Being classroom hero not foreign to Orland teacher
BY MIKE NOLAN email@example.com September 30, 2013 10:18PM
‘Heroes in the Classroom’ ViDEO
To see video of Monday’s
“Heroes in the Classroom” award presentation in Orland Park, go to www.southtownstar.com
Updated: November 2, 2013 6:10AM
Entering a new school can be scary enough for a kid who has recently moved into a district from another town or another state.
But for the students Nancy Ermel works with, they are, in many cases, brand new to life in the United States.
An English as a Second Language — or English Language Learners — teacher in Orland School District 135, Ermel is helping students who may know little or no English adjust to a new language and culture.
Beyond the classroom, she’ll go out of her way to help a student’s parents make the adjustment as well, finding them a local family who are versed in English but also speak the new immigrants’ native language.
It was her efforts both inside and outside the classroom that earned Ermel a “Heroes in the Classroom” award Monday from the Chicago Bears, presented by Bears chairman George McCaskey during an assembly at Jerling Junior High.
As part of the award, Jerling receives $1,000 in her name, and Ermel gets two tickets to Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Saints — and recognition for her achievement during the game’s third quarter, including having her picture displayed on Soldier Field’s JumboTron. McCaskey presented her a Bears jersey with her name on the back, and she’ll get an autographed team ball Sunday.
After two decades in District 135, Ermel, an Orland Park resident, will retire from teaching. She told students and faculty, many of them wearing Bears attire, she has “been lucky enough to teach here this long.
“I love what I do,” she told the crowd, urging students and others to “find your niche, find your dream.”
Ermel works with 26 students each day, traveling among Jerling, Orland Junior High and Century Junior High. Although Ermel is not fluent in any language other than English, her vocabulary includes simple, everyday phrases in Spanish, Polish, Arabic, Chinese and a few other languages.
Some of her students already have learned some English, while others are new to the language as well as this country, Ermel said.
“Eight just in the last six months have arrived (in District 135) from outside the country,” she said.
Ermel started a parent mentor program some 10 years ago to help newly arrived families gain their footing.
“They need some way to transition to the new community,” she said.
Judy Stellato, a science teacher at Jerling who nominated Ermel for the “Heroes” award, said during Monday’s event it was partly because of her work outside the school to “help the families adapt to life in their new country.”
Stellato, in her nomination, also pointed out that when she started high school in 1971 at Queen of Peace in Burbank, Ermel was one of her teachers and was a “bright light for a scared freshman.”
Along with Queen of Peace, Ermel taught at Bogan High School in Chicago, where her mother had also taught. Ermel took 15 years off from teaching to raise her family before coming to District 135 in 1993.
In the Chicago area, the “Heroes” program is a partnership among the Bears, financial services company Symetra Financial Corp. and Gallagher Benefit Services, a unit of Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. Symetra also has “Heroes” partnerships with the Atlanta Falcons, San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks.
Hundreds of applications are received annually, and 16 Chicago-area teachers — two for each Bears home game — are selected, according to Kaleb Holt, an account executive with Gallagher Benefit Services.
A panel reviews nominations, looking for those teachers who are “going above and beyond and having a significant impact on the students, the school itself and in the community,” he said.