For teachers in 2020, there’s no playbook for instruction during COVID-19.
People like Oregon High School English Teacher Aaron Sitze have had to improvise. His Changemaker programs involve interacting with the public. He’s spent five years developing the program. In months during the pandemic, his students have started delivery and mask businesses and created a federally-recognized census project.
Sitze has been named a finalist for teacher of the year by the Illinois State Board of Education.
“It’s a great honor,” Sitze said. “A lot of teachers this year are working like crazy and under pressure. In this craziness, to be recognized is a shot in the arm.”
Sitze has taught English at OHS for 18 years and was also a nominee during the 2012-2013 school year. He previously earned a teacher leadership award in the Illinois Principals Association’s Northwest Region in 2017.
Stize grew up in Wheaton and attended college at the University of Illinois, DePaul and graduated from NIU with my bachelor’s in history and as a master’s in curriculum and is currently working on his doctorate at NIU.
“Every teacher has the same story,” Sitze said. “They either had a phenomenal teacher that changed their life or one that was so bad. I had the former. Two made me feel I was capable and my strengths were valuable. It motivated me.”
Sitze believes the success of his Changemaker programs has drawn attention and thinks it shows what can be accomplished at a small school like Oregon.
The program consists of three project-based classes that begins with immersing sophomores in self-discovery and reflection before the social entrepreneurship program as juniors, which teaches kids to start a business with a positive social impact.
In their final year, students complete a senior capstone that merges everything from the past two years into a culminating project that showcases their research, social impact and growth.
“Social entrepreneurship, I created that from scratch,” Sitze said. “It’s the only class where kids run a business in the state. I haven’t seen anyone else doing it, maybe in the country. No others have social benefits asking how the market can solve problems.”
The social entrepreneurship students started the census program last year and educated the community as well as themselves. Sitze was proud of how his kids threw themselves at the objective, even during the pandemic.
The students that created businesses during the spring had to either fold or pivot their businesses due to COVID-19.
“They evolved and didn’t give up,” Sitze said. “One girl took old t-shirts and started making face masks after it hit and she made hundreds. For every one she sold, she gave one away. Others changed their business practices to be COVID-19-safe. They just pivoted.”
Those with businesses that had to fold created District Delivery, which collaborated with Ogle County organizations to deliver groceries safely to those that couldn’t or didn’t want to go out.
When summer came, the students kept at the delivery service, even without grades or payment for it.
“When we empower kids to create change, they’re good assets,” Sitze said. “The adults had their plates full. I was floored by their creativity and commitment.”