There is something to be said about a school district that attracts its own graduates back to teach. Such is the story for Jenny Jordan, Yvonne Kedzierski and Amanda Forester, all born and raised Sandwich residents now teaching at Prairie View Elementary School in Sandwich School District 430.
Jenny Jordan - third grade: ‘I love the fun of younger kids’
Jenny Jordan, like several of her colleagues, has spent most of her life in Sandwich. Growing up, she attended every school in SD 430 with the exception of W. W. Woodbury Elementary.
After high school, Jordan earned a degree in elementary education from Western Illinois University, which was the only time in her life spent away from home.
After college, she moved back home and took a job teaching at Centennial Elementary School in Streator. She liked living in Sandwich so much that she commuted an hour each way to Streator and back for 10 years.
“It’s just home,” Jordan said of her hometown.
In 2018, Jordan’s commute got much shorter after she took a position teaching third grade at Prairie View.
As early as grade school, Jordan said she knew she wanted to be an educator. She said she always loved school and had many great teachers who became role models for her growing up.
At first, she thought she would teach music, as she was inspired by her high school band director, Terry Wickwire. However, as she started taking educational classes, she discovered her love for working with younger students.
“I love the fun of younger kids, the innocence of them,” Jordan said, “Their brightness just makes everything fun.”
Jordan said she feels like her job is changing every year and it can be a challenge having to constantly learn new things as she and her colleagues adjust strategies and pivot to implement new technology.
The kids, on the other hand, have taken strongly to technology in the classroom, according to Jordan.
“It’s very cool to see how much they already know about technology coming into the classroom, because they can even teach me things,” she said.
On May 8, Mother’s Day, Jordan will receive a master’s degree in educational leadership with a principal endorsement from Aurora University. Having recently lost her mom, she said the walk across the stage will be extra special, but certainly bittersweet.
“Teaching is a growth process,” said Jordan, “A pretty incredible one, too.”
Jordan said she pursued her master’s degree and principal endorsement with hopes to someday become a principal, but said she isn’t quite ready yet.
“I don’t feel like my job teaching is done yet,” Jordan said, “Especially because of the last couple years.”
Jordan described the school years amid the pandemic as abrupt and disruptive.
“The shutdown was jarring,” she said, “And coming back the next year with a new set of students was hard on everyone. These poor kids have missed out on so much.”
The silver lining of the past two years, Jordan said, was the ability to have a much more individualized approach, as the classrooms were much smaller.
Jordan said being a teacher has taught her the importance of being a good role model and setting an example of being respectful and kind to others.
Yvonne Kedierski - kindergarten: ‘I’ve learned humility, compassion, patience and countless other life qualities from my kids’
Yvonne Kedierski said her parents met as students at Sandwich High School.
She grew up down the street from W.W. Woodbury Elementary School and attended every school in District 430 except Prairie View Elementary.
After graduating from Sandwich High School, Kedzierski earned a degree in elementary education with a special education endorsement from the University of Illinois.
She said she hadn’t planned on returning to Sandwich immediately after school, but got an offer that was too good to refuse.
She returned to Sandwich in 2004 and has been teaching at Prairie View ever since. She has always been a kindergarten teacher, but has taught or tutored everything from preschool to fifth grade. She also coaches cheerleading at Sandwich Middle School and Sandwich High School.
Kedierski’s roots in the district are deep. Her mother was an assistant teacher in District 430 for 25 years, and when Kedzierski first started she would see her mother at school meetings and other events.
Kedzierski said she was first attracted to teaching at a young age, but didn’t know for certain until high school. She always knew she wanted to teach children.
“I walk into the room to a million compliments,” she said, “I can sing and dance horribly, and they love it!”
Kedzierski said the biggest challenge of being a kindergarten teacher can be conferences with parents. When you’re with kids that young, she said, you are sometimes the first person to tell a parent that something might be wrong with their child, and they aren’t always ready to hear that.”
Although it comes with its challenges, Kedzierski has fun at work and enjoys that every day is different. She also believes it is a job where one can truly make a difference.
“The kids are at an age that is so crucial to development,” she said. “They’re figuring out the world and it’s amazing getting to watch all that.”
Kedzierski said that her first grade teacher, Ms. Giddens, was an early inspiration for her education career.
She recalled that Giddens made the class lost-tooth pillows for them to take home, and the act of kindness stayed with her. They remained close as she grew up. Giddens attended her high school graduation and her wedding.
Kedzierski said she sees more and more being expected of students every year, as technology driven learning keeps setting the bar higher.
Each student in her kindergarten class has their own tablet, and she said it was a bigger struggle teaching the parents how to use them than it was the kids.
Kedzierski said the key to keeping kindergartners focused around the devices is to work with the technology instead of against it.
“If they like Super Mario, we play Super Mario math games,” she said.
Kedzierski says she learns from her students every day.
“You’re never too old to learn,” she said. “I’ve learned humility, compassion, patience and countless other life qualities from my kids that I’m proud of.”
Kedzierski plans to retire in Sandwich. She has several friends in town she’s known since first grade and still sees on a regular basis who also are sandwich lifers.
Amanda Forester - first grade: ‘The kids still love coming to school and are excited about learning’
Amanda Forester, like many of her friends, has lived in Sandwich her whole life.
She attended all District 430 schools with the exception Woodbury Elementary before graduating from Sandwich High School. During her last two years of high school, Forester also attended Indian Valley Vocational Center in Sandwich where she learned clerical work and computing.
She attended Waubonsee Community College before graduating from Aurora University. She then taught for three years at Lilly Lake Grade School in Maple Park before being hired at Prairie View in 2017, earning her master’s degree from AU in 2019 while teaching at Prairie View.
Forester said she had a lot of teachers who she loved very much, and the positive experience she had with all her teachers made the decision to become a teacher much easier.
She first thought about being a teacher when she was in high school, and decided to take some elementary education classes at Waubonsee.
During her time at Waubonsee, she was assigned to aide Beth Butler’s third grade class at Lynn G. Haskin Elementary School in Sandwich. She had such a great time working with the teacher in the classroom that she knew then teaching was what she wanted to do.
Forester said she chose elementary school because she was more interested in the things the students learn.
“The stuff we teach gets to be interesting and fun because it’s all topics they can relate to,” she said.
Forest started her career teaching fifth grade and has taught kindergarten and third grade, but says she’s found the right fit with first grade.
“It’s not as stressful as in the higher grades,” Forester said, “The kids still love coming to school and are excited about learning.”
Forester and her husband are both from Sandwich. They have a daughter in first grade at Woodbury, and a 4-year-old son who will go to Woodbury next year. She said it’s nice having already built relationships with her children’s current and future teachers.
There is a great sense of community among the teachers in Sandwich, many of whom she was taught by growing up. Forester’s own first grade teacher has even substituted for her.
She has a niece in the first grade class across the hall from her and she went to school with many of her students’ parents.
Forester said that COVID-19 limited many of the things they could do in the classroom. She recalled activities where everyone would bring in a food from home for everyone to try, and that just can’t be done anymore.
“All the years since then have kind of blurred together,” she said, “We’ve had to adapt and change the curriculum so much; we’re still getting back to normal.”
Forester said she is with her students more than her own kids. She tends to treat her students like her own kids, and not just because she has a daughter who is the same age.
“Their heartbreaks are my heartbreaks,” she said, “Their stressful moments are stressful to me and their excitement is excitement for me.”
She has 23 students, and although sometimes it can be a lot if they’re going through something, Forester said, “Even after the bad days, every day is a new day and we get to try again.”
Growing up, what book or movie inspired or influenced you to become a teacher?
Jenny Jordan: “Mr. Holland’s Opus.” The movie is about a band director teaching students with special needs, and the communication is lacking. She first saw it in 1995, and related to the way Mr. Holland was able to connect with his students and the extra effort that had to be put in.
Yvonne Kedzierski: “Dangerous Minds.” Even though the movie portrays older children in an inner-city school, the message stays true. Making connections with children, no matter what age or what their background is, is the root of a positive classroom experience and one of the most joyful aspects of being a teacher.
Amanda Forester: “The Giver” by Lois Lowry, which she read in seventh grade as assigned by one of her favorite teachers. Forester recalls jobs being assigned in the story and one of the teachers said, “You’d make a good teacher someday. You’re kind and understanding.” Forester said that really stuck with her.