Oak Lawn-Hometown School District 123 Teacher Receives Award of Excellence

Nicole Petschenko poses the word art created by her colleagues

Nicole Petschenko was surprised with a word art cloud from her colleagues to celebrate her Award of Excellence recognition.

District 123’s preschool teacher Nicole Petschenko is one of only 500 Illinoisans being recognized by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) for extraordinary contributions to education. Award recipients will all be honored at the 50th Annual Those Who Excel & Teacher of the Year Banquet in May. She has worked in early education for 18 years and has been with Oak Lawn-Hometown School District 123 for the past two years. 

Petschenko received the Award of Excellence, an honor presented to educators for their outstanding involvement in improving their school community by advocating for positive change, sharing opportunities for growth with colleagues, and fostering a committed partnership with parents, school leaders, and community members.

After receiving word of her nomination, she had one week to compile letters of recommendation and essays explaining why her experience in education is commendable. While reflecting on her background, she discussed working in diverse communities and teaching students about inclusivity and different cultural holidays.

“It’s important to teach even the youngest children how to be open-minded and accepting of everyone because when we are able to teach that at a young age, it prepares them to be even better at it as they get older,” Petschenko said.

To celebrate this recognition, the Pre-K education team presented Petschenko with a framed piece of word cloud art of an apple with the adjectives her colleagues use to describe her. 

Petschenko is adored by students, coworkers, and families for her creativity, energy, and ability to connect with people. These traits are evident in her engaging lessons and conversations with her. 

“Nicole embodies all of the best qualities of a preschool teacher and colleague,” Tijana Antonic, a Speech/Language Pathologist, said. “We affectionately refer to her as ‘Elf’ because she will transform the entire classroom for a new unit of study overnight. Those of us who work in her room are always inspired by her energy, ideas, flexibility, creativity, and kindness. She makes us better at our jobs.”   
"Nicole is providing valuable experiences to our young learners in District 123,” Christine Fuller, Supervisor of Special Education, said. “She is modeling how to set high expectations for all children and supports new teachers to build a culture of collective efficacy. Students in her learning environment have access to choices and make decisions about their own learning.”

Through observations in her classroom, Petschenko has been noted to use phrases such as “we can” and “I believe in you” to show support for her students. She also seamlessly uses songs and rhymes on a routine basis to guide students. The children can then be heard using the same songs to help their peers with classroom rules and routines. 

“Observing this feels like early childhood magic," Fuller said.

Petschenko will be continuing her personal growth as an educator in a new leadership role. She will be sharing her knowledge with teachers and families as an Instructional Coach and Parent Coordinator at the Early Learning Center next school year.

“I’m really excited to share all of my ideas that I’ve been doing for so long with all of the preschool teachers and include my little touch in many classrooms instead of just one,” Petschenko said. “I’ve been able to practice so many different things and experiment, and I think my knowledge that I’ve gained throughout the years is going to help all the teachers.”

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