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Passion for teaching leads D214 grads “home” to launch careers

Elk Grove High School 2015 graduate Jeanette Huerta returns to her alma mater as a social worker.

Published August 22, 2023

Jeanette Huerta graduated from Elk Grove High School in 2015. Several years later, after a disappointing freshman year at college, two separate year-long stints with the Army National Guard—including a deployment to Kuwait—and finishing her bachelor’s degree at a second college, Huerta says she started to “self-reflect.” What did she really want to do with her life?

Huerta said, “I reflected on the teachers who really helped me: My cross-country coach and my social worker at Elk Grove. People who didn’t have to help me but did anyway: buying me running shoes, finding used clothes for me, driving me to band competitions. I decided I wanted to give back to the community that gave to me.”

She headed to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to earn her master’s degree in social work, specializing in working in schools. Huerta spent last year interning at John Hersey High School—and when District 214 added a third social worker position at all six comprehensive schools for the 2023-24 school year, she applied for the job at EGHS and was hired.

“It’s my dream job, working with my dream population,” she said.

Huerta is one of more than 100 new staff members starting the school year at District 214. But she is also part of a special subset: First-year teachers and staff members who themselves are D214 graduates. 

Wheeling High School 2019 graduate Shane Rayburn (second from right) teaches in the autos program at his alma mater.

Like Huerta, Shane Rayburn graduated from District 214—from Wheeling High School, in 2019. He completed two years at Harper College as part of the District’s first Harper Promise cohort of students.

Rayburn then transferred to Illinois State University, which has one of the nation’s only programs offering a bachelor’s degree in technology and engineering education. 

One of a set of triplets, he says, “I have always known I wanted to teach. My brother would rush through everything, but I’d be the one to sit down with my sister and explain things. I knew I liked teaching early on; I felt a calling for it.”

As a student at Wheeling, Rayburn was part of Battlebots and the High Mileage vehicle-fabrication team. “I pursued the idea of a career in engineering for a while, but I didn’t want to sit at a desk all day. It was senior year, and [teachers] Tom Steinbach and Mike Geist asked me what I wanted to do. The idea of teaching came up again.” Rayburn did a micro-internship at Buffalo Grove High School to see a regular teaching day first hand—and liked what he saw.

While earning his bachelor’s degree from ISU, Rayburn was a student teacher at Libertyville High School. “I taught a wide variety of classes, but auto was the class I enjoyed the most,” he said. He now is teaching in Wheeling’s autos program: the introductory Auto Systems class, Diagnostic Systems & Repair, and College Vocational Automotive. 

“It’s always been my goal to come back to the school I graduated from, and help the community,” he said. “At District 214 we have great programs for students; I wanted to help continue that process. And I really wanted to come back and teach with the guys who taught me—they’re a fun group of guys.”

Buffalo Grove High School 2019 graduate Sydney Sadley teaches English at her alma mater.

Sydney Sadler also is working side by side with colleagues who were once her teachers. One of Buffalo Grove High School’s new first-year teachers, Sadler is being mentored by Breanne Makovec—a teacher she had as a freshman herself at BGHS. Sadler also is planning to co-sponsor the Asian Student Association with her former teacher—and now colleague—Jeanne Shin-Cooper.

Sadler graduated from BGHS in 2019. She took one of District 214’s educator prep classes as a senior, then headed to University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she earned a degree in English with a minor in secondary education.

“I went to a job fair at District 214 last spring. I had always thought about coming back,” she said. “I always loved being in a place where innovation is encouraged and welcomed. The thought of working here really excited me. I knew I wouldn’t ever feel bored.”

This year, Sadler will be teaching Honors Written and Oral Communications for BGHS freshmen, and also American Literature, a junior English class. 

All three new staff members said the thing that makes them most excited is the prospect of working with District 214 students. “I can’t wait to be working with students here, and helping them see what they can’t see,” said Huerta.