Wheeling High School mourns beloved English teacher, theater director

A beloved English teacher at Wheeling High School, who had a heart for English language learners and those in need of reading help, died Friday, just three days after she last reported to school.

Jennifer Zorn-Sargent fought a long battle with cancer. She was 44.

Teachers and students alike at the school are mourning her sudden passing. In response, social workers from throughout Northwest Suburban High School District 214 are on hand to meet with students.

"Jen was a true warrior," said Timothy Piatek, chairman of the English and fine arts division at Wheeling. "She wanted to continue to work and be there for her students, each and every day."

Zorn-Sargent had taught English at Wheeling since 2003, and prior to that taught at Fremd and Bartlett high schools. She grew up attending Conant High School, where she was inspired by longtime English and theater teacher Julie Nelson.

At Wheeling, Zorn-Sargent served as moderator of the National Honor Society and as freshman class sponsor for student council. At the district level, she served as a leader for SAT and curricular workshops, as well as on the District 214 calendar committee and as a union representative for faculty and staff.

She also mentored many student-teachers, said her husband, John Sargent.

"She almost always had a student-teacher in her room," Sargent said. "She was committed to mentoring the next generation of teachers."

However, her biggest impact, colleagues say, was in speech and theater, and empowering her students to succeed through the fine and performing arts.

While at Wheeling, Zorn-Sargent directed some of its most popular musicals, including "Thoroughly Modern Millie," "Legally Blond," "Beauty and the Beast" and the "Wizard of Oz," in which she invited children from Wheeling's feeder schools to perform as munchkins.

"Her passion and experience in musical theater certainly helped her serve our Wildcats," Piatek added. "She was very good at coming up with creative ways to engage and involve our community."

Ann Wyatt, house manager for the school's theater productions, saw firsthand the time and dedication Zorn-Sargent put into the musicals and its student performers.

"Her poise and dedication as a director, and her endless contributions in the various other roles she played in the program defined who she was as an educator and as a person," Wyatt said. "She was an absolute class act and will remain in our hearts forever."

Zorn-Sargent also helped out as a coach with Wheeling's speech team, guiding Alyssa Remaly to an individual state championship in original comedy in 2006.

Wheeling High Principal Jerry Cook sent out a tweet Monday asking students and faculty to celebrate Zorn-Sargent on Thursday by wearing something Bears- or Blackhawks-related, and to gather in the school's gym that morning for a group photo.

Zorn-Sargent is survived by her husband, John Carter Sargent III, and children, John Carter Sargent IV and Kaileigh Ann.

Visitation will take place from 2-9 p.m. Saturday, at Salerno's Rosedale Chapels, 450 W. Lake St. in Roselle.

Jennifer Zorn-Sargent, a beloved English teacher at Wheeling High School, is being remembered as a passionate educator who empowered students through the fine and performing arts. Courtesy of Timothy Piatek
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