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D214 honors Calisch Award winner, honorable mentions

Each year, the Richard W. Calisch Arts Unlimited Award is presented to the District 214 senior who best exemplifies creative excellence in the arts. The prestigious honor was established in honor of Richard Calisch, a former English teacher and Arts Unlimited program coordinator. This year’s award recipient is Morgan Paoli from Rolling Meadows High School. 

Morgan Paoli, Rolling Meadows High School

Throughout her four years at Rolling Meadows High School, Morgan Paoli has demonstrated an incredible drive to explore and succeed in multiple areas of the arts, including Speech, Orchestra, Drama, Costuming, Directing, Dance and Writing. Through her hard work and maturity, she has emerged as a leader respected by both her peers and her teachers.

Morgan’s diverse resume includes three years as a cellist with the Concert Orchestra and with the Chamber Orchestra and Symphony Orchestra during her senior year. She has been a member of the school’s Tri-M Music Honor Society, which gives students service-based opportunities.

She has also been involved in the school’s theater program, starting as a member of the cast ensemble for “Cats” during her freshman year, then joining the costume crews, first as a member before moving to costume crew student director for several productions, and costume designer. She was a narrator for a production during her senior year. Also active in the school Variety Show, Morgan played the cello and served as emcee for two years. She became the overall student director during her senior year, doing an outstanding job developing the show despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

Morgan has also been an active member of the Speech team for four years, serving as captain for the past two years. She has competed in such areas as Prose Reading, Original Oratory, Humorous Duet Acting and Program Oral Presentation. She was a two-time Prose Reading finalist for the MSL Conference and captured second place in the National Speech and Debate Association Northern Illinois Championship, which qualified her for the 2021 National Speech Tournament.

She also has taken Dance and Writing classes and participated in the Mock Trial Team for two years.

Honorable Mentions

Honorable Mentions were awarded to the following students from the District’s five other schools.

Sydney Paunan, Buffalo Grove High School

Sydney Paunan’s hard work, innate musical ability and determination to succeed make her a standout student in Buffalo Grove High School’s Fine Arts program. Whether performing on her violin at the professional level, playing oboe in a small group or band performance, playing the vibraphone or being the audio technician in marching band, Sydney is an avid leader.

Sydney has toured Europe with the school’s Band, Choir and Orchestra, even leading the entire ensemble as concertmaster and conductor at world-renowned performance venues. She is also a member of the District 214 Honors Orchestra, the Buffalo Grove High School Marching Band, the Wind Ensemble and the Musical Pit Orchestra. She has served as the Orchestra librarian and is currently its president. She has qualified three times for the All State Festival.

During her four years at Buffalo Grove, Sydney has served in various leadership roles, where she regularly leads sectionals and rehearsals and prepares lessons for various music ensembles. Her interests include music theory and composition, and she is quick to mentor younger students, both in person and virtually.

During her freshman year, Sydney performed with the school Orchestra at the state festival, including playing a solo in the original work “Solaces.” Her playing was featured by numerous news outlets, including WTTW, WBBM and the Chicago Tribune.

In addition, Sydney has participated in the Music Institute of Chicago Community School and Chamber Program; the Chicago College of Performing Arts String Camp; Chicago Suzuki Institute competitions, where she served as concertmaster of the top orchestra in 2019; and five Master Classes. 

Sydney plans to major in music performance in college.

Ariel Williams, Elk Grove High School

Ariel Williams has been an outstanding contributor to Elk Grove High School’s Instrumental Music, Choral, Speech and Drama programs over the past four years. Despite her relatively understated demeanor, she has been a strong leader who consistently works hard at her many crafts.

She played the oboe as her primary instrument during her four years in the Band and was showcased as a member of the District 214 Honor Band. For Marching Band, she has played the marimba, the bass drum and the snare drum.

Ariel also has been very active in the school’s choral programs as well as a number of state and national groups. She has been a member of IMEA Honors Choir and Vocal Jazz, IMEA All-State Vocal Jazz and the ACDA Regional and National Honor Choirs. She also served on the Elk Grove Choir Executive Board, including acting as co-president during her senior year.

In addition to her musical talents, Ariel has been on the Speech Team for four years, becoming a state finalist in the IHSA Speech State Final event for Special Occasion Speaking during her junior year and winning second-place for Special Occasion Speaking and third in the state competition in Oratorical Declamation for her senior year.

Combining these talents, Ariel consistently earned featured roles in the school’s fall plays, variety shows, one-act plays and musicals. In fact, directors said that she was such a standout that they had her in mind when choosing their shows. In addition to performing, Ariel became a student director and mentored younger performers in one-act plays. 

Sarah Church, John Hersey High School

Sarah Church has been a mainstay of numerous Fine Arts programs during her four years at John Hersey High School. Her artistic curiosity gives her a nuanced understanding of the various media in which she works—from instrumental and vocal music to art and literature.

Among her many talents, Sarah is an accomplished musician in the Hersey Band, where she serves as principal flute; the Hersey Orchestra; and District Honors Orchestra. She also learned to play percussion instruments for Marching Band, becoming frontline percussion section leader. During her time with the Band and Orchestra, including stints as section leader, she participated in a variety of state, national and international performances and competitions, such as a performance at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

Sarah’s talents extend to art and literature. As a senior, she won first place at the Harper Art Show for 3D entries. She was one of 10 Hersey students selected for the Arts Unlimited Mural Project this spring, and her work appeared in the Arts Unlimited 2021 anthology publication. Her classes have included Photography 1 and 2, AP Studio Art Photography, Art 1 and Intro to 3D Art. She has also taken Honors World Lit and Composition, where her understanding of nuance and depth of literature stood out. 

Mara Nicolaie, Prospect High School

Mara Nicolaie’s award-winning artistic talent, combined with her drive and commitment to the student art community, have made her a leader in Prospect High School’s Art and Journalism programs.

Throughout her four years at Prospect, Mara has stood out as an example of a hard-working studio artist with high expectations. She contributes to school art shows and community-based projects, such as the current mural project with visiting artist Hector Duarte.

Being chosen to exhibit her work at the Harper Art Show for the past three years, she won awards for her 2D art all three years and this year took first place for her acrylic painting, “In Art Class.” She has also displayed her work at the IHSAE General Exhibition, becoming state champion in advertising in 2019. That year, she also won an honorable mention from the national Scholastic Art and Writing Awards.

In addition, Mara has been an active contributor to Prospector, the school newspaper. She became involved with the newspaper when she approached its adviser about doing editorial cartoons. With her gift for telling stories visually in many different ways, her work expanded to include a hand-painted cover depicting victims of racial violence, a cartoon showing equity issues at the school and a photo illustration of the difficulty teens face in acquiring contraceptives.

Mara moved from cartoonist at the paper to executive visuals editor to associate editor-in-chief, continually working with writers to develop new ways to enhance stories with different visuals. As a result, her work in journalism has won many prestigious awards at state and national competitions.

Jeremy Cohen, Wheeling High School

Jeremy Cohen has been an outstanding member of the Fine Arts community at Wheeling High School, participating in all aspects of the creative process: acting, tech crew, filming, editing and video production. Particularly notable has been his passion for incorporating innovative technology in his productions.

For example, Jeremy has been an integral part of Fusion, a student-generated original performance in the fall, for all four years at Wheeling, starting with creating scenes with the cast based on his willingness to step outside the box. In addition, he has produced and directed a number of performances, including winning Best Original Music Award at the second annual Fields Dream Festival for “Dream Catcher,” which he produced, directed and edited while also writing the original screenplay and original music.

Throughout his high school career, he has been a leader and team player in speech, Media, Band, Choir, Musical, Tech Crew, Theater, WCAT and other events. For example, when the school returned to remote instruction last fall due to an increase in area COVID-19 cases, the Band had only one remaining rehearsal as a group. In a last-ditch effort to produce the annual Holiday Concert, which was weeks away, Jeremy successfully videotaped, recorded and edited the session for the December concert.

Jeremy has also been active in the school’s theater program as an actor, emcee and technical crew. He has served as an emcee for the school’s Variety Show for the last three years. And he has been a cellist with the school Orchestra and played the electric guitar in the Mozaik Band and Gospel Band.

Finally, Jeremy has played a substantial role in building and expanding the school’s WCAT online video news program through his filmmaking, video editing and directing. He is currently WCAT president.