By Colleen Lehmann
The 2014-15 school year has just barely gotten underway, and kindergarteners/fifth graders/freshmen aren’t the only ones traversing new ground. Tuscola Community Unit School District 301 is, as of this writing, welcoming eight new teachers to the fold, with another position yet to be filled.
“July and August can sometimes be a scramble for school districts, trying to fill positions, but this year has been unusual in that there were this many openings. In talking with area colleagues, it seems to be happening all around us as well,” said Supt. of Schools Michael Smith, just before conducting new teacher orientation Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014 at East Prairie Middle School.
Two of the eight new instructors are no strangers to town—as Emily Groves and Megan (Watts) Price both graduated from TCHS. Another new instructor, Lydia Benson, has served as TCHS volleyball coach before accepting the high school P.E. job. Below is a brief introduction to the new-to-Tuscola educators.
•Emily Groves—North Ward kindergarten teacher
Emily Groves, age 22, of Tuscola, is a 2010 Tuscola High School graduate, and earned a B.S. in elementary education from Eastern Illinois University in May 2014. The first-year teacher is the daughter of Fred (Hank) and Denise Groves of Tuscola.
Groves gave the following reasons for her interest in applying for a job in Tuscola School District.
“As someone who was born and raised in Tuscola, I love this community with my whole heart. As a student, this district made learning such a joy, and I am truly blessed to be able to give back to such an amazing school district by coming back as a teacher.”
Asked to describe her teaching philosophy, she responded, “I believe that each child is a special and unique individual. My goal is to support each child to reach their fullest potential while providing them with an environment that is safe, invites sharing of ideas, and promotes curiosity.”
Groves is a member of Kappa Delta Pi, an international education honors society. She is a co-director of the Miss Tuscola pageant, and directs the AWANA children’s program at First Christian Church of Tuscola.
Regarding interests and hobbies, Groves said she loves hunting and fishing with her parents, organizing everything, and cheering on the Tuscola Warriors.
•Megan Price—North Ward/TCHS special education teacher
Megan Price, 28, of Tuscola, is a 2004 Tuscola High School graduate, and earned a B.S. in special education from Eastern Illinois University in 2009. She and husband Brandon Price have a son, Grayson. Her parents are Darren and Jackie Stenger, and siblings include Kyle and Logan Stenger, and Melissa Sanders.
Price brings five years’ teaching experience to her new position. She worked at TCHS during the 2009-10 school year, at Hope Academy in Decatur the following year, Monticello High School in 2011-12, and the past two years she was employed at Thomas Paine Elementary in Urbana.
Price approaches her career with the belief that “every student deserves a quality education that best fits their needs and ambitions,” and was excited to apply for and be offered the Tuscola position because “there is something special about teaching where you grew up and graduated from.”
Outside the classroom, Price enjoys reading, scrapbooking, spending time with her son, and shopping.
•Lydia Benson—Tuscola High School P.E., TCHS/EP volleyball coach
Lydia Benson, 34, of Charleston, is an Arthur High School graduate, Class of 1998. She went on to earn both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Eastern Illinois University.
Before her recent hiring at Tuscola, Benson taught for three years at Plano High School, and seven years at Arcola High School. The teaching philosophy she embraced at each assignment was to “keep students physically active and teach them how to have a healthy lifestyle.”
Having the opportunity to teach and coach in the same district was the primary reason for Benson applying to Tuscola. For the last two years she has taught in Arcola and coached in Tuscola.
Asked about hobbies and interests, Benson responded, “I like playing and watching sports. I love to run, play basketball, and I love the St. Louis Cardinals.”
•Alicia Mullen—North Ward music teacher
Alicia Mullen, 24, of Tuscola, who grew up in Toluca, is the daughter of Pattie Peterson and Glenn Mullen. She is a Class of 2008 graduate of Fieldcrest High School in Minonk, and earned a bachelor’s degree in music education from Greenville College, first attending Northern Illinois University for two years.
This is Mullen’s first year of teaching, but other work experience has included employment with Love’s Travel Stops in Greenville, Mona’s Italian Restaurant in Toluca, and Limited Brands in Bloomington.
She saw the Tuscola job posting online, noting, “As soon as I started researching the school I knew it would be a great place to work.”
Mullen says her teaching philosophy embraces the saying that “People may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel,” and added, “I would like to give the gift of music to each child that I can. It helps people in ways other academics do not.”
Mullen’s time outside the classroom is spent playing in bands of all types—worship, jazz, and rock—enjoying time with her family, and watching movies.
•Sarah Pfleging—District speech-language pathologist
Sarah Pfleging, 25, of Charleston, grew up in West Terre Haute, Ind., and graduated in 2007 from West Vigo High School. She earned two degrees from Eastern Illinois University, a B.S. in 2011 and an M.S. in 2013.
Pfleging is engaged to Shaun Vester, and other family includes mom MaryAnn Pfleging, sister Katie, brother Jay, brother-in-law Travis, nieces Renee and Gracie, and nephew Levi.
She previously worked as a SLP for Westville CUSD #2, and is a member of the American Speech-Language Hearing Association.
Pfleging’s teaching philosophy includes “treating each child as an individual and developing my therapy to their needs. I try to bring in a lot of visual cues and movement into my therapy sessions to help my students attach the information I am teaching and for them to have fun.”
Pfleging and her fiancée recently moved to Charleston for his job at Coles County Regional Planning and Development Commission. Teaching in Tuscola is an ideal situation, she says, because “we both love this area and I wanted to work closer to home. I am so excited to get the opportunity to work with the student and staff at Tuscola CUSD #301.”
Pfleging describes herself as an animal person, and when not working she loves being outside, riding horses, walking her dogs, and camping and hiking with her family.
•Doug Robinson—TCHS business teacher/FBLA advisor/TCHS cross country coach
Doug Robinson, 31, of Urbana, is a Taylorville native who graduated from Taylorville High School in 2001. He earned a bachelor’s degree in business marketing and business education from Eastern Illinois University.
Asked to characterize his teaching philosophy, Robinson said he “believes in an organized and focused classroom. Students will be well prepared for all assessments.”
He spent the last five years applying those principles at Oakwood High School, where he taught business and computer education. He also coached the boys basketball team and boys and girls cross country squads.
Robinson was interested in the Tuscola teaching job because “I have heard great things about this district. It is great to see how the community supports the local schools. I’m excited to be a part of it.”
Robinson’s non-work hours are spent with his wife, Brandy, and they are looking forward to the birth of their son Dax in September. He also enjoys playing guitar, fishing, and playing basketball, and is very involved with his church in Urbana.
Megan Peters—North Ward special education teacher (K-2)
Megan Peters, 26, lives in Atwood with her husband, Mike, 9-month-old daughter Harper, and two dogs. She is the daughter of Allen and Lynnette Reeder of Atwood.
Peters graduated from Atwood Hammond High School in 2006. She went to Eastern Illinois University, graduating in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, and also earned a teacher’s certification in special education from Eastern in 2012. For the past two years she worked as a special education teacher at Stratton Elementary in Champaign, and has also worked as an aide and substituted at Unity East in Philo.
“I wanted to become a teacher to have the opportunity to have a positive impact on students’ lives. I want to help them achieve their potential and have a positive learning experience. I chose special education because I really enjoyed being able to incorporate all the different therapies into one setting. I love working with kids and helping them be successful,” says Peters.
She applied to Tuscola School District because, “I was looking for a school that was closer to my home. I want to be involved in the community and after-school activities. I didn’t feel like I could do that living so far from my previous teaching position. I also really wanted to be in a smaller district with more community involvement. I am really excited to be in this setting.”
Peters’ hobbies and interests, aside from watching her daughter grow and develop, include reading, traveling, cake decorating, and photography.
•Hayley Adams—EP and TCHS art teacher
Hayley Adams, age 25, a soon-to-be Tuscola resident, is a 2007 Harrisburg High School graduate. She earned an associate’s degree in arts from Southeastern Illinois Community College in 2009, and in 2012 earned a BFA in art education from Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Her parents, brother and his family live in southern Illinois.
“This is my first year teaching, and I am so happy to be given this opportunity at Tuscola,” says Adams. “I see that this is a community that values the arts, and I love that I will get to share my passion for art with such a wide range of kids.”
Adams keeps busy outside the classroom by painting, reading, watching movies and anime, cooking, hiking, kayaking, swimming, and having adventures.