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Neighbors of DuPage

Homegrown inspirations in Darien District #61

Jul 11, 2016 12:07PM ● By Neighbors Magazines

by Mary Andersen

Welcome to Part 2 of our “Homegrown Inspirations” series. Let’s think back…How many of you can vividly remember your school age years? Did you have a special teacher that went out of his or her way to help you do your best? Did you have a favorite class that turned into a lifelong passion? Were you a member of a club or a team that helped to foster your future career plans? If you answered YES to any of these questions, then you have a lot in common with some of our current Darien District #61 staff members. And…wait for it…they went to school right here in this very district! Please read on to meet more D61 family members who attended this fabulous district.

                  Joelle Siki

Our Mark DeLay secretary and K.I.D.S. Club site coordinator, Ms. Joelle Siki, attended D61 in her youth. One of her most vivid memories is from Outdoor Ed. in Lake Geneva, WI. It was her first time away from home, and she thought she would be scared. She loved learning about constellations and sledding with her friends. Joelle has two teachers that made a big impact on her. They are Ms. Suzanne Asa, retired Spanish teacher at EJH, who taught her how to love learning new languages, and Ms. Lee Anne Lewis who helped shape her amazing work ethic that carried her through high school. It was her work in both of those classes that inspired Joelle to want to work in the educational field.

Once again, the biggest difference to the district from her early school years is the makeup of the district. When it used to be three elementary buildings, students could play each other in sports. Two interesting facts about Ms. Siki is that she was born in Africa and she attended film school. And one of the best pieces of advice she can give to students she works with: “Follow your dreams and work hard at what you are passionate about. Also, take advantage of all opportunities that are given you.”

Another D61 family member is Mrs. Char Cotuno, chief business office secretary. Her most vivid memory: “I was scared! I moved here the summer between 7th and 8th grade and came from a Catholic school. It was such a different experience for me. A lot of us were in the same boat and had all moved into the new subdivision called Hinsbrook.” One of Char’s favorite teachers was Mr. Dan Tufo. He would eventually become principal of Lace School. Char remembers that he was really into current events and would test his students every Friday. It helped her learn to pay attention to what is going on in the world.

The district is a lot bigger now than when Char went to school. She made a lot of lifelong friends from those early school years. Char felt so connected to the district that she moved to Darien after she was married. She wanted her children to also attend this district. Her favorite childhood teacher was her children’s principal until they moved out of district to Naperville.

One final D61 student who found her way back here to teach is Mrs. Nikki Alessi, 8th grade ELA team leader. Nikki’s most vivid memory and her most influential teacher are one in the same. Judy Hanson, her chorus teacher, made a huge impact on her life: “She was my choir teacher at EJH. She forever changed the way I love, respect, and understand music. She would be best described as…a force of nature. She had positive energy and love for every person in that building. According to Judy, all things were possible, all goals attainable. She believed it, so we believed it, and suddenly it became truth. That kind of belief in myself, ideas, others, possibilities…is what I strive to give students every day.”

Mrs. Alessi taught at Fairview, Mark DeLay and EJH. Her first principal was her 6th grade teacher, the late Ms. Maureen Kelly. Nikki also taught in San Diego for five years, but found her way back to D61. One of the biggest messages she has for her students is: “Always choose kind, follow your dreams everywhere, and always live a ‘box-free’ life!” Those are powerful words to live by.

I hope that you have enjoyed this two-part series on inspirational people who got their start in this fine district and who continue to walk the halls of Darien District #61. It is a great place to grow and learn. I am pretty sure that we have some future leaders sitting in our classrooms right now.