Reluctant Lyons Township High School teachers earn science recognition
Science teacher Michelle Wrona explains to her students about thinning seeds at Lyons Township High School. | Steve Johnston~for Sun-Times Medi
Updated: March 8, 2013 6:16AM
WESTERN SPRINGS — Lyons Township High School teachers Michelle Wrona and Leilani Lopez have more in common than being named top new teachers.
Both LT science instructors initially entered the working world with no intention of ever setting foot in a classroom.
Wrona, who grew up in Burr Ridge and now lives in Chicago, was working in a lab at the Burn and Shock Trauma Institute at Loyola University Medical Center’s Strich School of Medicine. She was told that she would be mentoring a group of kids.
“I said, ‘I will not. I am not a baby-sitter,’” Wrona remembered.
Being told she was locked into it as the kids had already signed up, Wrona prepped to ensure she was clear on explanations.
“The kids took to it like a fish to water,” Wrona said. “It went so great that a couple kids said,‘You should be a teacher.’ I was like ‘What?’”
Lopez, who grew up in the Argo-Summit area and now lives in Oak Lawn, was a researcher at Rush University Medical Center for more than three years, but didn’t feel the satisfaction with the job she expected. A good friend suggested she think about teaching and being around kids. Lopez went to work in admissions at Benedictine University.
“I found I had a knack for (working with kids). I found I fed off the kids,” Lopez said. “I liked being needed.”
Both instructors are in their fourth year of teaching. Lopez taught for a year at West Leyden High School, prior to joining the LT staff.
Lopez and Wrona were the first teachers in the same district to win New Science Teacher of the Year from the Illinois Science Teachers Association. Wrona was the sole recipient of the New Science Teacher of the Year from the Chicago Drug and Chemical Association.
The Drug and Chemical Association works with the Illinois Science Teachers Association to recognize new educators dedicated to teaching science. Wrona and Lopez were recognized at both associations’ annual meetings and each received a prize of $500.
Both said that while honored as individuals their colleagues deserve credit for mentoring and supporting them.
“I’ve learned a lot from others being a resource for me,” Wrona said.
“It has been a community effort for my advancement,” Lopez said.
Both said they do not believe they would be the teachers they are today without going through the work experiences they did prior to teaching,
Lopez and Wrona each believe they are more comfortable and in control then when they first started teaching. Lopez said she even kept a calm demeanor when one of her students fainted in class.
“You always have to be in control,” Lopez said.
Both said keeping class interesting and interactive is key. They said simply lecturing information to students doesn’t get the job done anymore.
When a student continued to make an odd sound, Wrona said he sounded like a male koala bear. She then played a 30-second audio clip of a male koala that started a class discussion about the animal.
“It’s the little things,” Wrona said. “You need to make it easy for the information to relate to them.”