First look: Getting to know Conant’s new teachers and administrators
What will you remember when you think back to your years at Conant? No one is going to say they learned what the powerhouse of the cell is. What students will recall instead is the ways they were impacted by the adults they met and had as teachers and administrators. The Crier interviewed six new additions to Conant’s faculty this year to see exactly who it is that shapes our high school years.
Justin Onayemi (Assistant Principal of the White Team Office)
Crier: What do you think has been your favorite experience so far?
Onayemi: When I was here for the incoming freshmen picnic, I thought that it was clear that the upperclassmen who came were there in a way of support; it was nice to see that. Just as how I felt so welcomed by everybody, is how the freshmen were received as well, which to me says that there’s a good environment at this school.
Crier: You told me that you were impressed with the welcoming atmosphere in the team room, but besides that, how else did Conant meet your expectations?
Onayemi: I try not to enter new experiences with preconceived notions in my mind. I have definitely heard things about Conant because I worked in the district. I didn’t try to come in with an idea of “Oh, Conant is like this,” or “Conant will be like this” because I don’t like to have other people determine what I am going to experience. It seems like there’s a lot of school spirit, which I think is a great thing. So far, I’ve had good experiences.
Crier: In your position, do you interact with students a lot?
Onayemi: I love to interact with students, but with my position comes this idea that if you’re talking to the administrator, you’re in trouble. I would love to be in conversations just about students’ well-being… I don’t want to feel like the only time I’m seeing kids is when they’re in trouble. I’m hoping through our conversation, we’re preventing problems.
Jeannette Ardell (Assistant Principal of the Red Team Office)
Crier: What would you say is your favorite part about the Conant experience so far?
Ardell: What stuck out in my mind the most is just how welcoming the Conant population is. From the beginning, having so many staff members reach out to me that I hadn’t even met yet made me feel welcome here. Then, when I was able to step foot in and start meeting the students, I was really just thrilled to see all the different students and what great characters they have.
Crier: What would be the thing you want students to know most about you?
Ardell: I would want them to know I’m approachable; if they see me in the hallways, they see me at events, feel comfortable to stop and introduce themselves and know that I want to learn more about the culture and the community here. I want to get to know all of our students.
Crier: Is there anything else you would like to share?
Ardell: I am really excited to be here; I feel fortunate to have this position and I really have been excited to come to work. Every day I leave, I think “Wow, that was such a great day that I had.” I’m looking forward to learning because I’m new to the position and I feel really proud to be here at Conant.
Katherine Apperson (English Teacher)
Crier: Would you tell me a little about your position here at Conant?
Apperson: I teach two freshmen classes and two sophomore classes, as well as help with directing the musical and spring show.
Crier: What would you say is your funniest experience here?
Apperson: Well, I’ve got two students that want me to dab every single day, so that’s fun. I can’t even pick a specific instance. My classes surprise me every single day; they’re lively until I actually want to have a discussion on material, and then they’re much more calm.
Crier: Is there something you want to see Conant’s theater program implement here?
Apperson: I would like to have drama classes. That’s a big goal of mine. I want to have students that are interested in theatrical productions to have an actual class period to devote to learning auditioning skills, basic theatrical skills, and the technical side of productions. It’s great that we have such a thriving after school program, but I would really like to see the classroom side of things.
Zia Nathan (English Teacher)
Crier: What do you enjoy the most about being at Conant?
Nathan: I love the people I work with. I have a really great team of people in the English department who have been really helpful. I also love the students here; I get to see all types of kids from different communities and different backgrounds.
Crier: What has been the best experience here so far?
Nathan: Some of the best experiences I’ve had were just with the students. I felt really connected to the class. It means a lot that there are students who stay after class for extra help or even to talk and tell me about what’s going on in their lives.
Crier: What would you say you want students to get the most out of your class?
Nathan: Just growth. I would like to see them look at where they’re at and just compare themselves to their earlier selves. If a student’s bad with public speaking, instead of doing it in front of the class, I have him/her bring a friend and practice with me and his/her friend. Later, we kind of grow the audience and eventually present in front of the class.
Austin Sobey (Counselor for Red Team Office)
Crier: What has been the best experience here so far?
Sobey: When Mr. Song said, “What’s up Mr. Sushi” in the hallway and I was craving it the rest of the day. Then, I actually got sushi for lunch.
Crier: What made you choose to be a counselor?
Sobey: I experienced a lot of struggles growing up and in high school, and one of my best support systems was my counselor. He was one of the few people who realized there’s life beyond the academic classroom.
Crier: When students come, what is the one thing you hope they take away from their time talking to you?
Sobey: Don’t be afraid to be who you are. High school can be a very intimidating place. It’s a time to discover your identity and who you want to be, start building those morals, and those ethics of the person you want to become.
Vicky Wierec (Math teacher)
Crier: What is your educational background, and what classes do you teach?
Wierec: This year, I am teaching Algebra 1 and Geometry. I went to U of I for my undergraduate and Northwestern for my master’s. I actually have a degree in civil engineering and worked as an engineer for five years.
Crier: So, what made you want to become a teacher?
Wierec: I’ve always wanted to teach. I went into engineering because it was a challenge for me, and my dad, my mentor, is an engineer. I was good at math and STEM, but every job after college wasn’t a good match for me and I came back to teaching. I’ve been doing it for two years, and this is my first at Conant.
Crier: How do you like it at Conant so far, and what is an interesting memory you made?
Wierec: I think the students and staff are wonderful, and everyone is so passionate about what they do. I just went to the football game, and the Cougar Crazies were so cool. I was passing by when the streamers were being thrown, and I was amazed at the amount school spirit. The halftime show with the cheerleaders and band was also very impressive.
Crier: What’s one thing you want your students to take from your class?
Wierec: I would hope that students will start to enjoy math and see the value of math around them. I want to help students become more passionate and enjoy class.