'This is home to us': Former north suburban high school students return as teachers amid shortage

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Tuesday, August 30, 2022
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Former District 211 students returned to Conant and Palatine high schools to teach amid a national teacher shortage.

PALATINE, Ill. (WLS) -- Walking down the hall together at Palatine High School is nothing new for Sydney Hoening-Coyle and Lizbeth Arreola.

They've been best friends since they were students here. Now, they both are in their first year teaching at Palatine. In fact, last week, they recreated an updated version of a picture they took as seniors.

While they went to different colleges, they always dreamed of returning to Palatine together.

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"It just worked out for us, and we are so happy it did, because this is home to us," Hoening-Coyle said.

As former students there, the teachers said they can better relate to their students.

"I grew up in the neighborhood where a lot of my students come from, and I feel like it's good for them to have someone that looks like them and can identify with them," Arreola said.

Nia Tsoulas is in her first year at Conant High School, teaching students who were in middle school when she graduated, along with her friend, Harris Dibek. Both helped their respective water polo teams go downstate in 2018. Now, they coach.

"I sat in the desks they sit in. I walked the hallways they walk in, and I'm able to shed some light on the proper paths to go down," Dibek said.

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With schools around the country struggling to hire enough teachers, Conant High School's principal said they are especially fortunate to hire their own alumni.

"For Harris and Nia, they were very involved in athletics, also the academic experience, so they get very excited about being able to bring that back to Conant," said Principal Julie Nowak.

All five high schools in District 211 have been encouraging former students to return as teachers. At Palatine, they have 70 former students teaching. That number increases dramatically when staff members are included.