Meet Berwyn’s Creatives: Tina Young of St. Leonard School

Welcome to Meet Berwyn’s Creatives!  While Berwyn has become a hot spot for urban professionals and entrepreneurs, the City of Homes is also considered a haven for the creatively minded. Berwyn is home to a remarkable group of makers who keep our community vibrant. Meet Berwyn’s Creatives gives us a chance to get to know what makes our local makers and arts leaders tick. Enjoy!

Meet Tina Young of St. Leonard’s Parish School 

Hometown: Back-of-the-Yards neighborhood in Chicago, IL
Residence: Berwyn, IL
Tina’s Bio: Tina Young is a preschool teacher at St. Leonard Parish School. She has been teaching at St. Leonard’s for the past six years but has been an educator for nearly two decades. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education, Special Education from Northeastern Illinois University. Tina LOVES science, gardening and the outdoors and goes out of her way to incorporate all three passions into her daily routine with her pupils. Not surprisingly, one of her favorite letters to cover during her alphabet lesson plan is the letter “W” because she gets to bring worms into the classroom. The kids absolutely get hands on!

Prior to coming to St. Leonard’s, she worked in various capacities with The Children’s Center of Cicero/Berwyn, the Illinois State Pre-K Program and the Early Head Start Home Visiting Program. She has been married to her husband Tom for 26 years and is the proud parent of two children, Allison and Noah.

Greatest Professional Influence and Why?
My greatest professional influence was working for The Children’s Center of Cicero/Berwyn for 12 years before teaching at St. Leonard’s. The Children’s Center gave me my teaching foundation. When my children were very young, we attended many of The Children Center’s classes at the PACT Center site. They had music and movement, science, story time and art classes, in addition to open play times. This is when I knew that I would be working with very young children and families as my career. I soon began teaching at the PACT Center and never stopped teaching after that. I held a variety of positions at The Children’s Center, including Parent Educator, Developmental Screener, Head Start and Early Head Start Home Visitor, Curriculum Development Specialist and a Preschool for All Teacher. These experiences have had a deep impact on my teaching career. While working as a Home Visitor, I learned to appreciate each child and to regard their individual family unit as the most influential component in their education. I believe that if I can provide quality information to parents about how their children are learning, then they can take that and run with it. I am a big proponent of providing information to parents on child development topics and the importance of early literacy experiences.

Are there any special projects that you are working on?
I am currently enrolled in the Early Childhood Technology Integration Mentors Program offered through the Archdiocese of Chicago Office of Catholic Schools and the TEC Center at the Erikson Institute along with my colleagues. This program’s emphasis is to bring technology into the early childhood grade levels Pre-K to 3rd grade and to show teachers different types of technology that can inspire the children in the classroom. Technology can take many forms; it is not only Smart Boards and iPads but can be the use of a microphone or a projected image.

When I complete this program, I will mentor other teachers at St. Leonard’s and integrate some of the amazing things I’ve learned into my Science curriculum.  The program gave each teacher a Snap Circuit Beginners set which I plan to use to teach the children about simple circuits.  The program also provided each teacher with HEX BUGs, which are vibrating devices that scurry along the floor or table like a centipede.  The idea is to challenge the students to create a maze using various items in the classrooms and see if they can get the HEX BUG to complete the maze.  This will help the student use STEM concepts to solve a problem.   I am also using iPads with the children in the classroom.  But in addition to running apps, I have the students taking pictures or recording their voice.  We are currently working on a book called Preschooler, Preschooler, Who Do You See?  Each student used the iPad to photograph a classmate.  The plan is to turn this book into an E-book for one of my Tech Mentor projects!

What are you passionate about?
HGTV! I love it. I love upcycling, which is reusing an object in a way that makes it more valuable than its original use. I usually take something that I find at a thrift store or garage sale and then repurpose it. One of my favorite projects was making a musical chair with the children in an Art Studio class that I taught at the PACT Center.  The seat was a drum and the back of the chair was a xylophone.  There were symbols and horns too.   What a fun piece to make!  Another one of my favorite projects was painting an end table with a chess board on top—I used a variety of salt and pepper shakers to make the chess pieces to go with it.    The challenge gets my creative juices flowing. I enjoy gardening, too, and have been a member of the St. Leonard Garden Club for about 12 years. I enjoy planting native perennials that attract birds and butterflies.

Nature has also always been a big passion of mine, one that spills over into the classroom.  I love digging in the dirt, turning over rocks to see what’s under them.  I enjoy introducing nature into the classroom in a way that nurtures the curiosity of the children.   Some students do not have experience interacting with backyard nature.   One of my lesson plans is to bring worms into the classroom and let the children observe them.  It is amazing that a few dozen worms from the bait store can create such excitement in the classroom!  We talk about how they move, what their covering is and how they help the earth.  It is remarkable to watch a student who is hesitant to even look in the direction of a worm, to then be holding it in their hand by the end of the day.

What is your fondest memory?
I have many fond memories of my childhood growing up in the Back-of-the-Yards neighborhood of Chicago. It seemed like we played all day, every day, outside. There were so many large families in my neighborhood that we could easily make teams for basketball, 16 inch softball (the only kind of softball), red rover and kick the can. I remember that everyone sat out on their front porches on summer nights.

I also have fond memories of fishing in Northern Wisconsin. I would go up with my brothers and friends and fish for musky, walleye and crappie. My favorite catch was my husband, who I met on one of these fishing trips. He was a keeper!

What is something new you learned or experienced?
Like many people, my New Year’s resolution was to eat better and to exercise! A couple of friends and I joined a drop-in Zumba class through the Berwyn Park District at the Liberty Center. The class has me moving in ways I never thought I could. It is hard work, but it’s a lot of fun.

What do you love about St. Leonard’s School?
I love the community-feel that St. Leonard’s gives off. I feel there is a commitment at St Leonard School to create an environment where children have opportunities for community service. Students not only learn lessons in our core curriculum areas but also the life lessons of sharing and caring for others. In preschool, the children are just starting to grasp these concepts.  To promote the concept of sharing, I introduce toys that encourage working together, like blocks, dramatic play, large puzzles, and water tables activities.  When two children want to play with the same toy, I try to help them figure out a solution, encouraging them to use their words to work it out.  I teach the students to treat others as they would like to be treated.

The St Leonard school and parish are involved in many programs that help the community as well.  These are great opportunities to teach caring lessons. For example, during Lent, the whole school participates in Operation Rice Bowl, which is a program that helps Catholics focus on sacrifice for their brothers and sisters around the globe.  In our class, we raise money and discuss how these funds can help address hunger and health problems of people in other countries.  Each week we discuss a specific family.  We may talk about a family in Ethiopia, for instance, whose farm is struggling because of drought.  We will find the country on the globe and discuss how water is important to grow crops.  Hopefully these lessons make the children think about how they can help people in their own community as well as around the world.

St. Leonard has a sense of home for me, too, because it has been my parish for the last 28 years. My children were baptized and made their first communion and confirmation at St Leonard Church. They also both attended and graduated from St Leonard School. I feel blessed to be able to teach here.

What sets it apart from other teaching experiences?
One of St. Leonard’s distinguishing factors is the feeling of community that the school provides. I really get to know the children and their families because I not only interact with them at school but also get to see them at the many St. Leonard Parish events like Blocktoberfest, Girl Scout Spaghetti Dinner, Boy Scout Pancake Breakfast and The Chance to Believe Dinner Dance.

St. Leonard School remains a preschool to 8th grade learning environment, which also contributes to the sense of community. I feel that this environment allows the older children to care for the younger children and recognize that they are role models. My preschoolers have 8th grade buddies who help them with a variety of learning and religious activities. They build a bond with their buddies. It is fun to see the preschoolers so excited to see their buddies when passing them in the hallways.

What is Catholic Schools Week?
For the past 43 years, National Catholic Schools Week has been an annual celebration of Catholic education in the United States. It begins on the last Sunday in January and runs all week (in 2017, it runs from January 29 through February 4). Catholic schools usually observe this celebration week with masses, open houses and other activities for students, families, parishioners and community members.

The theme for the National Catholic Schools Week 2017 is “Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service.” St. Leonard School definitely embodies these themes, especially when it comes to service. Being in a Catholic school enables community service to be incorporated into some of the lesson plans; for example, during Thanksgiving I spoke to my preschoolers about helping the hungry. Our class decorated a box and collected food donations for our St. Leonard food pantry.

How is St. Leonard School celebrating Catholic Schools Week?
On Sunday, January 29, St. Leonard School is having a special mass at 10 a.m. with an open house after mass to kick off Catholic School’s Week. Please stop by and take a tour of our classrooms and common areas, as well as meet with teachers and staff. Visit our Facebook event for more information!

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