Out of concern for the health and safety of the Huskie community, NIU is hosting virtual commencement ceremonies Saturday, Dec. 12, and Sunday, Dec. 13, for those who register. Those who would prefer to watch after the scheduled times can visit YouTube no later than Monday, Dec. 14.
Her name was Mrs. Labriola.
She was a second-grade teacher at St. George, a Catholic school in suburban Tinley Park, where she made a lifelong impression on 6-year-old newcomer Evadne Bowlin. “She just made me feel really welcome.”
Five years later, Bowlin began to return the favor – with some of her seventh-grade classmates at her side.
“At that time, she had moved down to first-grade,” Bowlin says, “and instead of going to recess, or going outside to play, we would go to Mrs. Labriola’s classroom to help her teach her first-graders.”
One was a Black girl for whom Bowlin became a mirror – and then a light switch.
The child was struggling to understand money, confused by dimes being smaller in size than pennies but being worth more.
“I said, ‘How many coins are brown? It’s just one – and that ‘one’ is worth ‘one’ cent,’ ” Bowlin remembers saying. “That one sentence blew her mind, and it just clicked for her. I said, ‘This is what I want. This is what I want to do for the rest of my life. I want more moments like these.’ ”
Bowlin is now there.
Chosen as marshal of the NIU College of Education’s Spring 2020 commencement, the University Honors student graduated magna cum laude with a B.S.Ed. in Elementary Education and currently is teaching fourth-grade at Littlejohn Elementary School in DeKalb Community Unit School District 428.
Graduation in May came on the heels of her COVID-interrupted student-teaching at DeKalb’s Founders Elementary School, and while the district’s online-only instruction continues this year, Bowlin is regarding the pandemic as a valuable opportunity.
“eLearning is really different, but I like the openness of it. You can experiment. You can try new things, and if they don’t work, that’s OK, because they’re new,” she says. “It also allows me to be creative in the things that I do. It’s challenging but it’s pushing me in a way that’s positive.”
Virtual instruction shows Bowlin that the “pacing guide” prescribed for teachers is just that: a guide.
“All students are different. We’re supposed to be multiplying with two-digit numbers now, but I have some students who are still working with multi-digit addition,” she says. “We’re not in-person, and I only get three hours of live instruction with them each day. The pacing is slower, and I know that I’m doing the best I can for my students in this situation we have.”
She connects it to her philosophy that humans must complete Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs before they can thrive academically within the framework of Bloom’s taxonomy, a difficult result as the virus lingers.
“When we get stressed out, and our minds are going different places, we really can’t focus – and that’s the same thing for our students,” Bowlin says. “If something’s bothering them, they’re not going to be able to pay attention to the multiplication. Maybe it’s, ‘We won’t do math today because we’re going to talk about our feelings and deal with our anxiety.’ ”
Bowlin enjoyed her preparation in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, traveling to Houston with Educate U.S., becoming a Golden Apple Scholar, receiving professor-generated recommendations for scholarships and speaking with WNIJ’s Peter Medlin for his “Teachers’ Lounge” podcast.
She also is grateful for Special Education coursework that helps her manage IEPs and 504 plans, and for the Bilingual/ESL endorsement that provides strategies to accommodate English Language Learners in ways that benefit all learners.
“I definitely want to be on the curriculum team with people who design and choose curriculum,” says Bowlin, who believes that teachers must challenge their students to think beyond their personal perspectives of U.S. history regarding immigration and the rights of women, people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals.
“It goes back to my passion for social justice,” she says. “Education as a whole is very whitewashed, geared toward teaching about white men, but there’s a lot of this story that’s untold.”
Family and friends are proud of her, of course, and so is Mrs. Labriola.
“She retired a few years ago, and when I was moving out of my mom’s house to DeKalb to get my classroom together, she sent me an apple,” Bowlin says. “It was on her desk for all of her years of teaching, and she was passing it on to me. It’s one of my treasures.”