The National Center for Urban Education (NCUE) is excited to announce that this fall, of the over 30 Illinois State University recent graduates that have accepted positions in Chicago Public Schools (CPS), almost one-third will be teaching in the ISU NCUE partner communities. The NCUE model of teacher preparation is based on the integration of university, school, and community in every aspect of its programming. Community partners in Auburn Gresham, Albany Park, East Garfield Park, Little Village, and Pilsen work together with NCUE staff and CPS schools to support ISU education majors on their journey to becoming community teachers.

Illinois State Special Education graduate Edward Blanco ’19 pictured at Fiesta del Sol in Pilsen during STEP-UP 2018 with fellow participants Ana Karen Ramirez and Da’Mara Smith

Illinois State special education graduate Edward Blanco ’19 pictured at Fiesta del Sol in Pilsen during STEP-UP 2018 with fellow participants Ana Karen Ramirez and Da’Mara Smith

Three of the recent Illinois State alumni will begin their teaching careers at two ISU partner schools in the Pilsen neighborhood on Chicago’s southwest side. Edward Blanco ’19, special education, and Megan Tunney ’20, biology teacher education, will be teaching at Juarez Community Academy high school, and Molly Hill ’20, special education, will be teaching at Jungman Elementary.

What do these three ISU graduates have in common? They have all participated in multiple NCUE programs along the way as they studied to become educators at ISU.

A two-time fellow in the NCUE STEP-UP (Summer Teacher Education Partnership for Urban Preparation) summer program, Blanco recalled his first memory of Juarez back in the summer of 2018. “I vividly remember walking on Cermak street attending Fiesta Del Sol festival (with my community members at the time) when a big beautiful building caught my attention. It wasn’t only the size of the building that caught my eye, but the murals that came along with it as well. You already knew from a glance how rich with history this building was.”

Blanco was further intrigued when another fellow described the climate of the school with “such joy and acceptance.” After moving to Pilsen to live in the community where he was completing his field-based and student teaching experiences in the spring and fall of 2019, Blanco continued with NCUE’s seminar series for student teachers. Blanco shared that he “fell in love with Pilsen. I could go into any store and talk Spanish, my mother tongue. From those weeks of teaching in Pilsen, I knew I wanted more than just weeks- I wanted a lifetime.” Upon graduation, Blanco will be granted his wish as he begins his career at Juarez Community Academy this fall.

Illinois State biology teacher education graduate Megan Tunney ’20 holding diploma

Illinois State biology teacher education graduate Megan Tunney ’20

Tunney competed the NCUE STEP-UP summer program in 2019 and returned to Chicago to student teach in the spring of 2020. Tunney said: “It means the world to me to begin my teaching career at Juarez because I student taught here and I am honored to have been invited back. I chose Juarez because of their mission to encourage students to be lifelong learners through guiding their development of global awareness, academic excellence, and personal responsibility. I also love the school’s competency-based learning initiative and their dedication to the community that they serve.”

During her STEP-UP experience, Tunney completed community service in Pilsen with NCUE community partner The Resurrection Project.  Following the mission of NCUE to cultivate community teachers, Tunney said, “As I continue to learn more about Pilsen and incorporate the community into my lessons, I absolutely plan to connect with The Resurrection Project.”

Illinois State Special Education graduate Molly Hill '20

Illinois State special education graduate Molly Hill ’20

Hill began her journey with NCUE five years ago during her first year at ISU. As she remembers, “On my very first bus trip to Chicago organized by CTEP my freshman year, I felt an incredible sense of community in our partner neighborhoods and through the incredible staff and students of Chicago Public Schools. From that trip on, I always saw myself teaching in CPS, and now to know that I get to be a small piece of a puzzle in the classroom, school and neighborhood community of Jungman and Pilsen fills me with such anticipation to start my teaching career!” After her initial course experience in Chicago, Hill continued her journey with NCUE participating in the STEP-UP summer program in 2019 as well as spending her final year in Chicago in the INFUSE (Innovative Network of Urban Special Educators) program completing two placements over the school year in cluster programs at the elementary and high school grade levels.

She will begin her teaching career at Jungman elementary in this type of classroom. As Hill enters her first year, she hopes to be a community teacher. “I plan to continue to engage with CTEP and The Resurrection Project by continuing to build on the relationships between my school and community organizations in Pilsen to foster school and community connection. Students, teachers, families, and the community benefit from a strong relationship between schools and community organizations. There are countless resources in the Pilsen community that I will seek out and use to my advantage to support my students and their families.”

Upon hearing of their new positions in Pilsen schools, Carlos Millan, from The Resurrection Project, said: “I remember every one of them (Hill, Blanco, Tunney) during STEP-UP and student teaching, thinking how passionate they are, and now I’m overjoyed that they will share that passion with students from our community. It’s wonderful seeing our classrooms being filled with Redbirds that have demonstrated a passion for culturally responsive teaching.”

Even this summer, the support from ISU continued as all three ISU graduates recently participated in the NCUE supported Positive Discipline in the Classroom certification course through SEL Chicago as they ready themselves for their new classrooms this fall and all three have also been invited into the NCUE Induction and Mentoring program offered to beginning teachers as part of wrap-around NCUE programming. As our mission expresses, the National Center for Urban Education is grounded in social justice and works to cultivate and sustain innovative, resilient, and effective educators for urban schools and their communities. We are proud to welcome these three community teachers to Chicago Public Schools and Pilsen.