DIXON – The end-of-the-year field trip concluded in Kimberly Bork's class this week, but it wasn't a typical one.
Bork's fourth-grade students at Madison School finished the year exploring the national parks, and then documented their trip and experiences in a report.
No real travel was necessary, but planning was a requirement: The itinerary, the fuel mileage, the expenses – it's a tough project for 10-year-olds to grasp, but Bork's students come through every year and expand their knowledge of the real world.
Getting the most out of her kids always is the goal for Bork, 46, April's recipient of Sauk Valley Media and KSB Hospital’s Dixon Amazing Teachers Award. This year's bunch amazed her so much that she shed a tear or two while she graded the projects Thursday evening.
"I'm amazed about what these kids have been able to do in the last 2 months, and how much they've learned and how much they've grown," she said.
The COVID-19 situation created a different learning environment for both student and teacher the past 2 months, and Bork is awed by how they succeeded despite the unusual circumstances.
"Even through the virtual remote learning, it's just amazing," she said. "It shows how resilient kids are as well."
Madison Principal Joey Sagel considers Bork "an incredibly hard-working teacher" who always puts students' needs first, especially during the last couple of months.
"She has worked tirelessly during this time of remote learning to stretch herself outside of her comfort zone and find new and innovative ways to engage her students," Sagel said. "That is not surprising, because that is who she is as a teacher, and her love and passion for learning is infectious in those students lucky enough to have her as a teacher."
Teaching is in Bork's blood. Her father, Rockton Gentry, was a math teacher at Sterling and Dixon high schools. While studying at the University of Illinois, Bork narrowed her future career down to social work, psychology or teaching.
Some of the problems that came with social work and psychology were a bit too much for Bork, so she graduated from Champaign and began her teaching career at an elementary school not too far away in St. Joseph. After a year of teaching second grade, she wanted to make the leap to teaching fourth graders, where she's stayed since.
"Their drive is just different," Bork said. "Most of them have that drive to succeed, and they have so much passion and interest that can make you dig deeper and push them a little harder."
In time, Bork found out that social work or psychology pretty much had the same emotional feeling as teaching.
"In educating, you're doing the same thing every day," she said. "There's so much emotion with kids."
She moved to Dixon in 2006 to be closer to her family, taught at Jefferson Elementary then moved to Madison when the district's attendance centers reshuffled.
Bork is the accelerated teacher on the fourth-grade level, which gives her a wide range of knowledge to give her students. During a "passion project," one student a couple of years ago wrote a script for a play that the class later performed in front of the school.
Her students don't forget her. Ava Hagler had Bork for a fourth grade teacher this year, and enjoyed knowing that her teacher loves and cares about all of her students, she said.
"[She] has just been such an inspiration to me," Hagler said. "I love her with all my heart, and I hope that she never stops loving her students.
"She is just truly amazing. She pushed me to areas I never thought I could accomplish, and she is my inspiration."
Bork and her husband,Geoff, have a son, Aiden, 8, who will be in her class next year. Aiden just completed third grade in an accelerated class. Now, instead of seeing what his mother does with students through grading papers at home, Aiden will get to know her mother as a teacher.
For the last 2 months, he's already got a taste of that experience with Mom making sure his remote learning work is done right.
"It's going to be a special and unique opportunity for both of us," Bork said.
The summer months usually call for a vacation of some sort, but the alteration of traditional education in recent months likely will make Bork's time off a little short.
When she feels the need to get out of town, perhaps she will be inspired by her students' national park trips.
"You actually want to go out and experience it, because they immersed themselves in it so much," she said.
HOW AMAZING IS YOUR TEACHER?
Do you know an amazing teacher at Dixon Public Schools, St. Anne Elementary or St. Mary Elementary? Nominate him or her for the Dixon’s Amazing Teachers monthly contest.
Nominations for May will be accepted until June 1; four finalists then will be chosen for a vote until June 8.
Go to saukvalley.secondstreetapp.com/dixonamazing to vote or for more information.