Cary woman named state's top history teacher
Jane Szybowicz has a knack for bringing history to life in her classroom.
Students in Szybowicz's fifth grade class at Fox River Grove Middle School get to review documents from original sources and develop their own understanding of how the events of the past shaped today's world.
"It's the way she explains things and how she shows us images and documents," said Emily Prettyman, 11, of Fox River Grove. "This year, particularly, my interest in history has advanced and progressed."
Szybowicz was recognized this week for the creative ways she engages students as the 2015 Illinois History Teacher of the Year by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.
The institute promotes teaching literacy through historical documents. A panel of teachers, administrators, and scholars from Illinois picked Szybowicz for her use of primary documents in the classroom, the inspiration she provides students and her career accomplishments.
"I was very surprised but incredibly proud to be recognized with such esteemed people that have won it in the past," said Szybowicz, 57, of Cary, who finished in the top 10 when nominated for the award two years ago. "I've always been interested in using primary documents and putting it in children's hands so they can make their own interpretations of what was happening in history."
Szybowicz will receive a $1,000 award, a certificate of recognition, an archive of books and historical resources for her school's library, an invitation to attend a 2016 Gilder Lehrman Teacher Seminar, and be recognized at a special ceremony later this year. She also is among 53 state finalists for the institute's National History Teacher of the Year Award, which includes a $10,000 prize and will be given out this fall.
"She just goes so far above and beyond because she loves learning herself," said Fox River Grove District 3 Superintendent Tim Mahaffy who, along with middle school Principal Eric Runck, nominated Szybowicz for the award. "It starts with that wonderful nurturing individual ... and that's the way Jane has always been. She puts her students in the center of the stage."
In 2014, Szybowicz was selected by the Gilder Lehrman Institute to attend a two-week seminar on "The Age of Lincoln" at Oxford University.
This school year, Szybowicz's students produced two oratory segments on President Abraham Lincoln's speeches for the National Lincoln Oratory Festival through Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C.
Szybowicz, who has taught fifth grade her entire career, says that's the best time for learning.
"All they want to do is discover," she said. "The nature of a fifth grader is infectious. They make me want to strive to find something new and exciting, and a different way for them to incorporate history into their lives."