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Illinois Teacher of the Year Pam Reilly Recognized as 2014 Waubonsee Distinguished Alumnus

Pam Reilly, Waubonsee 2014 Distinguished Alumnus

For almost a decade-and-a-half, Pam Reilly has sought to instill a number of lessons in the gaggles of seven year olds who have come through her classrooms.

For Reilly, second grade teacher at Woodbury Elementary School in Sandwich, it begins with awakening in the students a love of the rudiments of reading, writing, mathematics and science. At the same time, she works to inculcate basic social skills.

But amid those other lessons key to future success, Reilly also works each school year to impress upon her students a love for education, in general, and, in particular, a desire to continue learning through their teen years, to college and beyond.

And when discussing college with her students, Reilly always makes certain they know, even at that young age, there are many paths to a lifetime of success and learning.

“It is never too early to plant the seed of the importance of receiving a good education,” Reilly said.

For her dedication to educating children in her classroom, and her unwavering support for education outside it, Waubonsee Community College is proud to recognize Reilly as its 2014 Distinguished Alumnus.

Reilly came to Waubonsee in 1990, knowing for years already that she belonged in a classroom, educating future generations.

While in high school in Somonauk, Reilly had volunteered as an assistant in a kindergarten classroom, igniting a love of teaching that has never faded.

She graduated from Waubonsee in 1992, then moved on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Aurora University in 1994 and a master’s degree from National Louis University in 1998.

She jumped right into teaching, translating her work as a student-teacher into a full-time position at P.H. Miller Elementary School in Plano. After teaching first grade at P.H. Miller for two years, she transitioned to second grade at the school. After five years in that role, she stepped away from the classroom to raise her three sons.

However, when all three boys had entered elementary school six years ago, Reilly returned to the classroom as well, securing her current position at Woodbury.

“I truly love my job,” Reilly said. “When you make a career out of something you are passionate about and enjoy, it doesn’t seem like a ‘job.’”

And in that role, Reilly has excelled, attested by the enduring love of her students and their parents, as well as recognitions from her peers.

Last fall, the Illinois State Board of Education selected Reilly as its Teacher of the Year.

In honoring Reilly, the ISBE noted her “passion for teaching and her enthusiasm for helping her students succeed,” citing her work in the classroom, as well as her advocacy on behalf of “hungry students, those with absent parents, financially stressed families and students who need to be more challenged.”

“Pam believes that all children, regardless of their circumstances, can thrive and learn,” the ISBE said in a statement announcing Reilly’s award.

Just as her connection with her current students doesn’t end at the classroom door, so, too, Reilly seeks to maintain connections with her students after they move on to higher grades.

“At the end of every year, I encourage my students and parents to keep in touch,” Reilly said. “I will always care about them. It’s fun when I have students stop by my classroom or my home to say hello.”

She noted recently one of her former P.H. Miller first grade students stopped at her home to chat.

“She told me she was getting married and is a nanny now,” Reilly said.

Other students with whom she has spoken have gone on to become teachers and librarians, among others.

“It’s a rewarding career, and where a teacher’s influence stops, no one could ever know,” Reilly said.

While her students are under her tutelage, Reilly said she attempts to use her influence to set them on a journey of a lifetime spent embracing education, whether that journey takes them to the Ivy League, a state public university or community college.

Every year, each classroom at Woodbury chooses a college to represent. And every year, Reilly chooses Waubonsee.

“We ask two students each day to lead our school in the Pledge (of Allegiance), but before they do, they are asked two questions: ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ and ‘Where do you plan to go to college?’” Reilly said. “The teachers in our building wear T-shirts that say, ‘College isn’t just a dream, it’s a plan.’”
“I choose to represent Waubonsee not only because I am a proud graduate, but also to showcase another pathway to a four-year university.”

Reilly said she will “sing the praises of Waubonsee” to her students, as well as others at Woodbury, recalling the “solid foundation” Waubonsee provided for her through its affordable tuition, small class sizes, individualized attention and quality education both inside the classroom and outside, through teaching-related work experience.

“If I had to go back in time, I would choose to attend Waubonsee every time,” Reilly said. “It provided me with a great beginning to a wonderfully fulfilling career that has led me to where I am today.”
 

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