New Teacher of the Year Award Winner
Illinois Science Teachers Association
Environmental Studies and Secondary Education Major
A 2008 Knox graduate has been named one of the best young science
teachers in Illinois. Daniel Prieto, who teaches in the Cissna Park School
District, won a 2010 New Teacher of the Year award from the Illinois Science Teachers Association (ISTA).
Prieto teaches all of the junior high and high school science courses at Cissna Park -- sixth grade life science, seventh grade earth science, eighth grade physical and forensic science, and high school life science, environmental science, and forensic science. The ISTA award announcement noted that Prieto "has updated the entire science curriculum in the junior high to be aligned with state standards ... initiated a junior high science fair ... revamped the high school environmental science course, and is currently working on implementing a new forensics course."
Prieto says that he enjoys the challenge of teaching multiple subjects and multiple grades. "I have to prepare a different lesson, lecture, labs, and assessment materials for every class. I find it exciting and enjoyable. Every class is different, so I never get bored. Because every class is a different age group, I see many different types of personalities and needs."
Prieto works to create a friendly environment -- including informal classroom arrangements and sponsoring school activities -- but he stays focused on his educational goals. He advises other young teachers: "It's important to be there for the students and really listen and understand what they are saying, but always to remember that you are there to guide and educate them."
Prieto came to Knox from Oswego, Illinois. At Knox, he majored in environmental studies and secondary education. He was active in Union Board and Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity, serving as house manager. "Dan is remarkable in the classroom, both for the level of preparation he puts into his classes and his ability to roll with the chaos that sometimes erupts in the classroom," said Stephen Schroth, assistant professor of educational studies. "He puts in incredible amounts of extra time to provide his students with learning experiences, as shown by his work to start the Cissna Park Science Fair."
Peter Schwartzman, associate professor and chair of environmental studies, observed Prieto as a student teacher. "I was very impressed by Dan's ability to make his assignment culturally meaningful to his students, while at the same time maintaining a high degree of intellectual rigor."
The ISTA also credited Prieto with creating Web pages that allow his students to track content and assignments, serving as school Web master, photography coordinator, and co-sponsor of the junior high yearbook; initiating a school supplies recycling program; and working as a DJ for student events.
Prieto stays in contact with many of the Knox faculty and staff he worked with on campus. "Professor Schwartzman helped me to understand the human connection with nature and why we need to work on minimizing our impact," Prieto says. "I probably dropped by John Haslem's office in the Center for Teaching and Learning at least once a week in search of advice. Vicky Romano and Stephen Schroth always encouraged me to keep trying new things while I was student-teaching. Biology professor Stuart Allison was my advisor, and he mentored me throughout my senior project on renewable energy."
Prieto says that a volunteer community service project proved to be a transforming experience. "When I first came to Knox, I had no idea I was going to study to become a teacher," he says. "I decided I wanted to teach junior high after working in the community with Big Brothers & Big Sisters. I chose my double major in environmental studies because I have always been passionate about the environment and biodiversity. My Knox professors inspired me to work toward my dreams."