East Aurora High School ‘Survivor Literature’ students aim to raise $16,000 for mental health issues
AURORA – They will walk out of the darkness, into a new day. Dozens of East Aurora High School students will leave Wheaton North High school late in the evening on Saturday, April 16, and begin a 16-mile hike toward their home town. The roads will be dark but they will know there is light on the horizon.
It is an intentionally symbolic act, one with deep meaning for many of the students who were inspired by a book and a lost friend. In the end, the Tomcats participating in the “Survivor Literature” class plan to collect $16,000 to support local organizations and bring Kevin Hines, author of “Cracked, Not Broken”, to the high school. They hope those dollars will make a difference for others. But more than money, they hope to raise awareness of suicide, depression, and mental illness.
“We have to talk about it,” said East Aurora High School senior Hector Vazquez said. “If we can talk about suicide after a suicide, then we can transition to talking about it before a suicide.”
You can support the student’s project by donating through: www.gofundme.com/outofthedarkness16/
Literature that changes perceptions
Service projects inspired by nonfiction novels have become a tradition since Shane Gillespie started the “Survivor Literature” course eight years ago. The senior-level class, with sections taught by Sarah and Shane Gillespie, asks students to examine nonfiction novels about people who have overcome tremendous hardship.
“That’s the overarching question for the class: What do you have to do to be a survivor?” said East Aurora High School senior Lauren Bailey.
And, at the beginning the year, students nominate a non-fiction book that could be a launching point for a voluntary, student-led independent study and service project. In past years, students have traveled to Louisiana to help victims of Hurricane Katrina; raised money to bring a Holocaust survivor to speak; heard from a blind man who survived the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks; walked 34 miles to raise money for a former child soldier; and slept on the football field overnight to better understand homelessness.
East Aurora High School senior Arturo Arzate was nervous to suggest suicide as a potential service project topic. Arzate has family members who have struggled with mental health issues, but he wasn’t sure whether other people would be comfortable talking about depression and suicide. Instead, Arzate found that his classmates embraced the chance to discuss an issue that had affected nearly every student.
Arzate selected “Cracked, Not Broken: Surviving and Thriving After a Suicide Attempt”, a 2013 book by Kevin Hines. The autobiographical novel talks about how the author’s bipolar disorder convinced him to listen to voices telling him he had to die. Hines jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge, but survived.
Part of the funds raised will go to bring Hines to East Aurora High School for a free community presentation at 7 p.m. on April 28. The additional funds will go to Aurora-area organizations that work with suicide survivors or people dealing with mental illness.
Hines’ novel upended some students’ and teachers’ perceptions of mental illness. After it was selected, the story only became more poignant when a former Survivor Literature student reached out to Shane Gillespie. Her brother, a friend of many current seniors, had killed himself in October.
Remembering a friend
Yoshi Soto seemed to be a happy-go-lucky kid. Before his family moved to Wheaton, he had attended East Aurora schools through fifth grade. Had his family stayed in Aurora, he might have been a senior alongside many of this year’s Survivor Literature students.
In October, Yoshi committed suicide, after years of quiet struggle with mental illness. Yoshi’s sister, Daianna Soto reached out to her former teacher. Daianna wanted to talk with students about their project. It was an emotional day when she spoke to the class. East Aurora High School senior Eric Bolivar hadn’t seen Daianna since he was an elementary school student playing video games with Yoshi.
“I thought to myself: I have to do that (walk),” Bolivar said. “After all these years, I need to do something for him.”
To honor their friend, the students will walk from his last school – Wheaton North High School – to their home. The streets will be dark as they head to RiverEdge Park in downtown Aurora. They will think of lost friends and family, as they walk toward a brighter day.
To follow the students’ journey on social media, follow @TomcatsWalk on Twitter.
To learn more about the project, view the YouTube video at: https://youtu.be/WpNl9mw3YCY
EAHS Counseling Needs Assessment
East Aurora Band Boosters to hold 48th annual Pancake Breakfast February 13
The East Aurora Band Boosters will hold its annual pancake breakfast from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Saturday, February 13. The all-you-can-eat breakfast will be held in the cafeteria of East Aurora High School, 500 Tomcat Lane. Tickets are $5 in advance, or $6 at the door.
Tickets can be purchased from band students at East Aurora High School, members of the East Aurora Band Boosters, or from East Aurora High School Band Director Brian Liska.
This is the 48th consecutive year that the Band Boosters will host a pancake breakfast. This year, the breakfast will feature performances by the East Aurora Jazz Ensemble, the East Aurora Latin Jazz Ensemble, Simmons Middle School band, and the Fred Rodgers Magnet Academy band.
7:30 a.m. East Aurora Latin Jazz Ensemble
8:15-8:45 a.m. Fred Rodgers Magnet Academy sixth grade band
8:45-9:15 a.m. Fred Rodgers Magnet Academy varsity band
9:30-10 a.m. Simmons Middle School band
10:15-11 a.m. East Aurora Jazz Ensemble
The funds raised at the pancake breakfast will go to the East Aurora Band Boosters, which support band travel and equipment for the band.
Also, the band continues to sell the 2015-2016 Tomcat Card, which offers discounts to several local businesses, including: AKA Dance, All Spoked Up, Banana Split, Bella Tressa, Deri Delite, El Burrito Loco, Ellman’s Music, Garios, Gillersons Grubbery, Goody’s Restaurant, Jake’s Bagels, Mike & Denise’s, River’s Edge Cafe and Subway. Cards are $10 and can be purchase from East Aurora High School band students.
East Aurora students, teachers, and guardians invited to fill out 5Essentials survey
All East Aurora School District 131 teachers and guardians are invited to fill out the 5Essentials Survey that is offered for all Illinois public schools. The 5Essentials Survey is issued annually by the Illinois State Board of Education to gather feedback from students, teachers, and parents/guardians on school climate and learning conditions. The survey will be open through March 11.
5Essentials is a research-based survey that gives Districts an opportunity to reflect on progress since the last statewide 5Essentials survey. The free survey is anonymous and voluntary.
Middle and high school students will log in with their student ID and birth date, but not their name. Parents will receive a letter allowing their middle or high school student to opt out of taking the survey in school. Elementary school students will not take the survey at school.
Teachers should use the username and passcode that was emailed to them by the Illinois State Board of Education to log in.
Parents/guardians do not have to enter any of their own, or their students’ personal information. Parents should select “Parent Survey”, then type “Kane” in the county box. Then type the name of your student’s school in the next box.
The survey only asks which school your students attend and what grade they are in. The rest of the questions ask you to evaluate the school’s performance in several areas, including preparation and communication. If parents have children at more than one school, they should complete a survey for each school.
The survey should take about 15 minutes to complete. It is available in English and Spanish.
There are two ways to take the 5Essentials survey:
Online: Go directly to the survey at: https://survey.5-essentials.org/illinois/
You can find the survey through the East Aurora School District 131 webpage at www.d131.org. There is a “5Essentials Survey” button on each school’s webpage.
If you contact your school’s parent liaison, they can also help you fill out the survey online through a computer at school.
On paper: Contact the parent liaison in your student’s school and they can provide a paper copy of the survey to fill out.
You may also contact your child’s school for assistance in participating in the survey.
Three Tomcats will be inducted into East Aurora Sports Hall of Fame on January 29
Three former athletes will be inducted into the East Aurora High School Sports Hall of Fame in honor of their contributions to the Tomcat athletic tradition.
The inductees for this year are:
- John McCue (class of 1983) football, track and field
- John Passley (class of 1971) football, track and field, wrestling
- Claudio Torres (class of 1996) football, wrestling
There will be a reception to honor McCue, Passley, and Torres in the East Aurora High School student cafeteria from 4 to 6 p.m. Friday. The reception is open to the public.
The Hall of Fame induction ceremony will take place on Friday, January 29, between the girls and boys East Aurora vs. West Aurora basketball games. The ceremony will take place at approximately 6:30 p.m.
About the inductees:
John McCue was a star in both football and track at East Aurora High School. McCue was promoted to varsity running back and defensive back as a sophomore, then played quarterback his senior season in 1982. His senior year, he was co-captain, All-Conference, All-Area and Chicago Sun-Times Chicagoland First Team. He helped the 1980 and 1982 football teams reach the state playoffs.
McCue competed at the varsity level in the long jump, triple jump, and relays for four years. He was a two-time Upstate Eight Conference champion as well as a sectional champion in long jump and triple jump. In 1983, he was the triple jump sectional champion and member of the state qualifying 400-meter and 800-meter relay teams.
After high school, McCue played football at Western Illinois University and was a four-time Gateway Conference Player of the Week.
McCue has worked as a special education instructor at East Aurora High School for the past two years. He is the past Governor and current Board of Officers at Batavia Moose Lodge #682.
John Passley excelled in football, track and field, and wrestling at East Aurora High School. In football, he was an All-Conference, All-City and Chicago Tribune All-Star for the 1970 conference champions.
In his wrestling career, Passley finished with 55 wins and 8 losses and was a two-time conference, district and sectional champion. In 1970, he helped the Tomcats finish fourth in the state wrestling tournament. Passley was also a top pole vaulter for both the 1970 and 1971 track and field teams.
Passley retired from Richards-Wilcox Inc., in 2010, after 38 years as a brake operator.
Claudio Torres was exceptional athlete for both the Tomcat football and wrestling teams. In football, Torres was a two-year varsity starter as a running back and outside linebacker. He was selected as a unanimous All-Conference running back and outside linebacker in 1995.
Torres wrestled at varsity level for all four years of high school and compiled a record of 106 wins and 29 loses. In 1995, Claudio won the regional title, sectional title, and placed fifth downstate. Torres finished his wrestling career at East Aurora High School by winning state titles in the Greco-Roman Tournament in 1995 and Freestyle Tournament in 1996.
Torres was also senior class president in 1995-1996.
Torres earned a Bachelor’s Degree from Northern Illinois University, then two Master’s Degrees from Northern Illinois University. He served eight years in the U.S. National Guard. Torres is a physical education, health, and driver’s education teachers at Metea Valley High School. He is the wrestling coach and assistant athletic director.
East-West game Friday
All remaining tickets for the East-West girls and boys basketball games will go on sale at 4:45 p.m. Friday at the Ponquinette Field House ticket booth at East Aurora High School, 500 Tomcat Lane. The Tomcat girls will host the Blackhawks at 5:30 p.m. Friday, and the boys’ game will follow. Doors open at 4:45 p.m.
Note: High school photos of all three athletes are available on the Tomcat Alumni Facebook page.
Teacher hopes community will sign online petition to support construction bonds for East Aurora
English teacher Melanie Kleimola doesn’t need to be convinced that East Aurora schools are overcrowded. She sees her students learning in less-than-ideal conditions: shared classrooms, outdated facilities, overcrowded hallways, and no meeting space.
“I live it every day,” said the fifth-year high school teacher. “When we have to have class in a computer lab – which we do multiple times a day – that takes away an opportunity to use that lab. I want our students to have the same opportunity as every other student.”
So when Kleimola heard about an opportunity to improve East Aurora students’ learning conditions, she knew she had to get involved. Kleimola started a Change.org petition, urging the Illinois State Board of Education to release the maximum amount of Qualified School Construction Bonds to East Aurora School District 131. Because the interest on Qualified School Construction Bonds is reimbursed by the federal government, the bonds could allow East Aurora to address significant facility needs at a deeply reduced cost to taxpayers.
To sign the petition, go to: https://www.change.org/p/illinois-state-board-of-education-il-state-board-of-ed-approve-50m-school-construction-bonds-to-east-aurora-district-131
Anyone can sign a Change.org petition for free. The petitions are non-binding but they can draw attention to public support for different issues. Kleimola intends to send the petition to the Illinois State Board of Education. As of Tuesday afternoon, more than 400 people have signed on, but Kleimola is hoping many more students, families, and community members will weigh in.
“This is one way we can demonstrate to the state our passion about this issue,” Kleimola said. “It’s also a place where students can go and see how many people are rooting for them. I really feel that this is a way we could come together to make a difference.”
About the Qualified School Construction Bonds
The Qualified School Construction Bonds were part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The state of Illinois only recently decided to release the federal funds, allowing multiple districts to submit applications. It is not yet clear when or how the state will determine who receives the QSC Bonds, or how much they will receive.
Earlier this month, the East Aurora Board of Education applied for up to $50 million in QSC Bonds. The bonds could pay for major renovations at the high school and middle schools. The high school is already over capacity, with more than 3,800 students enrolled. The school population could climb to more than 4,300 students in the next five years.
“These QSC Bonds would help the District make a dramatic expansion of the high school,” Kleimola’s petition says. “Students would finally have modern science labs, usable libraries and computer labs, suitable fine arts spaces, and adequate physical education facilities. The school’s redesign would even help address a fundamental but often overlooked need: the ability of students to be in class on time, rather than being stuck in clogged hallways.”
The QSC Bonds could have a ripple effect for East Aurora. If the bonds can pay for the high school renovation, other District resources can be devoted to other construction projects, more technology in classrooms, and smaller class sizes.
“Our students love to learn,” Kleimola’s petition states. “They need the state to support that learning by authorizing $50 million in Qualified State Construction Bonds in 2016. We urge you to sign this petition to make our voices heard.”
East-West basketball: tickets on sale Tuesday, t-shirts on sale now
Tickets for the East-West girls and boys basketball games will go on sale Tuesday at the Ponquinette Field House ticket booth at East Aurora High School, 500 Tomcat Lane. The Tomcat girls will host the Blackhawks at 5:30 p.m. Friday, and the boys’ game will follow. Doors open at 4:45 p.m.
Tickets are $4 for adults and $2 for students. No passes are accepted for the East-West game. Everyone must have a ticket.
Tickets will go on sale to students from 3:15 to 4 p.m. Tuesday. Students must show their ID and they can buy only one ticket. All tickets during this sale are limited to the high school student section.
East Aurora employees can purchase up to two tickets with an ID between 4 and 5 p.m. The public can purchase two tickets between 5 and 6:30 p.m. Any remaining tickets will go on sale at 4:45 p.m. Friday.
East-West shirts on sale
The girls basketball team is selling East-West shirts as a fundraiser. The shirts say “One city. One night. Two teams divided by a river.” The rosters of both teams are listed on the back.
The shirts are $10. They can be delivered or picked up at WinnerWear, 1651 Aucutt Road, Montgomery. Shirts can be ordered at www.winnerwear.com/products/eawabb2016.
This year, both the boys and girls basketball teams from East Aurora High School and West Aurora High School play two games, one on each home court. The boys and girls previously played at West Aurora in December.
Friday’s game will also be the inductions for the East Aurora High School Sports Hall of Fame.
East Aurora eighth grade families invited to January 28 “Future Tomcat Night”
Eighth grade students and their parents are invited to learn more about high school at the “Future Tomcat Night” open house from 6-8 p.m. on Thursday, January 28, at East Aurora High School, 500 Tomcat Lane. The free event will include information about academics, activities, athletics, and more in both English and Spanish. Students will also be able to take tours of the school.
The event will start promptly at 6 p.m. with comments from East Aurora High School Principal Anthony Crespo in the high school’s Hawks Auditorium. After Crespo’s comments, families will be able to attend break-out sessions with representatives from every academic division: bilingual, business, driver’s education, English, fine arts, foreign language, math, NJROTC, physical education/health, science, social studies, and special education.
Throughout the night, NJROTC cadets will offer small-group tours of the high school to students and families.
Finally, in the Ponquinette Fieldhouse, tables will be set up with information about sports, clubs, and activities at the high school. There will be snacks and drinks available in the Fieldhouse as well.