in Illinois.
There are 100 certified teachers and 120 staff employed at Marlowe. Including Zehr, the 16 ISU alumni are spread out across Marlowe’s giant 10-year-old building, in all grade levels and many different subjects.
One of them is Sarah Saskowski ’12, who teaches 7th grade literacy. In the multiclassroom “pod” she shares with six other teachers, half of them are Illinois State alumni.
“It’s fun to have that network behind you,” she said. “We all share that same foundation.”
That foundation is strong. Saskowski participated in the College of Education’s Professional Development School (PDS) program in Bloomington-Normal’s Unit 5 district. That yearlong experience replaces the traditional 16-week student teaching semester.
“That full year of teaching experience before I actually went into a classroom really made a big difference,” said Saskowski, a middle-level education grad. “I think it also gave me the edge on other student teachers who only had a semester of experience and they were in different schools.”
Michelle (Althoff) Kenefick ’98 is Marlowe’s technology integration specialist. She’s launching the school’s 1-to-1 initiative, which is giving each student their own Chromebook laptop. It will be one of the largest 1-to-1 programs in the state next year when Marlowe’s eighth-graders log on.
Kenefick also credits Illinois State for giving her the foundation to succeed. That includes life-changing experiences such as her student teaching semester in England, as well as peer-counseling work she did as a student that’s coming in handy today.
She’s even kept an old spiral notebook from a Creative Drama course she took at ISU—one that showed her how to “make things come to life for my kids.” (She taught 5th grade for 15 years.)
“I felt like overall ISU definitely prepared me for what I wanted to do,” Kenefick said.
Zehr was trained as a social studies teacher before going back to get his master’s degree and become an administrator. Now in his second year as Marlowe’s principal, Zehr says he’s putting into practice the communication skills he learned during his master’s work. Indeed, during this writer’s recent visit to Marlowe, Zehr bounced from classroom to classroom, calmly putting out small “fires” and talking to teachers, aides, district officials, even a police officer.
“When you do see someone applying to be a teacher with an ISU degree, there’s a sense of confidence they have, that they’ve been trained properly and they’re ready to go into the classroom,” said Zehr, a big ISU sports fan who even followed the football team to Texas in January.
In the classroom next to Saskowski’s is fellow 7th grade literacy teacher Suzanne Bell ’07. Bell double majored in journalism and political science at Illinois State, and later served as editor in chief of the Vidette.
Though she earned her teaching certificate elsewhere, she loves swapping ISU stories with the other Marlowe Redbirds. She’s also engaged to Marlowe 6th grade social studies teacher Ryan Starnes ’06.
“I’ve got an ISU sticker on my white board. The kids know, because whenever we can talk about college, we’re always pumping up ISU and how great it was,” Bell said. “I’m definitely an alum who loves ISU.”
Ryan Denham can be reached at rmdenha@IllinoisState.edu.