First day at Brook Forest School very different for 2 teachers

It was the beginning of the end for one staff member and the start of the beginning for another Aug. 20 when students returned to Brook Forest School for the first day of classes.

For Terri Eilks, this was the 31st consecutive year she walked into Brook Forest on the first day of a new school year to teach first-graders.

And while Eilks never had Nina Angelillo as a student, she does remember when Angelillo was a first-grader at the school. And Aug. 20, Angelillo, a recent University of Missouri graduate, worked for the first time as an aid with Brook Forest kindergarten students.

Angelillo is certified as an art teacher and plans to soon be focusing her teaching in that field. But for now, she is very happy to be back at Brook Forest, this time as an employee.

“It’s weird to be back here like this, but it’s more exciting than weird to see old teachers who are now colleagues,” Angelillo said. “I’m just honored they would hire me to come back here. This was an awesome school when I was here as a student, and some of those same teachers are still here and still awesome.”

Angelillo also thinks it’s “really awesome” that Eilks has returned to the first-grade classroom at Brook Forest for a final year. And so does Eilks, who grew up in Clarendon Hills and whose father, Howard Eilks, is a former superintendent of Maercker Elementary District 60.

“I never thought I’d retire,” Eilks, 57, said during a lunch break on her final first day of school. “It just really made sense, financially, for me to retire this year, and I can have 30 years of retirement and learn how to play golf. Knowing myself, I’ll be one of two places on the first day of school next year: playing golf in Sarasota, or sitting in my car here with binoculars seeing how they’re going to do without me.”

Eilks knows she’s replaceable, but she’s given everything of herself during her long tenure at Brook Forest. And she’s loved most of it.

“I actually applied for a second-grade job here; I had taught second grade for four years in Carol Stream, but they gave me a job here with first-grade, and I was terrified. It’s the hardest grade there is, and I cried every day for four years.”

Eilks’s fear of teaching first-grade slowly turned into full out love.

“It’s the best age ever,” she said. “They make so much progress in first grade. They come in as puppies, and by the end of the year they’re big dogs and don’t need me anymore. I was terrified of teaching this grade level, but it’s been a lot of years now, and I never would have wanted to switch. Why would you want to switch out of something you love?”

Just as Eilks will leave at the end of the school year with a love for being in the classroom at Brook Forest, kindergartner Luca Florio was feeling pretty good about his first day as a student at the Butler Elementary District 53 elementary school.

“It was good,” he said with a big smile.” I got to draw; I drew myself, and it was fun. I want to come back tomorrow.”

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