GAVC’s Eungard wins Teacher of the Year award

Lance Copes (left) and Deb Eungard with her IATCE Teacher of the Year award last Thursday.

Grundy Area Vocational Center teacher Deb Eungard spent her time at a conference last week presenting to her fellow teachers on how to create a career pathway for students, something she’s been doing in her classes for years.

Eungard’s abilities and the path she creates for her students earned her the Teacher of the Year award from the Association for Career and Technical Education. She started teaching at the GAVC in 2007, and her program originally started out as an early childhood education program. She would teach her students what she knew, since her career up until then had been as a kindergarten teacher.

“It was basically the kids going to local childcare facilities and getting daycare and preschool experience,” Eungard said. “It’s evolved into what it is today. My students go anywhere from kindergarten to junior high, and I have some kids that help out with bands and others who observe in speech pathology programs.”

The program evolved from early childhood education into something called Foundations of Teaching and Advanced Teaching Methods, which funnels students who want to graduate high school and become teachers into the schools in their local communities as a way for them to gain experience.

Her presentation Thursday was about how other schools can implement similar pathways in their education classes.

“It gears them toward what, right now, they think their interest is,” Eungard said. “I have one of my advanced kids, the kids that have been here for two years, that really wants to teach junior high social studies science. So, this semester, I was able to partner with Channahon Junior High and put her in a seventh grade social studies and science classroom. My students get the best experience. It’s pretty much like student teaching. They’re not making copies and grading papers.”

Eungard has students from her program all over Grundy County. This includes schools like Morris Elementary, Saratoga Elementary, Minooka Elementary, Gardner South-Wilmington, and more.

She said she couldn’t do what she does without the partnerships with those schools. She mentioned Dr. Marie Stover, the Assistant Superintendent at Morris Elementary, who comes in and gives special education presentations to her students. Soon, she’ll be conducting mock teacher interviews with Eungard’s advanced students to give them an idea of what a job search is like.

Eungard said over 50 teachers, three doctors of occupational therapy, a hearing itinerant and three students that are working toward their speech pathology degrees have come out of her program.

“This is just a springboard,” Eungard said. “It’s my job the help lay the foundation.”

Eungard has many other teachers and administrators who helped her along the way, including Kathy Brockett, her first principal directly out of college who she still talks regularly, and Val Horrie, her partner teacher when she taught at Wilmington. She was the first grade teacher while Eungard was the kindergarten teacher, and they worked together to create a buddy program between the classes.

She also said Mark Hulbert was instrumental to her development as a high school teacher, acting as her sounding board for the first couple of years.

She also thanked GAVC Director Lance Copes, who she said has been a huge supporter.

“I come up with these crazy ideas and he says ‘go for it,’” Eungard said. “When I first started, we were child development, and literally it was a childcare and daycare kind of class. I started with child development and I graduated from Illinois State University with an early childhood degree. That means I can teach to third grade. I asked to revise the program and raise the bar.”

Eungard said a higher bar helped because if they want productive teachers out of the program, the kids are going to have to reach and surpass the bar. Then, after five or six years, she started getting more male students who wanted to teach classes like physical education so they could coach. That made her go back to the drawing board.

“Mr. Copes has been instrumental in saying, ‘let’s give it a try,’” Eungard said. “So, Teacher of the Year means a lot to me but it also validates everyone’s confidence in me.”

Eungard said she’s recently gone back to school at the University of St. Francis to get her master’s degree, so now students going through her course can receive dual credits that can transfer to other schools. She’s the first teacher at the GAVC to offer a course that gets dual credit courses at a four-year university, although GAVC does offer dual credit courses through Joliet Junior College.

Michael Urbanec

Michael Urbanec

Michael Urbanec covers Grundy County and the City of Morris, Coal City, Minooka, and more for the Morris Herald-News