Ofelia Gonzalez graduated from Cristo Rey St. Martin in 2013. But her calling became clear many years before that – eighteen to be exact. Turns out, Ofelia’s older brother was coming home from school and teaching his younger sister what he had learned that day. So, as Ofelia noted, “Because of him, I started school with a head start in my classwork, and a developed love of learning.”
As a freshman at Cristo Rey St. Martin, Ofelia was inspired by her teachers who she saw taking pride in their work, making difficult subjects fun and holding their students to higher standards, “Even then I knew how much dedication it took to inspire high school students – Ms. Bonnerjee (mathematics), Mr. Horcher (Geometry), and Mrs. Eby (English/Asst. Principal), all had an immeasurable effect on me. Mr. Dippold (Theology/Campus Ministry) influenced me to do service work, which ultimately put me in front of the children I knew I wanted to teach.”
Last fall, Lakeshore Learning Materials, a leading provider of educational products and services launched a national contest looking for a teacher who really understood the need for a creative, collaborative classroom for elementary students. The winner would receive a $15,000 dream classroom that would include design, delivery, assembly, installation and a host of the latest teaching materials to meet the needs of an active and vibrant classroom.
Having graduated from Bradley University in 2017 and in her first year of teaching at Shiloh Park Elementary, Ofelia decided she would write an essay and create a video describing how she strives to engage her students by using a variety of teaching strategies and how a flex-space classroom would help her reach the goals she set for her students.
Thousands of teachers from all around the country sent in their stories and described how a new classroom would benefit their students. But in Zion, Illinois, on their first day back from winter break, the third-graders of Shiloh Park Elementary walked into a completely new learning environment – because Ofelia Gonzalez won the grand prize.