Iola-Scandinavia Elementary School art teacher Jill Willems has won the Herb Kohl Educational Foundation Fellowship for 2014.
Educators are chosen for their ability to inspire a love of learning and motivate others, as well as for their leadership and service within and outside the classroom, according to the Kohl Foundation.
“I am extremely proud of Jill and grateful of all the positive things she contributes to our school district,” said District Administrator David Dyb. “I know from firsthand experience the application process takes a significant amount of time to complete in painting a reflective picture of your classroom and philosophy of teaching.”
“I believe that teaching must begin with passion,” said Willems. “I have always had a passion for children and for art. When you combine these two things, it provides the best basis for my career choice as an art educator.”
“My husband and I are both huge supporters of art programming in public schools,” said Jeannine Harbridge, an education aid at the school. “Jill has an enthusiasm and passion that goes above and beyond what is required, and teaching is more than just a ‘job’ to her. We feel fortunate to have her be a part of our children’s education. “
Willems, who is in her 24th year of teaching at Iola-Scandinavia, was nominated for the award by Elementary Principal Tess Lecy-Wojcik.
“Jill is an outstanding teacher who definitely deserved to win the award,” said Wojcik. “The beautiful artwork that her students produce demonstrates her skills as a teacher and also shows her dedication to the job. She gets the best out of her students.”
“It’s my job to encourage children to explore their creative selves. To provide a foundation of knowledge, skills and direction to help each student be successful,” Willems said. “When I foster enthusiasm, curiosity and a desire for self-expression, I have given the children necessary tools for learning to take place.”
“For students to discover their full potential, my program needs to be relevant and meaningful to the children’s lives and interests,” she said. “This develops intrinsic motivation and the stimulation necessary for student’s optimal learning and creative expression.”
She noted the importance of being a role model for her students as well.
“When I model professionalism, knowledge, enthusiasm, kindness and respect, it gives them confidence in me as their educator and provides the trust necessary for students to desire to perform well in my program.”
“If you were to visit my classroom you would see students that feel comfortable and are fully engaged in their work,” she said. “You would see (students) creating masterpieces while I guide them and help them share a piece of themselves and their creativity, with pride and enthusiasm.”
“Jill’s biggest asset is her positive attitude,” said Wojcik. “She is a quiet leader on the staff and all of us respect and like her.”
“Anytime a staff member is recognized as a Kohl Teaching Fellow it reflects positively throughout the entire staff and building,” said Dyb
“The most positive thing I see about education today is the dedication and quality of our teachers,” Willems said. “I would like to think our school is the rule and not the exception in the extreme caring and support our teachers offer students. Our teachers are in the roles they are because they love children and have a strong belief in a quality education.”
“The education children receive today is not the education my generation received,” she said. “Today’s education is much more rigorous and fosters more critical thinking and higher level reasoning skills. We are preparing students to enter a future ready for whatever roles that future demands. Students need more than to be taught a specific set of skills; they need to be able to think creatively and transfer knowledge.”
“I am very honored, to receive this award, but I am humbled by it as well,” said Willems. “I recognize that I work with many professionals every day that are equally worthy of this honor.”
The Kohl Foundation scholarship and fellowship program was established by retired U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl in 1990. To date the foundation has awarded $8.6 million to Wisconsin educators, students and schools.