Erin Luzadder was nominated by her principal, Gary Steiger.
Ms. Luzadder is a math teacher who brings her content to life and engages and motivates all students, from her developmental level students who struggle with math concepts, to her Advanced Placement students, and everyone in between. She consistently has 80% of her students scoring a 3 or higher on the AP exam and has used this expertise to help lead a new program within her building.
Over the past two years, Ms. Luzadder has worked to close opportunity gaps that existed between the various demographic groups and improve participation in AP or Dual Credit level classes.
"We have made significant gains, but Erin noted that many of our first time AP students didn't have the same level of support that our traditional AP students did," Steiger said. "She noted that they were not as likely to advocate for themselves, have a study buddy, or even a routine that would help them be successful in these challenging classes."
Ms. Luzadder jumped into action and created a first time AP scholars program, where students meet regularly to talk and share about their experiences in their classes. They also get an opportunity to meet with others who made this same journey and learn from their experiences. In addition, these students receive lessons in efficacy, note taking, organization, study skills and test taking strategies to assist them along the way. They form natural partnerships and cohorts of students, working together toward a common goal to help each other and see that there are others who are just like them experiencing the same journey.
Palatine is a minority majority school of roughly 2750 students in suburban Chicago, with over 52% of its population qualifying for free and reduced lunch. Like the rest of the country, these demographics have changed over the years, and Ms. Luzadder has been one of the teachers who has always been on the leading edge of seeing the needs of her students change.
Twenty years ago, she established a Team Mentoring program, where she paired students who were identified as at risk by the feeder schools to adult mentors at Palatine. She helped establish events and simple outings, from a lunch together at school to a group effort to assist families in need around the holidays. She paired these students with staff at school to get one more set of eyes on these students and one more caring and nurturing adult involved in their lives. This program continues to this day, and while it is hard to definitively measure its impact, most students were able to complete high school and earn a diploma.
Ms. Luzadder also established a new initiative a few years ago for students who were identified as having attendance issues that were interfering with their success. She helped organize and gather these students, working with administration to provide mentors both in and out of school, lessons and speakers, local employers, college representatives, former students and many more to speak to the students about the value of showing up regularly and on time. Some of her speakers were from similar disadvantaged backgrounds as the students in this group, but they were able to share their stories and remind these students that there are options and possibilities out there for them. The students set goals for their attendance and worked with their mentors to track and monitor their success and the impacts the change in their attendance had, not only at school, but at home and work, as well.
In addition to all of this, Ms. Luzadder is the lead faculty member of the daily homeroom program, which is a one of a kind program in her school district. In this daily homeroom period, students are assigned to a pair of teachers for their entire four year high school career.
"Typical stuff such as the pledge and announcements are taken care of through homeroom, but under Erin's leadership we have established video announcements, which has resulted in discussions of creating a new course in our district on broadcast journalism," Steiger said. "We have established a variety of lessons to enhance the school climate through the use of SWPBIS programing, school culture and climate lessons and anti-bullying messaging."
Programing is focused on each grade level - juniors and seniors receive timely information about college selections and scholarships, and freshmen receive information about school events that may be new to them, such as the traditions of and expectations of homecoming. Most importunately, students have two additional adults who are part of their daily lives and serve as mentors and advisors to them.
"Erin accomplishes all of this without accolades. Never once has she sought credit or any form of extra recognition for all that she does, because quite frankly, that is not why she does this. She is a LifeChanger in each and every way just by being who she is," Steiger said.