Category: LEED

Kudos! First group of Dean’s Achievement Scholarship recipients named, honored

College of Education Dean Laurie Elish-Piper chats with Lauren Leifheit, Rachel Bicksler, Anna Mangini and Jamie Hoban.

College of Education Dean Laurie Elish-Piper chats with Lauren Leifheit, Rachel Bicksler, Anna Mangini and Jamie Hoban.

Lauren Leifheit never heard a peep from the students in her first classroom.

“I’ve been interested in teaching for as long as I can remember,” says Leifheit, a pre-elementary education major from Sycamore. “Even when I was a little kid, my parents would buy me little teaching kits, and I’d teach my stuffed animals.”

Jamie Hoban, a vision major from a tiny town near Manitowoc, Wis., developed a passion for special education during her six years as a volunteer at an Association for the Developmentally Disabled summer camp.

Visual impairments, however, is an inspiration from a relative.

“My cousin is a teacher of students with vision impairments. She works for a school district, going from school to school working with the kids with visual impairments. I shadowed her and I just loved it,” Hoban says. “She gets really close with her students because she doesn’t work with all the students in a classroom. It’s great getting on that personal level with kids and really getting to see their progress.”

The two NIU College of Education freshmen and seven of their first-year classmates, all of whom are pursuing licensure as teachers, are among the inaugural group of Dean’s Achievement Scholarship recipients.

Chosen on the basis of stellar academic performance in high school, each receives a $2,000 scholarship for the 2016-17 academic year with the possibility of renewal for the next year based on grade point average.

From left: Sevyn Schuemann, Jacinda Starr, Lauren Leifheit, Rachel Bicksler, Anna Mangini and Jamie Hoban. Not pictured: Paetyn Borhart, Lee Bell and Megan Hayes.

From left: Sevyn Schuemann, Jacinda Starr, Lauren Leifheit, Rachel Bicksler, Anna Mangini and Jamie Hoban. Not pictured: Paetyn Borhart, Lee Bell and Megan Hayes.

 

Joining Leifheit and Hoban are pre-elementary education majors Rachel Bicksler, Megan Hayes, Anna Mangini and Jacinda Starr; pre-early childhood studies majors Paetyn Borhart and Sevyn Schuemann; and physical education major Lee Bell.

Student Services was looking for ways to increase recruitment efforts for COE undergraduate licensure programs. We were thrilled to be able to offer an incentive for high-achieving high school seniors to select us as their school of choice,” says Margee Myles, director of the college’s Student Services office.

“Our first group of scholarship winners represents an academically elite group,” Myles adds, “who we hope will connect to the college and who be ambassadors for our amazing programs.”

Hoban’s path to NIU also comes courtesy of her cousin, an alumna of the Department of Special and Early Education’s renowned Visual Disabilities Program.

“She loved it here, so I toured and it just felt right. It just seemed like the place for me,” Hoban says. “There are no schools in Wisconsin that offer this program, and in Wisconsin, there’s a really big need for teachers of students with vision impairments. School districts are legally required to have someone there, and there’s an extreme shortage.”

Margee Myles

Margee Myles

Receiving a Dean’s Achievement Scholarship is an exciting honor, she says.

“When I went to the meet-and-greet, it was really nice to meet some of the major people in the College of Education and get on a more personal level with them. It’s kind of a good group to get into,” she says. “I also liked meeting some of the other students who received the scholarship. You can tell they care about their grades, so it’s nice to be around people like that.”

For Leifheit, the choice of NIU was simple. It’s close to Sycamore, obviously, so she continues to live at home and commute.

But the College of Education also boasts a “great” reputation, she says.

“Once I start taking more of the education classes, I want to learn about how to diversify my lesson plans in a fun and interesting way,” says Leifheit, who also has taught at a summer camp and spent her senior year at Sycamore High School as a TA.

“I want to be someone who is able to change how the classroom works and not have it just be routine – ‘sit down and learn.’ I’m just really hoping that I can inspire kids to be the best they can be,” she adds. “I’ve had a lot of teachers in my family – my aunt works at an elementary school; my great aunt was a teacher – so I think it was passed down. Even my mom said that if she could go back to school that she’d love to be a teacher.”



Reimagined courtyard opens

courtyard-3Once home to a frightening thicket of withering trees and patchy grass, the courtyard outside the ramp between Gabel and Graham halls now offers a picturesque place of serenity.

Funded entirely by the generosity of friends of the College of Education, the work wrapped up just in time for the autumnal equinox.

Visitors can study, eat picnic lunches, wander the stepping stones or simply enjoy the sunshine and tranquility, says Betsy Hull, assistant to the dean in the College of Education. Faculty with small classes also are welcome to teach there for a change of scenery.

“It’s open to everyone,” Hull says, “and we hope that everyone uses it.”

The “Confluence Courtyard” began as an idea in February of 2015, when the former chair of the Department of Special and Early Education proposed turning the space into a “sensory garden.”

Barbara Schwartz-Bechet and Hull needed an expert in horticulture to guide them, however, and realized that resource was available at nearby Kishwaukee College.

What happened next came as a pleasant surprise.

Matt Ewert, an instructor at Kish who took their call, asked to see the space for himself. During his visit to NIU, Ewert mentioned that he taught a course in landscape design: Why not turn the courtyard planning into a class project?

courtyard-1Schwartz-Bechet and Hull happily signed on, and the creativity began to flow from Malta. “Essentially, we were their clients,” Hull says. “His students really had some phenomenal plans.”

Ewert’s Kishwaukee students “talk more about non-residential design” in the spring.

“This was a nice commercial project where we had an actual client, and we tried to make it as real as possible,” Ewert says.

“It was good for the students to be able to ask questions of someone and get that real-world experience. They had a budget. They had things to work through. They learned client communication skills. This was the first project where they could see that mattered on a larger scale. It took them a bit out of their comfort zone.”

Around that same time, however, the College of Education saw several administrative departures – Schwartz-Bechet among them – and the dream was shelved.

Understandably disappointed, Ewert still saw the potential for learning in the courtyard. He called Hull in January, wanting to know if his new students could undertake the project again, this time as no more than an assignment for his course. The courtyard’s confined space provided interesting challenges and opportunities, he explained.

The “before” picture

The “before” picture

New Dean Laurie Elish-Piper wanted more, however.

Elish-Piper liked the concept of garden transformation and was ready to turn that into reality, says Hull, who assembled a working group that included Greg Conderman, Dina Fowler, Dianne Fraedrich, Toni Tollerud and Pat Wielert.

“We told Matt, ‘Here’s the budget we have. If you can wow us again, we’ll put something into motion,’ ” she says. “His students gave us a very professional presentation. They did a nice job.”

Not wanting to choose one plan over another, the working group identified favorable elements from all of the student-designed landscapes. “We told Matt, ‘OK, now make us a plan that incorporates all of those,’ ” Hull says.

Ewert, who owns Plano-based Escapes Landscape Design Inc., did just that. NIU alum Ben Entas, owner of DeKalb-based Blue Hills Inc., was hired for the installation.

“Blue Hills did it just two days,” Ewert says. “It looks amazing. It’s a whirlwind of a difference.”

courtyard-flowersMoving forward, Ewert and his future horticulture and landscape design students will help the College of Education maintain the courtyard landscaping; they will come each fall to assist with clean-up and appropriate seasonal preparation.

Low-maintenance perennial plants were chosen to ease the upkeep, Hull says.

“They’ll get some pruning experience,” Ewert says. “They’ll also get to see how a landscape can grow up over different seasons, and the rate at which different plants mature.”

Courtyard hours are 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. An Emergency Assistance Call Box is available in the courtyard if necessary to reach the NIU Police.

courtyard-615



A look behind the College of Education’s edTPA numbers

Laura Tuma

Laura Tuma

Laura Tuma felt uneasy when she first heard about the edTPA, the new assessment she would need to pass before receiving teacher licensure in Illinois.

“It was very intimidating at first. It was very scary not knowing what to expect,” says the recent graduate of the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education. “It was new to our professors, too, so that almost made us more intimidated. If they didn’t know a whole lot about it, how were we going to be prepared?”

She needn’t have worried.

With nurturing guidance from her professors, Tuma passed her edTPA – as did 100 percent of undergraduates in the NIU College of Education who submitted their materials in the spring of 2016.

The College of Education’s most recent numbers are well ahead of the state and national results. The college’s teacher-candidates scored higher than the national average in all but one rubric, where they tied, and higher than or equal to the state average in all rubrics.

“My professors took the bull by the horns and were able to break it down, step by step,” Tuma says. “They integrated chunks of the edTPA into all of our classes.”

Most students are “nervous at first” about the edTPA, confirms Jennifer Johnson, director of teacher preparation and development in the NIU College of Education.

“The edTPA is a high-stakes assessment that could impact your ability to get a teacher’s license. It mandates that all teachers will be highly qualified,” she says. “Attorneys, doctors and accountants have mandated licensure exams, and the addition of the edTPA adds that level of professional accountability to our field.”

Jennifer Johnson

Jennifer Johnson

For NIU, of course, the production of highly qualified teachers is a tradition.

“Our students were so successful on the edTPA because our faculty took a vested interest in supporting them,” she says. “The students practice these skills during multiple semesters, and we will continue to do that. We will keep working.”

Johnson is confident NIU’s success will endure even while the score required for passage continues to rise over the next few years. “The students in our program will receive edTPA preparation all the way through.”

Anne Gregory, chair of the Department of Literacy and Elementary Education, says College of Education teacher-education students hear “a constant message throughout their course of study” on the importance of edTPA preparation.

Meanwhile, Gregory adds, COE faculty clearly identify aspects of coursework activities and assignments “that mirror or, with a few tweaks, could better mirror the edTPA.”

Students are encouraged to set realistic goals in their preparation, to “break the tasks into manageable chunks” and to attend workshops coordinated through NIU’s Office of Educator Licensure and Preparation.

Preparing for the edTPA enables them to identify instructional needs, to study those in their NIU classrooms, to model them in student-teaching and then, Gregory says, “look to see if their students grow as well. It’s what good teachers do naturally as they gain some experience, and it’s a preview of what they will do consistently.”

Feeling edTPA stress is normal – “With any kind of licensure demand, or anything high-stakes, there’s a lot of pressure,” she says – but that anxiety soon evaporates.

“Just by getting their feet into a classroom space on ‘the other side,’ then there’s no longer that fear of the unknown,” Gregory says. “It becomes, ‘Oh, I can do this!’ ”

edtpa-words

Tuma, the newly minted alumna who now teaches physical education in suburban Yorkville at an elementary school and an intermediate school, is witnessing the value of the edTPA in her daily work.

During every-Wednesday staff meetings with her colleagues from all disciplines, collaborative discussions often focus on assessment.

“That’s what the edTPA was all about – assessments, and what you are going to do with those,” Tuma says. “That’s huge at my school. They want to see data. They want to know numbers. They want to see the success in our students, and that they’re learning.”

For teachers, she says, it means looking beyond the levels of comprehension or mastery shown through testing.

She cites as an example her own edTPA submission from her student-teaching time in nearby Rochelle, where she filmed a unit on basketball skills.

Her submission included her instruction on how to make a layup, video of the students attempting layups, peer observation and paperwork where students reported their numbers of successful layups.

That exercise – something simply required for licensure – now lives and breathes every day inside her gym in Yorkville.

If a student completes five of 10 layups in a basketball unit, what does that tell the P.E. teacher? Is five good enough? If not, why aren’t they making more shots? If no one is making more than five, what does that say about the instruction?

“I always flash back to the edTPA,” Tuma says. “It’s easy to give students a worksheet, or to tell them to do something, but it’s important what teachers take away from that assessment they gave. A teacher needs to reflect on that.”

Her alma mater Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education began piloting some of the edTPA templates in spring 2015 in advance of the fall 2015 implementation, says Jim Ressler, associate professor of physical education teacher education.

“As a program, we made the decision modify our lesson plan template to reflect language used by the edTPA, and we’ve found ways to integrate its components into our methods classes and most of our practicums,” he says.

Laura Tuma

Laura Tuma

Physical education teachers historically have organized their content around themes – skills, for example – and then plan related instructional units that might span several weeks.

Regardless of the specific daily tasks is “the domain” – psychomotor, cognitive and affective – into which physical education teachers buoy each lesson.

“All three domains are commonly in play,” Ressler says. “Our students have been trained to do this quite well planning for, and assessing, all three simultaneously.”

But “the edTPA is concerned with your ability to put together three to five lessons in succession that are coherent and that align toward a single, central focus. That central focus is the aim from the first or second minute of the first lesson to the final five minutes of the last lesson,” he says. “That’s been quite a shift for our students.”

However, he and his colleagues in KNPE see benefits to the edTPA’s philosophy and have made it “just one part of the overall process of becoming highly effective teachers after leaving our program.”

“The minds of teacher-candidates are always on the big idea, the real role of planning and how important it is to have adequate preparation to deliver lessons,” he says. “They also need ways to back up their actions of putting lesson plans together in advance, trying to teach them well and having clear systems in place to make sure the lessons went as well as they thought they did. If the lesson didn’t go well, can you reflect on why – and suggest changes?”



No edits necessary

John Evar Strid

John Evar Strid

Achieving the unimaginable is no easy task, and doing so is something most people will never know.

John Evar Strid is not among them.

The associate professor in NIU’s Department of Literacy and Elementary Education recently learned that the TESOL Journal accepted the first version of his manuscript, “The Myth of the Critical Period.”

He also was invited to join the top-tier journal’s editorial review board.

“Wow … you have done the almost impossible,” Joy Egbert, editor of the journal, wrote in an Aug. 25 email to Strid. “Nicely done.”

Strid’s article examines the “critical period hypothesis,” which holds that the learning of language becomes considerably harder following the “ideal time” to acquire that knowledge.

It was good news to one reviewer, who reported that “the article turned around my thinking. All this time, I believed that there was little use in trying to correct pronunciation with older learners.”

“The manuscript presents a seminal case that will motivate the full spectrum of (journal) readers, from TESOL researchers, teacher-educators (and) TESOL teachers,” the reviewer wrote. “Readers will concur that older learners can, and do, develop a new language efficiently or more efficiently than those acquiring a new language starting at a very young age.”

Strid, who joined the NIU College of Education in 2012, teaches applied linguistics, language development, multicultural education and bilingualism and reading.

His research interests include psycholinguistics, bilingualism, language processing, literacy, language acquisition and teaching English as second language. He earned his Ph.D. in linguistics from Northwestern University.



NIU teacher candidates spend time in Chicago and Texas classrooms

Teacher candidates visit Altus Academy

Educate Local LogoOn April 28th a group of Elementary Education teacher candidates traveled to Altus Academy in Chicago. Altus Academy provides college preparatory education to 2nd-8th grade students from historical minority groups, low-income families, and first generation college graduate households.

The NIU teacher candidates were paired with Altus Academy 2nd and 3rd grade students and spent the day mentoring, encouraging and providing one-on-one academic support. Each of the academy students were assigned a character from the Laura Ingalls Wilder novel, titled “Little House in the Big Woods”. Together the NIU teacher candidate and Altus scholar prepared a tri fold presentation board, oral presentation, costume and props to be presented and shared with otCharacter Cafeher students, administrators, parents, and guests during the culminating activity – the “Character Café”.

“It was such a great experience visiting this school because all of the kids had such high spirits and smiles on their faces. Seeing how proud all of the parents were when they came to see the projects was so heartwarming,” said participant Katie Krewer.

 

Teacher candidates gain classroom experience in Texas

Educate US LogoThe week after concluding their NIU classes in May, a group of 20 teacher licensure candidates departed for Houston Texas to teach alongside mentor teachers in the Aldine Independent School District (AISD).

Students observed in classrooms, prepared for and instructed lessons, tutored small groups, and engaged in co-teaching strategies and skills development. NIU teacher candidates further enriched their experiences participating with students, host families and community members in a variety of extracurricular and community events.

Educate USThis clinical experience in an out-of-state urban school setting is funded by the College of Education through generous gifts by our donors.

Elementary Education student Emily Svec reflected on her recent experience, “…it is so valuable. I am already learning so much. I can feel my perspective growing – I Know that I will carry this forward with me as I become a teacher.”

Veronica Riva, Early Childhood major, also was thankful for the experience, “During this time I really felt like a teacher, and I loved it!”



Donor Tea Reception

Over 150 donors, students, faculty and staff gathered last Sunday afternoon at the Barsema Alumni and Visitors Center for our annual Donor Tea event.  The event is held to thank our donors and friends for their support of the College of Education over the years.  Donors have the opportunity to meet their scholarship recipients and mingle with campus colleagues, faculty and staff while enjoying light refreshments and tea.  During a short program, Dean Elish-Piper welcomed everyone to the event and introduced a thank you video which featured several of our scholarship recipients sharing the impact scholarships and other opportunities have had on their lives.  John Sentovich, Chief Advancement Officer at the NIU Foundation, addressed the group and discussed the importance of planned giving and how much donor gifts can impact students, as evident from the recipients in the audience.  He encouraged all students to pay it forward in the future when they are in the position to give back and assist others.  Students David Carson (graduate student LEPF) and Jael Monteagudo (undergraduate student LEED) shared their personal stories of the impact that scholarships have had on their lives.  Carson explained what a positive mental boost it was to him to know that others believed in him.  Monteagudo shared how driven she was to help students succeed and how the scholarships were helping her lessen her financial burden.



NIU Literacy Event at NIU-Naperville Campus

Woman reading in libraryNorthern Illinois University’s Department of Literacy and Elementary Education (LEED) is sponsoring a Literacy Event: “Reading & Writing in the Digital Age” on Wednesday, March 23, from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m at the NIU-Naperville campus, 1120 E Diehl Rd, Naperville, Ill. This event provides an opportunity for alumni to reconnect with current students, alumni and faculty. Alumni are encouraged to bring colleagues and introduce them to the NIU literacy community.   In addition, teachers interested in earning the M.S. Ed. in Literacy Education with a Focus on Reading (reading specialist endorsement) are invited to attend to learn more about joining the summer 2016 cohort in Naperville.

This networking event will include a brief program by faculty and alumni. Information will also be provided to prospective students regarding the new reading cohort that will begin at NIU-Naperville in the summer of 2016.

Light refreshments will be served and door prizes given away.   For reservations, please contact Gail Schumacher at gschumacher@niu.edu or 815-753-7948. Visit the department website at http://www.cedu.niu.edu/leed/index.shtml.



Study education, culture in Japan

JapanProfessors Stephen Tonks (College of Education), Helen Nagata (College of Visual and Performing Arts), and John Bentley (College of Liberal Arts and Sciences) will direct a Japanese culture, history, art and education study abroad program from May 16-29, 2016.

The program, which will take place in Western Japan using Yamaguchi City as a base, is open to NIU students of any major who are interested in Japanese language, culture, history, art and/or education. Through guided tours and lectures, students will visit numerous cities and sites including schools, universities, ancient temples, museums, Hagi (an old castle town) and Yuda Natural Hot Springs.

Interested students should visit the NIU Study Abroad Office (SAO) website and search for “Japan” to apply online. The deadline for applications is Feb. 29, 2016. The application process requires a $200 fee/deposit. The NIU program cost of the trip is $3,580. For more details, contact the SAO office at (815) 753-0700 or niuabroad@niu.edu.



Against All Odds

by Angela M. Johansson, M.A. ’05
Originally appeared in Northern Now

North Lawndale is one of the toughest neighborhoods on Chicago’s West Side. Its streets are plagued by poverty and gang violence. Each morning, workers in reflective orange vests are stationed at every corner to keep children safe as they walk to school.

Amid the drug deals and occasional gunfire, the streets of North Lawndale seem an unlikely path to a better life. But near the intersection of Sacramento Boulevard and Lexington Street, there’s an innovative new school that has become a beacon of enlightenment, learning, and hope: Altus Academy.

Open the door to Altus and dozens of wide-eyed, smiling students will line up to shake your hand. Walk in and you enter a world that seems a million miles from the harsh reality of its surroundings.

Welcome to Altus

The Sanchez brothers - Justin, Junior, and Andrew - with John Heybach.

The Sanchez brothers – Justin, Junior, and Andrew – with John Heybach.

In their neatly pressed navy blazers, orange neckties, and gray Altus sweater vests, the Sanchez brothers – Andrew, Justin, and Junior – look like they could be students at any prestigious academy in the country.

Seated side by side on a couch in the community room, the three discuss history, math, and Greek mythology. Junior says that Justin is a “math genius,” and Andrew describes Justin’s impressive progress in reading.

The brothers are part of a growing family at Altus, an independent not-for-profit school that enrolls forty-six students from the second through the eighth grades. Founded by a group of NIU alumni led by John Heybach, ’72, Ph.D. ’76, it’s the only school of its kind in the area.

The academy meets a growing need by providing college prep opportunities to children from low-income minority households. While a growing number of inner-city kids dream of packing their bags for college, only 14 percent of students in Chicago Public Schools go on to earn a college degree, according to the Chicago Consortium on School Research.

With the help of their alma mater, Heybach and his colleagues plan to change that.

Altus Academy opened its doors in 2011 in the basement of a Chicago convent with sixteen students, one teacher, and a boiler room that doubled as a cafeteria. The small facilities didn’t stop Altus founders from dreaming big as they set out to provide intensive college preparatory academics and character development through the deliberate learning and practice of human virtue.

Heybach and his colleagues knew they’d need help with this ambitious venture. So they turned to the school that had prepared them for success: NIU.

From the beginning, Altus teachers worked with faculty in the NIU College of Education to create their curriculum. They spent a week at the DeKalb campus, where they learned to incorporate problem-based learning and technology into their lesson plans.

A partnership made in heaven

15-Altus-10-22-GT-123

Nadia Rodriguez with her LEGO robot.

Altus eighth grader Nadia Rodriguez spins a tire on her LEGO robot while calculating how many degrees it will turn on its journey to the end of the table. She’s a star on the robotics team, Altubots, one of several student clubs created in collaboration with staff and students from NIU. Last fall, representatives from NIU STEM Outreach traveled to Altus to help Rodriguez and her teammates prepare their robots for competition.

NIU faculty, staff, students, and alumni have brought a variety of hands-on programs to North Lawndale, including a week-long percussion workshop through the College of Visual and Performing Arts, a digital storytelling class by the NIU Center for P-20 Engagement, and a plate tectonic research activity giving Altus students the chance to present their research at NIU.

This spring, students and faculty from the NIU psychology program will help Altus staff assess students for learning disabilities and create lesson plans to accommodate them.

“We’ve been there since the beginning,” says Laurie Elish-Piper, acting dean of the College of Education. “They are great partners who are always interested in working with us and willing to try new things.”

Making the grade

Altus fourth graders Isaiah Nickerson and Javier Saldivar

Altus fourth graders Isaiah Nickerson and Javier Saldivar.

Altus students study virtue with the same rigor they apply to their academics. “We want kids to develop strong character, serve others, and contribute to society,” says Heybach.

Each week, students create a goal for themselves. Rodriguez’s goal was to create a distraction-free environment by turning off the TV and Facebook while she studies. At the end of the week, students grade themselves on two questions: 1. How well did you do? 2. How hard did you try? Nadia gave herself a four out of five.

“We have high expectations,” says Heybach. “So we make sure the support is there. The kids like that.”

All three Sanchez brothers have come to appreciate that support. “To tell you the truth, we were troublemakers when we first came here,” says Andrew, the eldest. “We’ve done a lot of things we aren’t proud of.”

The three brothers agree that the school has turned them around. They talk about perseverance, fortitude, and respect. Justin says that he’s learned that “if I never give up, I will learn math.” He’s currently studying fractions.

“If you show respect, people will trust you,” Junior adds.

The academy has become a place where NIU students can complete internships, student teachers can teach, and faculty and students can conduct research to measure the impact of the school’s unique practices.

“Altus is becoming a model school for teacher educators,” says Marilyn Bellert, associate director of the Center for P-20 Engagement. “It puts NIU students in touch with the realities of teaching students in a developing community.”

One last hurdle

15-Altus-10-22-GT-053Academics are not the only obstacle on the path to college. Students become aware of the difficulty of financing a higher education at a very young age.

“When our second and third graders tell us they won’t be able to afford college, I tell them that’s the last thing we need to worry about,” Heybach says. “Let’s get you prepared academically, physically, and emotionally. I believe the money will come.”

He’s right. Some of that money will come from NIU donors Thomas Dee, ’85, and his wife, Mary Jane, ’85, who have created a scholarship endowment through the NIU Foundation.

“We want to support bright, motivated students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds who are committed to learning,” they explain. “Sending these young people to Northern will help them, the university, and the community.”

Heybach’s eyes well up when he reports that ten eighth graders will graduate this year. Rodriguez and Andrew Sanchez are among them.

“We will be there every step of the way,” says Heybach. His wife, Sue, ’73, a placement counselor at Chicago’s Sacred Heart Schools, meets with each of the graduating students’ families to create a plan. The goal is to get all Altus graduates into a college prep high school.

Rodriguez has her sights set on Whitney Young, one of the top college prep high schools in the country. Her chances of acceptance are excellent.

Andrew plans to go to boarding school. He says Lake Forest Academy is at the top of his list because of the approachable faculty, something treasured at Altus.

“When I visited Lake Forest, the teachers were always close by … having coffee and talking to students. I like that,” he says. Both students plan to come back often as volunteers and mentors.

“Alumni like John and Sue Heybach and Thomas and Mary Jane Dee represent the backbone of leadership we have across the Chicago area in business, government, and education,” says NIU President Doug Baker. “We are inspired by their vision and leadership, as well as the opportunities for student career success they bring to NIU.”

15-Altus-10-22-GT-042Heybach says NIU is an integral part of the Altus family. He calls the partnership priceless.

“Even if I could afford it, I could never buy it,” he says.

Altus and NIU share a passion for creating a better future. “That’s really what we’re after at Altus – helping kids become adults with the curiosity and the drive to change their local community and the world,” Heybach says.

Altus development director Vanessa Avalos, ’06, agrees. “We want people to know they can believe in education again,” she says. “I really want people to know all the wonderful things we’re doing to help kids succeed and become successful students and kind, caring, responsible citizens.”

As Rodriguez finishes up her robot programming for the day, she pauses and shares some advice for future students: “Just walk into Altus and you’ll find a friend.”

Rodriguez is hoping to help the Altubots repeat last year’s success at the FIRST LEGO League championship in Chicago. After competing against much larger, more prestigious college prep schools, they exceeded everyone’s expectations when they took fourth place.

Fittingly, the robotics team also earned the “Against All Odds” Award, a distinction these kids will likely earn again and again as they overcome challenges in their lives, led by what they’ve learned from John Heybach and his partners at NIU.