I don’t often identify myself here on ToltonCenter.com but my name is Emily Arvizu and I am the voice behind this blog (as well as our Facebook page and our Twitter account). Generally, I write about our experiences at Tolton in the 1st person plural, as “we.” As in: “We love taking field trips!” and “We’re excited for this training!” and “We thank you!”. But today, I wanted to share something from me, personally.
I came to Tolton Center seven years ago as part of a volunteer organization called Mission Year. I had graduated with a degree in Elementary Education and Latin American Studies and wanted to do something different for a year before returning to the East Coast to put that degree to use. So I came out to Chicago and bumped into Tolton Center at Legler Library. I began volunteering about thirty hours a week and soon fell in love. With the students. With the positive atmosphere. But most of all, with the staff.
When I finished my year-long volunteer program, I faced a decision: to stay on with Tolton Center or to return home to the life I had planned to live as an elementary teacher.
I remember talking on the phone with my mom one night. As we talked, I realized my decision had already been made. I told her, “Mom, what 22 year old has a job that they truly, truly love?” And with that, I stayed.
Seven years later, I’m still in Chicago. I stay for many reasons, but one of the biggest is the work I do at Tolton. I still love my students. I still love the positive atmosphere. And above all, I still love this staff.
In the years that I’ve been here, I have had the absolute privilege of working alongside Mary Ellen Lesniak. With her guidance, her patience, and her incredible passion I have become a good teacher. From her, I have learned the importance of a student-centered classroom built upon a foundation of community. A classroom where the students speak far more than the teacher. Where everyone supports each other. Where students walk to class together and leave together as well. Where barriers to education are addressed and human needs are met. A classroom where “Everyone teaches and everyone learns.”
Mary Ellen has continually taught me that an excellent leader leads by example and that an excellent leader always says “Thank you.” While this account is my own personal experience, I know that my other co-workers would agree, that Mary Ellen is their biggest fan and best source of support. She sees something in each of us and encourages that in us until we begin to see it ourselves. When I was only 22 years old, fresh out of college with no idea what I was doing, she saw something in me and mentored me into the teacher I am now.
It is no surprise to me at all that Mary Ellen was selected as Toyota’s Runner-up Teacher of the Year. The way I feel as Mary Ellen’s co-worker is the very same way students feel in her classroom: Welcomed. Appreciated. Supported. And cared for. Mary Ellen has devoted so much time and energy to her work at Tolton Center and I am so pleased to see her being recognized. Mary Ellen will tell you that it is not she who is being recognized, it is the program. But it is Mary Ellen, and so many other dedicated staff members, who have made this program what it is.
So I hope you will join me in congratulating Mary Ellen for this incredible award. I hope you’ll thank her for her hard work and I hope you’ll give her a hug when you see her next.
I’d love for anyone to leave a comment here and tell us your favorite Mary Ellen stories. Or perhaps leave a comment on our Facebook page to congratulate her! (To do so, click here
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this and for supporting Tolton’s work!