Tag: Chicago Public Schools

Vision Program alum rekindles love of ice skating with Chicago Blackhawks Blind Hockey team

Kevin Allison

Kevin Allison

Kevin Allison had spent most of his young life on the ice in pursuit of one dream.

“I was always a figure skater. I was always training. I was getting my degree at the same time – my undergraduate degree – but I had no real direction,” says Allison, 28, a Wheaton native who was studying liberal arts at the College of DuPage.

Yet fate had a direction in mind for him, whether he wanted it or not. “I had a bad skate at Nationals, and skating sort of fell out,” he says. “I took time off to rethink my career, and my mom said, ‘Hey, you need to get a job since you’re not skating anymore.’ ”

So he went to work alongside his mother, Joan, at a suburban school for the visually impaired where she is employed. There – pun intended – his eyes opened.

“First week there, I fell in love in with it,” Allison says. “I knew that’s what I wanted to do with my life.”

Allison transferred from COD to NIU, where he completed his bachelor’s degree. He then enrolled in the NIU College of Education’s Department of Special and Early Education, where in 2015 he earned a master’s degree in the Vision Program and certification as an Orientation and Mobility specialist.

cps-logoWork is never hard to find for graduates of NIU’s program – most student have three job offers on the table as they complete their studies – and Allison promptly became an itinerant teacher of the visually impaired (TVI) and a certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist in the Chicago Public Schools.

He served in 25 different schools last year, teaching around 30 students how to use their white canes and how to navigate independently. This year, he is delivering that curriculum, as well as literacy in Braille, to four children at Mount Greenwood Elementary School.

Teaching is now his dream come true.

“I never thought I would be an educator,” Allison says. “I really do love working with kids. When I was growing up, I loved coaching them – I’ve coached figure skating for almost eight years now – and I just fell in love with it. It’s become a passion.”

But the ice retains its allure.

Allison is a coach of the Chicago Blackhawks Blind Hockey team, which boasts 20 players ages “4 to 30-something” with varying degrees of visual impairments.

blind-hockey-team

“When I first heard about this, I thought it was one of those things where they were just trying to get kids who were visually impaired to do something,” he says. “My life has always been on ice, so I brought my skates over to check it out. I saw that it was legit. I saw they had a goal and that they had a drive to make this work.”

The players were working on drills like a sighted hockey team, chasing and shooting a larger-than-normal puck made of steel with ball bearings inside that creates a hollow, tinny noise. At the end of their practice, they scrimmaged.

He knew he had to become involved. “I talked with the guy in charge; his name was Mike Svac. I told him, ‘I’m a TVI. I’ve been on skates my whole life. How can I help?’ ”

Part of the practice time is devoted to navigating the rink.

“We’re trying to get the skaters aware of the ice surface; its dimensions; its width; its length,” Allison says. “We do drills going up and down the ice, and they sort of build a visual map – for lack of a better term – inside of the brain. They figure out where things are. We do a lot of drills based around the net. We pass to the skaters, and then they circle back and shoot. We’re making them better skaters.”

NIU’s “phenomenal” preparation has served him well, he adds.

blackhawks-logo-2“The thing that made me notice how well I was prepared for this field was in seeing how other people who weren’t educated in this field try to instruct the visually impaired. They say, ‘Over here. Over there.’ It doesn’t work like that,” he says.

“I had great instructors at Northern who made certain that the content development was there, that we needed to teach these kids with concrete demonstrations that they’re able to understand,” he adds. “If a coach is explaining something, and they don’t quite get it, we use hand-over-hand technique to show how to move the puck, how to pass.”

That way, Allison says, the skater or the student learns those concepts that sighted persons develop incidentally.

Gaylen Kapperman, professor emeritus in the College of Education’s Vision Program, admires what Allison and his colleague are doing with the Chicago Blackhawks Blind Hockey team.

“Most of us blind people, if not nearly all of us, have never been on ice skates,” Kapperman says. “Kevin and his fellow coaches have developed a pretty innovative way in adapting the sport of hockey so blind people can play it.”

Blind hockey is growing in momentum across the country and to the north, says Allison, who credits Svac as the linchpin getting the organization going and growing.

Allison saw the sport played recently at the Disabled Hockey Festival in San Jose, Calif., where he also watched hockey played by people who are deaf and by people without legs. Meanwhile, he says, a group in Canada is working to develop better pucks for those with visual disabilities.

Gaylen Kapperman

Gaylen Kapperman

“We’re just seeing that there’s a community beyond what’s in Chicago right now. We’re talking to people in Pittsburgh. We’re talking to people in Texas. We’re trying to make this bigger. We want to be a league,” he says. “Chicago is hosting the Disabled Hockey Festival in 2018, and we’re just trying to get the word out. That’s our big thing right now. Our goal by 2020 is to go over the globe.”

Yet he knows that the goals for the players aren’t nearly as lofty.

“These kids are blind, and they’re around other kids who are blind,” he says. “They get to hang out with others who are exactly like them, and they get to do something they love.”



College of Ed alumna shares KNPE instructional philosophies with P.E. teachers in Chicago

Yara Santillan

Yara Santillan

Yara Santillan traded her sneakers for high heels, her gym for a cubicle and her whistle for a smartphone.

What the new coordinator of Physical Education for the Chicago Public Schools hasn’t given up is her drive and ambition to make a positive difference for children through sport.

“I look at my own personal experience,” says Santillan, a two-time alumna of the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education. “I’ve always noticed that, in the times when I’ve really needed something, sport has always been there. It’s always been there for me. Sport kept me out of trouble.”

Growing up in suburban Aurora during the 1990s – she was born in Mexico but moved with her family to Kane County at the age of 18 months – Santillan glimpsed the danger lurking on the streets but wisely chose kickball and basketball over “the wrong crowd.”

Her decision to stay on the straight path, along with her K-12 academic success, resulted in a scholarship to attend NIU. Without a clear career path in mind, however, Santillan couldn’t find her footing in DeKalb and soon left for home.

One year later, she returned as a commuter student, earning straight A’s. Her unease lingered, however, and she became “a two-time college dropout.”

“I knew that college was important, and I was trying to get myself through school,” she says, “but I hadn’t found something I was truly passionate about. I was out of school for the next seven years.”

During that time, she worked at a restaurant. In 2009, she donned the Huskie red-and-black again – and the third time was, of course, the charm.

After completing her bachelor’s degree in Physical Education, she secured a position as a graduate assistant and began work toward her master’s in Exercise Physiology.

cps-logoSantillan crossed the NIU Graduate School commencement stage on a Friday evening in May of 2014. Less than 72 hours later, on a Monday, she sat for an interview with the Chicago Public Schools. Hired on the spot, she began work immediately to complete the school year for a P.E. teacher who’d taken a leave of absence.

By the end of her temporary gig in June, a full-time position with CPS was hers.

“What I love the most is getting kids to set goals. When we work on a skill, a lot of kids think immediately that they can’t do it, or they try not to do it, but then they get very excited when they see they can do something,” Santillan says. “And when they do that in P.E., they’re going to be able to transfer that and do it another part of their life.”

Part of that philosophy – life lessons through P.E. – is a gospel evangelized by Paul Wright, NIU’s EC Lane and MN Zimmerman Endowed Professor in Kinesiology and Physical Education.

“When I supervised Yara’s secondary clinical placements for the P.E. licensure program, I found out she decided to teach because she had a deep belief in the potential of physical education and sport to have a positive influence on children,” Wright says. “In particular, she said she had a passion for reaching children and youth who might be struggling due to circumstances in their lives and their communities.”

Following the Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility model on which Wright focuses his scholarship, Santillan worked alongside her professor for several semesters in an after-school program for “at-risk” youth in a DeKalb middle school.

Her hands-on learning included promoting responsibility and tailoring programs to youth with more social and emotional challenges

Paul M. Wright

Paul Wright

“This approach really fit her existing values and commitments, but gave her some new strategies, structures and concepts to integrate into her teaching. She went on to apply these ideas, while making them her own, in her very successful career in CPS,” Wright says. “She is proof that the best theories and ideas are ones that can be put into practice.”

In her new role with CPS – leaving the gym “was one of my most difficult decisions but worth it,” she says – Santillan works with all of the district’s P.E. teachers to boost their productivity and, by extension, enhance student outcomes.

Serving as a “cultural mentor,” she ensures that the teachers are following standards, writing and implementing lesson plans, practicing concepts of Social and Emotional Learning and conducting assessment.

Meanwhile, she stresses to her teachers that P.E. is “not just inside the four walls of school” but also something that can empower students, parents and siblings through newsletters, after-school programs and family nights.

“Overall, I’ve had really positive response from the teachers,” Santillan says. “I tell them, ‘I know what you’re doing is important and meaningful, and I’m with you.’ They know I genuinely care about what they’re doing – that I care about their success, the kids’ success and that P.E. is one of the most important content areas in school.”

For her own role in extending P.E. beyond the school grounds, Santillan has volunteered with Beyond the Ball, “an organization that uses the power of sport to change lives, give hope, reclaim space and develop a culture of opportunities for youth and families in Chicago.”

She plans a 2020 run for a seat in the Illinois General Assembly. She also is contemplating a return to college for a doctorate and perhaps a career teaching in higher education.

Yara Santillan

Yara Santillan

At this point, however, her future is in the Windy City.

“I’m increasing teacher effectiveness in the City of Chicago, and I see myself doing that for quite some time,” she says. “I still have the same passion, but instead of teaching 600 students in my school, I have the opportunity to reach 381,000 students in CPS.”

Wright applauds her commitment, calling its beneficiaries fortunate. That group soon will include current students in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education after Santillan returns Monday, Oct. 9, as a guest speaker.

“The students she has worked with in the schools, our current students at NIU and P.E. teachers throughout Chicago are lucky to have Yara as a champion and a role model for doing what you believe is important and right, for yourself – and for others,” he says. “It’s been my pleasure to work with her and follow her success.”