Teacher of the Week

Email nominations to Anthony Zilis at azilis@news-gazette.com

For the last three school years, standing out in the rain while shuttling kids to their parents’ cars has been a little more fun than it used to be for International Prep Academy teachers Carly Sakowski and Kendall Yin. Conversation at lunchtime, which they always eat together, has also improved.

Even if their husbands, who are close friends, might say they talk about work too much at home, both sisters agree that, when Yin joined Sakowski at International Prep Academy at the start of the 2021-22 school year, going to work each day became considerably better.

“It is an incredible support to work with your best friend, especially in high-stress moments,” Yin said.

In Sakowski’s fifth year teaching STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics) at IPA and Yin’s third year teaching multilingual learners at the school, the former South Side Elementary School, Edison Middle School, Champaign Central High School and University of Illinois students also run the school’s Culture and Climate team, working to improve the school experience for both students and teachers.

I find my work important because …

CS: During my five years at IPA, my position has changed. I started as a small group “Enrichment” pull-out teacher. Although it was beneficial to challenge small groups of students who had high performance on their reading and math test scores, I felt I was only reaching a limited number in our student population. After my first year, we decided to change to “Enrichment For All.” Since the change, I now work with all 500-plus kindergarten through fifth-grade students each week, exposing them to science, technology and engineering activities that they may not have had access to in the past. Students practice problem-solving skills and “stay curious” using the curriculum Mystery Science.

KY: We have a rapidly growing Spanish-speaking population in Champaign whose families come from many different Spanish-speaking countries. I believe in the importance of IPA offering instruction in both English and Spanish, so many of our students can maintain Spanish as their home language while simultaneously learning English in school.

My favorite/most unique lesson that I teach is …

CS: With the support of the Champaign County Farm Bureau Foundation and Sarah Kaper, we observed seven baby chicks grow inside the egg and finally hatch in our very own S.T.E.A.M. Studio. The “Baby Chick Cam” streamed throughout the whole school as each egg piped, hatched and transformed into a fluffy yellow chick. Students completed activities in an “Eggcellent Embryology” curriculum and also voted on their favorite name ideas for the baby chicks, such as Pollito Pio and Messi — after their favorite star soccer player.

I keep students engaged by …

KY: Incorporating many ways to practice English. In addition to speaking and writing activities, the MLL team implemented a Community Helpers interactive lesson last year where students dressed up as a character/job from the book “Quinito’s Neighborhood” and used handmade props to make transactions with each other. Their jobs included nurses, bankers, bodega owners, dentists, bakers, carpenters, muralists, seamstresses and even a clown!

Something else we’re passionate about is …

CS: Reading, especially mysteries and historical fiction. We’re both in two different book clubs, including one club with each other. These groups allow us to be introduced to book titles we may have never chosen on our own, as well as the opportunity to bond with groups of women through book discussion and delicious food.

KY: Our whole family is obsessed with Broadway musicals! We’re constantly listening to the soundtracks, and we try to see as many musicals as we can each year. We have been lucky enough to see shows in NYC but also enjoy seeing local performances. Our birthdays are close together, so we take an annual trip to Chicago to see a Broadway show to celebrate — this past year we saw and loved Hadestown.

Our favorite teacher and subject to study in school was …

Both: Our mother! After 33 years of teaching, Chris Lukeman retired from Countryside School with a variety of teaching experiences including physical education, performing arts and “moventures.” We grew up watching Mrs. Lukeman inspire even the shyest student to grow confident enough to join a sports team or be on stage in a play. Her students still remember her as leading their favorite moments in school. Although she no longer works full time, we are lucky enough to keep experiencing teaching moments with our mother when she volunteers in our classrooms or in her role as “Grandma Coco” to her two grandsons.

If we weren’t a teacher, we WISH we could be …

Both: Costarring in a Broadway musical or portraying “Frozen‘s” Elsa and Anna at Disney World.