By Terry Dean
Editor's note: One of three profiles on this year's Golden Apple nominees from Oak Park and River Forest and Fenwick high schools. Still to come: John Paulett.
Before becoming a high school teacher, Allison Hennings was an intensive care nurse. Medicine and science were always of interest to her. She got her degree in medicine from Loyola and went on to work at Loyola University's Medical Center. Hennings says her role as a nurse also involved teaching and educating people, something she enjoyed doing. A chance encounter with one of her former high school teachers also got her thinking about a career-switch. Both of those realizations led her to go back to school to get a teaching certificate in her other passion: science.
Since 2005, Hennings has taught biology at Oak Park and River Forest High School, and last month she was named a Golden Apple finalist. The 32 nominees were announced on March 13. The award honors exceptional Chicago area teachers. The 10 winners will be announced in May by the Golden Apple Foundation.
Hennings is one of three Oak Park area, public school teachers among the finalists. Fellow OPRF teacher Manuel Gonzalez, who teaches Spanish, and Fenwick High School's John Paulett, who teaches creative writing and theology, are the other Oak Park finalists.
Finalists are nominated by others who remain anonymous. They don't know of their nominations until contacted by the Golden Apple Foundation. Hennings received a packet in the mail about her nomination.
"I was super-excited," she said of learning she was a finalist.
Hennings, herself an OPRF grad, teaches honors and AP biology, as well as a biomedical research class. She said she tries to give her students a hands-on learning experience instead of just relying on the textbook. For instance, she'll have students work on a case study project, where they're given a "patient" to figure out what is wrong with the person and how to treat them.
Hennings says she doesn't want students to spend their time memorizing facts and data.
"I'm very passionate about science. Students sometimes have a hard time relating to the textbook. I want to inspire them by showing them how science relates to the real world."
Hennings, who is married and the mother of two students at OPRF, grew up in Oak Park. When she was a nurse, she at one point took care of her former OPRF biology teacher. He ended up inspiring her to go into teaching.
It was quite the experience to end up teaching in the same classrooms she sat as a student, Hennings recalled. But she also uses that to reach her students.
"They know that I was a student too. I know how difficult it was to study and stay ahead in class. And plus, I live in the community. They see me and that shows them accountability. That I'm here with them."