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Award-Winning Science Teacher Puts Kids' Life Development First

By Chloe Riley | January 13, 2014 6:38am
 Castellanos teacher Ashley Frantzen was awarded Best New Illinois Science Teacher of the Year.
Ashley Frantzen
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LITTLE VILLAGE — Under science teacher Ashley Frantzen’s desk, there is a neon-colored sign that reads, “You are the leader of your life.”

While teaching students the nitty gritty of science is important, making sure students are equipped to make tough choices in their lives is even more crucial, Frantzen said.

“I tell them, ‘Be confident in your answers and in your choices.’ And it’s OK if you’re by yourself at the end of the day if you made the right choices,” she said.

Frantzen, who teaches seventh grade science at Rosario Castellanos Elementary in Little Village, was awarded Best New Science Teacher of the Year in 2013 by the Illinois Science Teachers Association.

Frantzen, who grew up in Aurora, originally thought she wanted to go into nursing school.

But after her dad suffered a serious brain injury six years ago, the 26-year-old teacher said she knew nursing was not for her.

“It was a blessing in disguise, I guess. We’re so lucky everything worked out, and at the same time it kind of helped me and guided me on my career choice,” she said.

Frantzen, who went on to finish her undergrad and masters in Education at Aurora University, is now in her fourth year teaching at Castellanos.

Support from the school’s principal Virginia Jimenez has been invaluable, according to Frantzen. In addition, a partnership Castellanos has with Loyola University provides Frantzen with intensive coaching and feedback.

Roxane Dupuis acts as Frantzen’s science instructional coach at Loyola University and was also part of the team that nominated Frantzen for her teacher of the year award.

“Ashley has a really a great rapport with students. So the trust the students have with her is really high,” Dupuis said. “She allows the students to take charge of their learning.”

Science, Frantzen said, is about discovery and inquiry. And about having passion for that kind of discovery that goes beyond basic test memorization skills.

She recalls a time where her class dissected owl pellets to determine what the owl had eaten from the bones in its stomach. The class hadn’t figured it out and Frantzen said they’d have to wait until after the weekend for the answer.

“They said, ‘Well, what if we email you, can you tell us then?’ I was like, ‘No, you guys have to wait until Monday.’ So it’s about just keeping the eagerness there and the excitement,” she said.

As a teacher, she said her biggest challenge is preparing students for life beyond the classroom.

“Sometimes kids don’t see past middle school. And making good choices as they’re teenagers and they’re kids, that can follow them the rest of their lives,” she said.

As a teacher for five years, Frantzen said she’s come to understand that silence does not necessarily equate to learning. 

“You should hear collaboration. The kids learn best from sharing their ideas and working with each other. Having that noise and those productive conversations is probably one of the most important things,” she said.