For Immediate Release
Saturday, October 13, 2007

Loves Park teacher named 2007-2008 Illinois Teacher of the Year

Businesswoman turned art teacher will serve as ambassador for state’s teachers

DECATUR — The Illinois State Board of Education has named Ruth Meissen, an art teacher at Harlem Middle School in Loves Park, as Illinois Teacher of the Year. Meissen will spend next semester representing Illinois Teachers at state, local and national events. She was named Illinois Teacher of the Year at the 33rd annual Those Who Excel/Illinois Teacher of the Year banquet Saturday night in Decatur.

“Ruth’s passion and commitment to the arts coupled with her dedication to community service makes her an excellent representative of teachers throughout the state,” said Christopher A. Koch, Ed.D State Superintendent of Education. “What Ruth has accomplished within the classroom, the school and the community as a whole is truly impressive.”

As Illinois Teacher of the Year, Meissen will have the opportunity to take her knowledge and expertise out of the classroom. She will spend the 2008 spring semester speaking at teacher workshops, educational conferences, and civic and community meetings. She will receive a lifetime tuition waiver to state universities and a one-semester paid leave to pursue coursework or develop an educational project that will benefit students statewide. In addition, she will represent Illinois at the NASA Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama and in the National Teacher of the Year program sponsored by the Council of Chief State School Officers and ING. Meissen will also receive products and services from Motorola and SMARTer Kids.

Meissen has always known she would have a career that incorporated her love of art but teaching was the furthest profession from her mind. Instead she initially pursued a career in advertising and within a few short years was vice-president of the Northern Illinois Advertising Council.

After a few years, Meissen took some time off to raise her second child and it was during that period when she began to think about changing careers. Her then seven year-old son told her that she should be an art teacher because “she would be good at it.” It was the last thing Meissen had been considering but she decided to enroll in some courses and see where it went.

She quickly discovered that she not only liked being in the classroom, she loved it. According to Meissen, “the intensity of my previous career made the potential chaos of a classroom full of active students seem easily manageable. But most of all, being able to share my artistic knowledge and love for creating artwork with students was absolutely exhilarating.”

Like every aspect of Meissen’s life, her enthusiasm and intensity for helping students be successful doesn’t end at her classroom door. She channels her energy into community service by working with the student council, creating partnerships with businesses that can help students, Habitat for Humanity, fundraising, and adopting a “sister” school in New Orleans that had experienced severe damage during Hurricane Katrina.

Her work with the Hynes School in New Orleans fostered correspondence programs between the students at Harlem Middle School and students at Hynes. She raised money for supplies and visited the school, at her own expense, to meet the children and their teachers. Principal John Cusimano explained the impact the project had on all involved; “Her efforts have not only helped the Hynes staff and students, but allowed our staff and students to unify in an effort to reach out to others.”

Meissen holds an art degree from Columbia College and a master’s degree in teaching from Rockford College.

The 2006-2007 Illinois Teacher of the Year is Joe Fatheree, a technology instructor at Effingham High School in Effingham, Illinois.