The Illinois Chapter of the National School PR Association (INSPRA) defines a Distinguished Service Award winner as someone who supports or improves understanding and communication in a school or district and fosters cooperative partnerships between school and community. We are pleased to share that District 54 had three winners of this award in May:
- Six District 54 students who served on the Illinois Special Olympics Youth Activation Committee received this honor in the team category;
- Cheryl Gleason, a Stevenson parent and Schaumburg Township Council of PTAs president, received this honor in the parent category; and
- Jennifer DiGioia, an administrative assistant at the district office, received this honor in the support staff category.
Youth Activation Committee
District 54 is home to six members of the 2020-2021 Special Olympics Illinois Youth Activation Committee: Samuel G. and Grace A. from Mead Jr. High, Evan P. and Yaihr M. from Addams Jr. High, and Kim M. and Amanda S. from Keller Jr. High. Through public presentations, these students are working to increase the inclusive practices of schools across Illinois.
Their first presentations were at the virtual Youth Activation Summit in December, for more than 200 elementary and middle school students. Amanda, Kim, Evan and Yaihr presented on the Unified Sports options available through Special Olympics Illinois and how to start a Unified Sports program at your school. Samuel and Grace worked with two students from another school to introduce the new Unified Fitness program from Special Olympics Illinois and the benefits fitness activities have on attention and school performance.
Currently, these students are developing the Middle School Youth Leadership certification program for Special Olympics Illinois. Samuel and Grace’s session is on cooperative problem-solving and how to work together to see all sides of a problem before settling on a solution. Evan, Yaihr, Amanda and Kimberly are creating a program about effective communication and how to be sure that all sides feel heard. Their presentations are being recorded as part of a five module program available to upper elementary and middle school students across the state this spring.
In the spring of 2020, at the start of a global pandemic, Cheryl Gleason was named the president of the Schaumburg Township Council of PTAs for School District 54, an organization that supports the 28 individual school PTAs.
When the nominating committee approached her in December 2019 and asked her to take on this time-consuming, volunteer role, she had no idea what the future would bring. Yet throughout the past year, she has supported her local PTAs, the school district and an entire community with grace, with compassion and always with a smile and a kind word.
Before becoming council president, Cheryl served as the PTA President at Stevenson Elementary School, where her three children attend. At Stevenson Elementary School, 30 percent of the students are from low-income households and 30 percent of the students are English learners. Cheryl worked to create an environment where all parents and guardians were welcome in the PTA and all students felt valued and included in any PTA-sponsored activity.
As the PTA Council president, Cheryl supports hundreds of PTA volunteers looking for ways to connect and engage with students and families in the pandemic. Cheryl, who is also a volunteer, makes time to provide a compassionate ear and refocuses the conversation on brainstorming what can be done. Her enthusiastic, hardworking, generous and sincere nature have been influential and contagious for anyone who interacts with her.
Jennifer DiGioia, an administrative assistant in Schaumburg School District 54 excels as a communicator, ambassador, problem-solver and culture builder.
Jennifer was hired in 2008 and spent three years on the front line of public relations as a school secretary: welcoming new families, supporting staff members and engaging with students. Her positive attitude, efficiency and communication skills earned her a promotion in 2011 and again in 2015. Currently, as an administrative assistant, she supports more than 60 school secretaries, ensuring that they receive the communication they need to do their jobs effectively. She hosts meetings, provides resources and even created an Intranet site and Google calendar to facilitate communication. Most importantly, Jennifer gets to know them as individuals. Although they work in 29 different buildings, the secretaries feel connected as a team due to her leadership.
Jennifer is also a leader at the district office. Our superintendent trusts her to answer his calls, knowing she gives each caller the compassionate ear they need while finding answers to their questions. This year, Jennifer took on the important task of tracking people in quarantine and positive cases. In essence, Jennifer serves as the project manager, collaborating with more than 60 administrators.
Despite the additional workload and the changes in our work flow during the pandemic, Jennifer maintained a sense of professionalism and the ability to bring laughter to our district. She could lead a class on positive, caring and inclusive customer service and communication.