Loyola grad wins Golden Apple award
By Kelsey Cheng | Student reporter
A decade ago, Monica Prinz was working as an occupational hand therapist. She enjoyed her job and loved helping others, but she often wondered if she had missed her true calling.
So she decided to get her master’s degree in education at Loyola—and today she’s one of the best school teachers in the Chicago area.
Prinz (MEd ’06), who teaches first grade at Gillespie Elementary School on Chicago’s South Side, recently received a Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching. The award is given to roughly a dozen outstanding teachers each year for their efforts in educating under-served students. This year’s recipients were selected from a pool of more than 600 applicants.
As the daughter of a teacher, Prinz knows how important quality educators are in the lives of young children. And she also knows how important her Loyola degree was in helping her succeed in her new career.
“Loyola gave me a really good foundation,” she said. “It was more than just theories.”
Here, she talks about her father’s influence and inspiration, the importance of giving back to the community, and why she loves growing vegetables with her students.
Where did you begin your career?
I grew up in a suburb of Milwaukee, in Wauwatosa, and I went to the local public school. In high school I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. One of my friends said, “Oh, you have to go to college.” She convinced me to go to college, without really knowing what I wanted to do. I graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and became an occupational therapist.
What led you to switching professions?
My husband was in Chicago, so I decided to move. I was working on the North Side of the city as a certified hand therapist. I really enjoyed doing that, but I always felt like there was a certain level of teaching that I was doing with my patients—and I thought maybe I missed my calling to become a teacher. That’s when I decided to look into teaching and found Loyola.
How did you decide to attend Loyola?
I felt Loyola had a really good philosophy on education. What stuck out to me was service and social justice. I have kids myself who are in Chicago Pubic Schools and some of the differences I noticed stem from having a school where families are engaged. It is really hard to compare that to some of the neighborhood schools. Loyola’s emphasis on social justice and equity among different schools and people living within the same community stood out to me.
Do you have someone or something that is a source of inspiration?
My father was a teacher. He passed away recently, but one of the things that touched me was that his previous students remembered him and shared how he impacted their lives.
Have you had previous students come back and share the impact you had on them?
There are eighth-graders at the school that I taught years before, and they came to my classroom when I won the Golden Apple. They were so excited and were screaming, “We won! We won!” It’s gratifying to have them come back and celebrate and talk to me.
Talk a little about some of the programs you’ve brought to the classroom.
My latest project has been integrating technology and creating a blended learning classroom. I feel that it is really important to expose children at an early age to technology because it so integral to our everyday fabric of life. We also received a grant for gardening. We have a few gardens at the school, and they help students understand the life cycle of plants and where our food comes from. Today we just went out and planted, and in a couple weeks I’m hoping we get some crops to make a salad.
You lead through an engaged classroom. Did you have a similar experience at Loyola?
We did a clinical, and I really enjoyed that experience of having my professors guide me throughout the classrooms. I remember in my math class we went over different activities and skills and the same thing for my reading. I had classes that helped connect social trends to science and how to really bring it to life, which was really important. It was a strong basis for my career. It built a great repertoire for a starting teacher.
How have things changed since you first started teaching?
When I started there was a new principal—also a Loyola graduate (Michelle Willis)—who came in, and there has been a lot of program development since. She was the right leader, with the right attitude, and the right people. I am not working in isolation; I am working with a lot of other wonderful teachers on other programs because there are a lot of other talented and engaging teachers at Gillespie.
What is the one thing you hope every Loyola student walks away with?
A commitment to serve and give back to your community. I think it is so important that you give back.