Julie Ahern was nominated by an anonymous parent of a student. This is the sixth year Ms. Ahern has been nominated for this award. She has been nominated each school year since 2013-14.
Why is Ms. Ahern a LifeChanger in her community? She is a creative and inspiring educator who makes magical things happen!
"I would describe Julie as a cross between Buddha and a prize winning fighter," said her nominator. "She is calm and soft spoken but has the dogged tenacity of a seasoned athlete who is determined to go the distance for her students and her school."
Armed with a velvet lined sense of urgency and drive, Ms. Ahern skillfully directs her students, year after year, towards opportunities of tremendous growth and success. At the same time, she hungrily searches for ways to supplement her district’s very limited budget and educational resources by winning multiple grants and contests for her school and students, while encouraging her peers to do the same.
"I first met Julie Ahern when my oldest son was in her second grade classroom," her nominator explained. "He was a shy and contemplative soul who tended to blend in with the wallpaper. Julie, a talented artist in her right, immediately noticed that he was quite a good drawer. She approached us about him entering a national art contest. She put no pressure on him but cleverly suggested that there was no harm in entering a contest. My son, who says “no” to everything, decided to give it a go."
It's not hard to figure out what happened next. Her nominator's son won the national contest, not once, but twice, and the entire school was treated to two unforgettable authors’ visits. These visits were so celebrated beyond the confines of the school that they brought a much needed sense of pride to the entire city.
"What a wonderful message: children in Waukegan can be first place winners too," said the nominator. "My son never would have entered, nor would he ever have won any of these national contests, had it not been for Julie Ahern. She seamlessly orchestrates magical moments and continues to inspire each new group of students before her to take risks and to dream big!"
Waukegan is a town rich in history, but extremely limited in its financial resources. Ms. Ahern fundamentally understands that finding ways to supplement her classroom is critical to bridging the ever widening gap between different socioeconomic communities. Ms. Ahern has won a myriad of grants and contests, raising not only much needed money for her school, but also cutting edge resources for her classroom. She was the first at her school to bring in iPads and 3-D printers so that her students could see firsthand the latest technology. She not only understands how important creativity and problem solving are to the future success of her students, but how invaluable technological literacy is.
Ms. Ahern knows that the only way Waukegan students can compete on the future global stage is through familiarity with cyberspace and current technology. Her tremendous success securing educational grants and winning contests has inspired her peers to do the same. Several of her peers have started entering contests and have found success as well. Through Ms. Ahern's leading example, Cooke Magnet teachers have been able to supplement their classrooms and the antiquated school building itself with greatly needed educational tools and improvements.