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The month of May started off on a good foot for Chrisman High School science teacher Jennifer Lorton. Lorton was the recipient of and ROE award. The Recognition of Excellence Award is given out to one educator from each district in the Regional Office of Education #11 area. Those chosen are given an inscribed glass apple and a certificate.
The ROE states that the award is for exceptionally skillful and dedicated professionals who have the respect and admiration of students, parents, and co-workers. Recipients also play active roles within their schools and communities and have the superior ability to inspire a love of learning in students of all background and abilities.
“Winners are nominated by a member in the district. I was touched to find out that I was nominated by both Cole Huber and Katie Watters. I’ll never forget the words they wrote when I finally had the privilege to read their letters of recommendation,” Lorton said. “A committee at the ROE reviews each submission and makes a decision based on the recommendations. What an honor to be thought of in this manner. I just love my job.”
Jennifer was born in Houston, Texas, but spent most of her childhood in Shelbyville, Illinois where she eventually graduated high school in 2003. When she was in the fourth grade, one of Lorton’s teachers had them write a letter to their future selves.
“She gave me that letter the week I graduated high school. When I opened it, the letter was filled with line after line about growing up to become a teacher.” Lorton said. “I vividly remember crumpling it up, throwing it in the trash saying, ‘There’s no way I want to be a teacher.’”
After graduation, Lorton went to college, majoring in Clinical Laboratory Science for her first two years. When she came back to Eastern Illinois University, she found that she really enjoyed helping her classmates prepare for the upcoming exams and lab practicals. “I began to realize that teaching was perhaps the path for me after all. I took an introductory education class where we spent twenty hours visiting different classrooms and observing,” Lorton told us. “I chose as many different high schools as I could and every single one of my observation hours was in a science class. I was sold.”
While at EIU, Lorton met her husband, Dustin and his two daughters, Rylee and Ellie. Lorton had a daughter of her own, Autumn. The couple soon married and added Claire, Libby and Ben to the family. “We have been a big happy family ever since.”
Science has always been Jennifer’s favorite subject, in the process of discovery has always fascinated her. “When I started to realize I might make a good teacher, I thought back to my own Biology teacher, Mrs. Lookofsky,” Lorton said. “She was an amazing educator and really brought the subject to life for us, which was no easy feat back then.”
Lookofsky was able to make science more enjoyable without the use of Google or GoogleClassroom. Materials used were chalkboards, encyclopedias and hand written notes. “If we were really lucky, we would walk into the classroom and see David Attenborough on the rolling cart TV. For the record, that man is my science hero,” Jennifer said. “There was never any question that I would go into biological sciences as a career. It’s always been a part of me.”
Now that she had her teaching degree, finding a school was the next step. Lorton was offered teaching jobs in Illinois and one back in Texas, near her father. “I drove up to Chrisman the day before my interview to scope the place out. I found that I really loved the huge campus with all the different types of trees,” Lorton said. “It wasn’t all shiny, new and sterile, but instead it seemed like it fit in naturally in the area. The creek and park nearby really added to the effect. The view from my south-facing classroom is actually quite beautiful. I can see most of the town and it felt comfortable here immediately.”
The original plan was to teach somewhere for a year, then take over for a high school teacher in Shelbyville. When the teacher retired a year later, Jennifer chose not to apply for the position. “They ended up calling me anyway and I turned down the position. I’ve actually been offered several teaching positions over the years despite not applying for them,” Lorton said. “It’s not really considered proper etiquette, but it’s done, especially with the teacher shortage. I always turn them down. My heart is here in Chrisman.”
When the family first moved to town, Jennifer recalled the first time she felt like part of the community. “My husband, Dustin, went to pay our water bill and the clerk said, ‘Oh, your wife must be the new science teacher. Welcome to Chrisman!’. That’s always stuck with me. Some people don’t want a small town life, but I love being a part of this community,” Lorton said. “I was told that I would never fit in since I wasn’t a Chrisman native, but this community has embraced me with open arms. I’ve never met a stranger here. There’s a special feeling I get when I come home from a trip and I see the big letters on the water tower. That’s when I know I’m home.”
Life with six kids can be hectic, but Lorton can’t imagine her life without the chaos. Every chance the family gets, they travel, having weekends filled with adventures. “While I love to go to new places, my favorite place to travel is right back to Houston to spend time with my dad and siblings,” Lorton said.
For hobbies, Jennifer has discovered a new obsession in birding. Over the past couple of years, she has taken classes online through Cornell Lab Bird Academy as well as in person through the Department of Natural Resources ENTICE program. “My whole family enjoys hiking and exploring nature with me, so this fits in nicely with quality family time,” Lorton said. “If you see our vehicle out and about, there’s a good chance someone has a pair of binoculars or a camera lens up to their face.”
The Houston native feels like she’s found the place to plant roots and settle down. Though offers from other schools have come and gone, and continue to do so, Chrisman High School is her happy place. “As long as my students keep bringing me brownies, I’m your girl, CHS.”