Monday, 24 April 2023 11:29

Presenting the finalists for the fourth annual St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Award

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We asked people from across the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois what Catholic teacher in our schools is making a big difference in the classroom? What teacher goes above and beyond, someone whose impact is deep and personal? What teacher authentically lives out what it means to be Catholic and instills our faith into his or her students? What teacher embodies St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, who founded Catholic schools in the United States?

The Office for Catholic Schools and Office for Communications for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, organizers of the award, received nearly 100 nominations from all across the diocese from principals, teachers, parents, priests, previous students, and current students this year. Nominations were reviewed by the Office for Catholic Education who then narrowed the list to five finalists, which Catholic Times presents in this edition along with quotes taken from nomination forms. Catholic Times will reveal the winner of the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Award in the May 28 edition. Thank you to everyone who submitted a nomination and thank you to all our teachers for their hard work and dedication! 

Andrea Raskie Christ the KingAndrea Raskie 
Christ the King School - Springfield 
First grade

Ms. Raskie has gone over and beyond to show my children she cares about them, not just as a student, but as a person in this world. She smiles and says “hello” to all of my children whether at school or at Mass. She is always willing to give a hug and an encouraging word to anyone who asks. My two children she taught are on the autism spectrum and they attend ASA and social skills therapy four days a week. Andrea asked to spend an evening with them at their clinic to get a better understanding of what they do and gain knowledge to better assist them in her classroom. She has also gone out of her way to attend my children's ballet performances, while also bringing them a small gift of congratulations.

Most recently, Ms. Raskie volunteered to assist me with helping my daughter gain independence at home during her morning before-school routine. Ms. Raskie met with me to determine five specific tasks that my daughter must complete in order to earn a ticket. My daughter then brings those tickets to school and earns a chance to play a game where she receives a reward. Poof... just like that, my daughter gets dressed by herself without any help from mom or dad!

Andrea has given my husband and I the greatest sense of ease that our children are cared for and educated both spiritually and academically at a level that is far superior than most. We thank God she has taken the time to get to know our family, so she is better able to lead our children through first grade.

- Amy Zock, parent of student

I asked my children to tell me about Ms. Raskie with a focus on how they felt in her classroom. There was an overwhelming theme of safety, security, and love. My oldest Dylan, 14, shared, "I felt so welcomed in her classroom, and she still makes me feel that way. She is so outgoing and patient, and really knows how to handle all kinds of different kids." Stella, who is about to turn 13, responded by saying, "She is super gentle and kind to all her ‘littles.’ She always made me feel safe and special." My youngest, Harper, 8, couldn't stop telling stories of how she always took care of her. She told me how she is "really calm and nice." She said, "I always felt safe and happy, and she treated me like I was one of her own children."

Every day I'm in the building, I witness other children flourishing under her love and care. When I am in her classroom, I too, feel safe. She is approachable and compassionate, and I have never seen her turn away from anyone in need. She is the first to offer help and expertise. Whether it be with her students, colleagues, or families, Andrea is selfless with her time. She truly wants to help others be the best they can.

Andrea is an active participant in the life of the Church. She is devout in her practicing and is genuinely happy to see her students at Mass. She seeks to integrate Catholic values in all her teachings in the classroom as well. She recognizes the dignity and value in each and every one of her students and adapts her environment to help each one of them be successful. She understands diversity in learning and utilizes a range of teaching strategies, styles, and technologies to reach all her students. She recognizes them each as a unique child of God and is able to embrace them for both their strengths and weaknesses. She truly goes above and beyond to see the very best in each and every one of her students.

  • Kristen Clow, colleague 

Dawn Caveny St. AgnesDawn Caveny
St. Agnes School - Springfield

I met Mrs. Caveny almost 30 years ago when I was a student at St. Agnes. At the time, she was a recess monitor, and her son was in my class. I always remember she was very positive, energetic, kind, and always had a smile on her face. She and her family were always at Mass on Saturday or Sunday, and it was apparent that faith was a key aspect of her life. This dedication left a lasting impression on me. Her husband, Mike, was my basketball coach throughout grade school, and Mrs. Caveny was always present to support the team and her son who was also on the team. Years later, Mrs. Caveny became a resource teacher for my daughter Juliane (currently in fifth grade). I could not think of a better person to teach Juliane. Juliane is very smart, but sometimes lacks confidence and requires additional time and instruction to understand a concept. Mrs. Caveny took Juliane under her wing and has helped Juliane to excel socially and academically. Mrs. Caveny seems to have transferred her confidence and positivity to Juliane, and I cannot think of a better role model for my daughter. Mrs. Caveny has made a lasting impact on my life and that of my child. Her dedication to Catholicism and Catholic education is inspirational, and I believe that Mrs. Caveny is an exemplary example of focus and commitment to the Catholic mission. 

  • John Hall, parent of student

Dawn Caveny has impacted my life and the lives of my students. She reads tests to my struggling readers or reads to those who need the quiet and safe atmosphere of her classroom. She will work to develop the students’ test-taking strategies, and I have seen firsthand how those students have grown in confidence and skill. She is flexible with her schedule to help and accommodate those students who need her. She pops into my classroom as well as other classrooms in the intermediate grades. She will notice students that may be struggling with the day’s lesson or need a gentle reminder to refocus. Sometimes her quiet voice is all it takes when she passes by a student.

The thing that is most amazing is the time she gives to students after school. She will work with students on her own time to see them succeed. After students have moved to the upper grades, she still likes to check in with them to see how they are doing. Dawn truly is outstanding to her commitment to the parish, the school, and our students. 

  • Cindy Metz, colleague 

Debbie Adams Blessed SacramentDeborah Adams
Blessed Sacrament School - Springfield

If there is one person in my life who taught me the value and importance of a Catholic education, who believed in the sacrifices it required, and the benefits it bestowed on you, it was my mother, Debbie Adams. My mother has been a Catholic educator since her first year of teaching and is currently serving her 43rd year as a classroom teacher. In talking to her former students and parents of the kids she's taught over the last four decades, the impact she has made on our parish community and the larger Springfield community is undeniable.

My parents always encouraged their children to follow their dreams and to walk the path that God has laid out for them. I see this witness in my mom every day. Walking into her classroom, even as an adult, is like walking into the heart of who my mom is. It is the epitome of a place that is kind, welcoming, cheerful, colorful, and open to all who enter. There are books to read and art projects on display. She will pause everything if someone is in need. She has patience for a thousand questions from curious 4-year-olds every day of the school year. She will stay late to meet with parents and will come in early to lead staff prayer. She has welcomed the technological advances over the last 20 years in her classroom with an understanding of how the generations she is teaching will embrace the world around them.

Mrs. Adams is retiring at the end of this school year, knowing that the legacy that she leaves behind is one of students who love to learn and who love God. I am so lucky to have my life be as impacted as I have with her as my mother, and it has been a joy to share her love with the students that she has taught.

  • Courtney Adams, family member

In Debbie’s 43 years of being a Catholic school educator, she has positively impacted more lives than we can count. As her colleague for four of those years, I witnessed Debbie’s never-ending passion for her students, her teaching, and her own learning. She was constantly looking for new and better ways to teach, materials to use, and ways to engage her students. 

As a co-worker, Debbie was the first to volunteer for new activities, trials, and needs. After 29 years as a kindergarten teacher at our school, Debbie requested to move to PreK so that she could help our youngest students as they first entered school. It was a natural shift for her but still required new learning on her part, nonetheless. Then when the COVID shutdown occurred, Debbie did not miss a beat in figuring out ways to reach her students at home. She stretched herself to new limits by sending materials home, creating videos of herself, and reaching out to support parents in every way she could. 

Debbie Adams demonstrates leadership among her colleagues and often mentors new teachers. She participates in many committees, volunteers for parish events, and has introduced new curriculum materials to her school. After attending conferences, she often shares her learning with colleagues and implements new ideas within her classroom. She also brings her faith into all aspects of her teaching, which becomes infectious to those around her. Debbie Adams nurtures her students, giving them the foundation for learning, socializing, and growing in their faith. Every individual student holds a special place in Debbie’s heart, and she works tirelessly for them. Debbie truly gets to know all those in her life and shares her love with them, so it is no wonder that former students bring their own children back to BSS to be in Mrs. Adams’ class.  

  • Dawn Klinner, colleague

Lisa Evans St. Francis Holy GhostLisa Evans
St. Francis-Holy Ghost School - Jerseyville
Fourth grade

My son had Mrs. Evans during the 2019-2020 school year. As a boy, he never spoke much about his teachers, but loved school and always enjoyed learning. Once he became a student in Mrs. Evans classroom, he began to come home and share what he had learned in her room daily. He claimed all year (and still to this day) that his best teacher was Mrs. Evans. He talked about her fun daily geography or religion questions and how they would get to pick a religion trinket out of her treasure box. Her personality, strong faith, and love for students shined through that entire year. Even when COVID struck, she kept a strong communication with her students and families. We all grew to be a part of her family.

Fast forward a few years later, and my daughter is now a student in her class. Mrs. Evans still possesses such a strong love for the Catholic faith, a desire to make her students want to learn, and that same family atmosphere that we had experienced before. My kids want to do well for her, and they cannot say enough good things about her teaching and her relationship with them individually. She attends student events outside of school and always has a kind thing to say about my children anytime I run into her. She is a true example of a Catholic and an excellent and influential educator.

  • Heather Goetten, parent of student

Lisa Evans is without a doubt the kindest and most caring teacher I have ever come in contact with. Whether as a parent, colleague, or collaborator, I can say without fear of contradiction that Mrs. Evans is the very best in her profession! Our daughter is in her class this year, and Lisa has not only gone out of her way to ensure that Ellie has had a great year learning not only about religion but has had a great year learning about herself most importantly as a Christian, and as a person as well. Mrs. Evans makes sure that each of her students learn about God through her daily classroom activities, but most importantly for a diocesan teacher, Mrs. Evans ensures that each of her students experience God's love for them through her every action. She mirrors Christ's teachings in her work and in her life.

We always see both Mr. and Mrs. Evans at Mass on Sunday. She always stops to say “hello” and ask how we are, and she knows each of our children by name, even though our younger two sons have not attended fourth grade yet! This is extraordinary and a true indicator that Mrs. Evans does not feel that she has to be a teacher at Holy Ghost because she has no other option; instead, she clearly feels that she teaches because that is the best and only option, as her calling and vocation from God Himself! In doing so, and in doing so with such caring and love, she is personally shaping her fourth-grade students in their own journeys through faith and through life. 

  • Kevin McNicholas, parent of student

Lydia Spillman St. Francis SolanusLydia Spillman
St. Francis Solanus - Quincy 

Mrs. Spillman goes above and beyond to bring her grade 6-8 students to an encounter with Jesus Christ. She brings her students to weekly adoration, which they have grown to love. She gives them time for Lectio Divina. She leads them in Bible study with the Word on Fire Gospels by Bishop Robert Barron. She is guiding them to study the meaning of signs and symbols in church architecture, by designing their own church building on paper. They completed saint projects on American saints, many of them recent martyrs of the Cristero War. She uses a good balance of textbook, technology, and great books. She is kind and loving. I have had multiple parents tell me what a difference Mrs. Spillman has made in their children's faith lives. One mom asked me questions at the parish office for an hour, wanting to learn for herself what her son had learned from Mrs. Spillman about senses of Scripture.

  • Liz Alonzo, colleague

Though Lydia Spillman has only been teaching at St. Francis Solanus School for two years, she has made a tremendous impact on her sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade student’s Catholic faith formation. Lydia is a peaceful, quiet, loving, Christ-seeking, and devoted teacher. Her fellow teachers and her students enjoy working with her.

Lydia does many projects in religion classes that encourage tween and teens to learn more about their Catholic faith. Lydia coordinated with a language arts teacher, Rochelle Neuman, to have students research a saint, write a paper on that saint, and place three things that represent the saint in a brown paper sack. The students then give presentations on their saints, including telling about the objects in the sack so their classmates will learn more about many saints. Eucharistic adoration was added to the school day once a week. Lydia was quick to instruct her students about the importance and beauty of spending time with Jesus. They model this for the younger students at our school. She helps with various committees at school, especially ones that involve service and faith formation. Lydia is carefully planning the eighth-grade graduation Mass around a Bible verse with students’ help. She has helped her sixth-grade students develop a relationship with their partner class of first-graders. Lydia is open to new ideas in the school and classroom. She is willing to carry on the traditions of the school. She is an asset to our school.

Lydia's devotion to the Catholic faith goes beyond the school day. Lydia and her husband, David, lead the Liturgy of the Hours at church on Sunday evenings. Lydia and David help with the church youth group. Lydia is an extraordinary minister of the holy Eucharist. St. Francis Solanus School is blessed to have Lydia Spillman as a teacher on our staff. 

Julie Radel, principal