In her 17 years teaching alternative education, Margo McLane Elson has learned better than to focus solely on education.
The educator at Paxton-Buckley-Loda’s Panther Academy, which provides a pathway to graduation for students who would otherwise drop out, realizes her students need to know an adult is in their corner.
“She is a teacher, but she is so much more for these kids,” Panther Academy paraprofessional Molly Augspurger said. “She is someone that they count on and come to for help, whatever it may be. Once these kids come here, they become our kids. We do whatever we need to, to help them be successful.”
Elson took charge of the program in its inaugural year in 2020 after 14 years of teaching in the Champaign school district’s READY program. Since then, she’s helped dozens of students graduate who wouldn’t have done so otherwise.
“Mrs. Elson is a blessing for our students,” PBL Associate Superintendent Travis Duley said. “Since Day 1, she has advocated for the students in her program and has worked to meet them where they are and help them move forward and make progress toward graduation. Certainly, this has involved helping students academically, but many times it also involved helping students with social-emotional needs. We are lucky to have her, and Panther Academy would not be what it is today without her. “
I find my work important because … every child needs positive and empathetic adults in their lives. I know as a teacher I should say something regarding academics (and yes, academics are extremely important for all human beings), but I just want every child to know they have adults in their life who genuinely care about their well-being. I want the youth to know they are going to make mistakes, but those mistakes do not define who they are. Everyone deserves a second chance.
I became a teacher because … I’m pretty sure it was embedded in my DNA. I cannot think of a time where I ever thought I would be anything different. I grew up with a handful of strong-minded, female educators.
My grandmother Iris Edgar has always been what I believe every elementary teacher should embody: caring, loving and understanding. My great-aunt, Alice Edgar, was such a boisterous, energetic person who could grab anyone’s attention and still had that loving characteristic that every teacher should incorporate. My mother, Susan Moore, has been a role model for me since day one. She always has high expectations but is still very nurturing and understanding and is one of the most resilient women I have ever known. My sister, Morgan McLane, must have that same educator-embedded DNA. Even though I am the wiser (slightly older) sister, I always lean on Morgan for guidance. She is an inspiration for me because she truly cares about her students and her school community as a whole.
My most fulfilling moments on the job are when … my students see success within themselves. As an alternative-education teacher, I work with many students who have not had much success in the school environment. Many have said they just never felt like they belonged, and positive experiences were far and few between. It is one of the best feelings to see a student get excited for themselves because they got their first A, or when they passed their U.S. Constitution test they thought was impossible, or when they finally acknowledge all of the positive things they achieved. Being able to witness a child who has felt so defeated come to a realization that they can succeed is such an awesome experience. I love seeing the sense of pride a kid has when they meet a milestone, especially one they thought they could never achieve.
I keep students engaged by … making sure each and every one of them know just how important they are to me. I try my best to validate their feelings by simply checking in with them everyday. Our conversation may be short and sweet, but I make sure they know I am here for them. I also try to wipe the slate clean at the end of every day. There is no sense to keep dwelling on their mistakes; I try my best to move forward in a positive direction. If you can show your students that you genuinely care about them, you can teach them anything.
Something else I’m passionate about is … keeping our youth involved with the community. A sense of community and belonging is huge for all youth. I am hopeful that I am able to assist my students who need a little extra support or guidance. I am extremely passionate about breaking down the barriers that some of these kids have to deal with on a daily basis simply due to economic issues or circumstances that are out of their control. I am lucky to have the opportunity to work with a program through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. The program has opened many doors for our local youth; ones they may have never been given the opportunity had it not been for this program. After seeing so much student success and growth within the program, I am optimistic that I can get more community members and businesses interested in working with us to make our community even better than it already is. Our youth desperately need to know they belong, and they just need to be given a chance to show just how important they truly are to the Paxton-Buckley-Loda community.
If I weren’t a teacher, I would be … a stay-at-home mom. I just love being with my three kiddos. I also have told my husband that I would like to be a crane operator, but one who only deals with a wrecking ball. I think that could be very therapeutic. My husband, Andy Elson, does not feel that particular career would be the best fit (insert eyeroll here).
— ANTHONY ZILIS
To read the article in the NG, please click here:https://tinyurl.com/2p95dd65