‘Allowing teachers to see students for who they really are’
Buying a ticket to OPEF’s re-invented fundraiser not only allows you to support amazing enrichment programs in Oak Park schools, it also gives you a chance to celebrate an influential teacher who does so much to reach students with our programs.
John Colucci, a Julian Middle School English Language Arts teacher who has sponsored the Spoken Word club since the program started in 2015, will receive the first-ever Staszak Educator Award to recognize his partnership with OPEF and commitment to serving students equitably.
“I love the fact that people are starting to realize that Spoken Word is affecting kids in such a positive way,” said Colucci, an Oak Park native and chair of the English department. “This is only year three, and we keep making it better and better. The partnership with OPEF means this becomes part of the culture of the school and the community.”
“The best moments happen after a class slam or even the gradewide slam, when another teacher will come up to me and say, ‘I’ll never look at this kid in the same way.’ The pieces these kids write are so revealing. It checks us on our biases and assumptions about the kids in front of us. It allows us teachers to see them for who they really are. When we can remind kids that they have a voice, that we care and we want to listen to them, well, it’s all smooth sailing after that.”
The Staszak family selected John Colucci for this honor after discussing a number of nominees, all of whom are highly regarded District 97 teachers who inspire their students and contribute greatly to the success of OPEF programs. The award is named after William Staszak, an influential community leader who was instrumental in OPEF’s early development before his death in 1992.
John’s commitment to growing the Spoken Word program stood out, in part because Pat Staszak taught English at OPRF High School and worked closely with Spoken Word teacher Pete Kahn as he built the program at the high school.
“We were so happy to see how successful Spoken Word has become in such a short period of time, and the impact John is having on the kids at Julian,” said Steve Miller, a Staszak family member and OPEF Board President. “As my brother-in-law Luke said, ‘John is promoting the ideal of equity in a way that would make Dad proud.’”
John’s passion for Spoken Word also drew him to work closely with BASE Camp, developing a curriculum that celebrates learning in fun and inventive ways. Before working with OPEF, he had never considered teaching in the summer, but the work in BASE Camp re-energizes him after a long school year.
“It gives you this ability to get back to what teaching is really about, experiencing learning outside of the walls of the classroom. It was rejuvening and re-centering for me as a teacher. I got to see them laugh while they learn, whether it was interviewing random strangers in parks and grocery stores as part of Humans of Oak Park, or discovering new facts about their hometown during an offbeat scavenger hunt through Oak Park.”
John Colucci also will be featured as one of our four “celebrity” Bingo Callers during the March 15 Bingo Bash. That includes another educator, Art StartArtist Guillermo Delgado, who inspires hundreds of Oak Park students with ith his multi-disciplinary, community-oriented, hands-on projects.
To celebrate with OPEF and Mr. Colucci…