As a grade schooler in her hometown of Palatine, Bre Quaritsch (right) was drawn to the peer programs that paired students in her
classroom with students who had special needs.
"I did an after-school care program and there were some students with disabilities in that program and they were my best friends," Quaritsch said. "I didn't see anything different about them, and I think I kind of naturally gravitated to that (in terms of a career interest) as I got older."
Quaritsch participated in similar programs, such as Best Buddies, as she got older and moved on to Palatine High School. She then majored in special education at Illinois State, and three years ago was hired to help lead Stevenson's Transitions Program, which provides older students with activities and opportunities to promote a well-planned, meaningful, and achievable post-high school transition.
On Friday morning, Quaritsch walked into the Transitions House on the north side of campus and got the surprise of her young career. Her family, including her parents who quietly flew in from Florida, was on hand, as were her colleagues and students and representatives of the Chicago Bears, along with Bears Mascot Staley, to honor her with the Chicago Bears' "Classroom Legends," Powered By CDW award for teachers who "go above and beyond each and every day."
The Chicago Bears, who select two award-winners each month and got more than 50 nominations for this month, presented Quaritsch with her own customized Bears jersey, a customized keepsake Bears football, tickets to an upcoming Bears event and a $1,000 check in her name that will be for the Transitions Program, which current includes 21 students.
"This was a really unique opportunity for us to honor a teacher who is a little bit different than the typical classroom teacher," said Jacki Stuckert, the Community Programs Coordinator for the Chicago Bears. "Bre is a transitional teacher for young adults. This is something we had not honored before and her nomination really stood out to us because of what she's doing for young adults with special needs.
"Part of her nomination read, 'Bre's work doesn't stop after the final school bell. She works before and after school, she works on weekends. She had a student in the hospital this year and she was on the phone with the family getting updates over the weekend because that is how much she cares about her students...reinforcing the home-school relationship with her students and how much she is involved in their lives.'"
Quaritsch took pictures with all of her proud students and with Staley and was clearly happily overwhelmed by the surprise, which happens to coordinate nicely with "Teacher Appreciation Week."
"(This award) means everything," Quaritsch said. "To be acknowledged, especially during 'Teacher Appreciation Week' by my family and students and friends, it's just an amazing experience. And this has kind of been my lifelong track. It's been good, it's been fulfilling and right now, my heart is still racing."