Round Lake Beach school gets $20,000 for bilingual after-school program
Students at Ellis Elementary in Round Lake Beach got a big surprise Tuesday afternoon when George McCaskey, the chairman of the Chicago Bears, appeared during an all-school assembly to present their school with a $20,000 check.
The money is from the Heroes in the Classroom MVP Award given out by the Bears and Symetra, a national provider of employee benefits, annuities and life insurance.
The prize will fund a new multicultural literacy program designed by bilingual teachers at the school.
None of the students knew why the entire school -- 591 students in all -- was being called together. District spokeswoman Heather Bennett said it was possibly the first time Ellis had held an all-school assembly. The confusion turned into joy when it became clear what was happening.
"It really resonated with them when they saw the check," said Olivia Carreiro, a bilingual resource teacher.
Carreiro, as well as second-grade bilingual teacher Christine Forster and Monica Silva-Alejo, a third-grade bilingual teacher, applied for the award. Now that they have the oversized check in hand, the teachers plan to create an after-school bilingual literature program for students and their parents.
Silva-Alejo said the program will feature Spanish novels different from what their students use today.
"We would like parents to come in to experience literature with their children written in authentic Spanish, which are not just translated from English," Silva-Alejo said.
Carreiro said they hope the literature will spark conversations between parents and students about their life and shared culture. She started teaching a novel written in Chilean Spanish to her students in preparation for the new program.
"At the end of each day the students have been asking me not to stop," Carreiro said. "The quality of Spanish is much higher."
Along with the literature program, the money also will pay for a series of bilingual presentations for students and their parents.
Symetra has partnered with the Bears on the teacher-recognition program since 2010 and has honored more than 130 area teachers to date. The winners are selected based on their ability to make a difference in students' lives and to go above and beyond in their day-to-day responsibilities.