The District 207 Board of Education named four students as “207’s Best” in the area of community service during the November meeting. The students recognized were Nell Jakoniuk from Maine West, Roshni Lotwala from Maine East and Rhiannon Sites from Maine South. Pictured below are Nell Jakoniuk, Roshini Lotwala and Rhiannon Sites.
Nell is involved with Key Club and National Honor Society service projects that include planting flowers at the VA hospital, packing snack bags for Special Olympics, making blankets for the homeless, packing care packages for veterans, assembling birthday bags (a birthday party in a bag) for elementary children, painting windows for homecoming and making coloring books for elementary aged students. In addition, she has created her own projects. When she observed that an area of the Forest Preserve near the Des Plaines River could use a little clean-up, Nell marshaled the troops of Key Club and set up her own event to clean up the area.
When asked about her volunteerism, Nell said, “It’s not about the recognition. It’s about seeing other people lifted up, even if they don’t know who you are.”
Teacher Diane Littlefield Lanham shared this about Nell. “As a student in my history class and as a tutor in the COACH program, she would readily give a helping hand to her fellow classmates without even being asked and always with a gentle and welcoming attitude. Nell is a brilliant student and artist and an eloquent writer, but just as striking to me is her innate modesty and willingness to use her gifts to help others realize their own potential.”
Jane Wisdom, an English teacher at West said, “Nell truly embodies the spirit of service. When I ask her about when she first remembers the experience of giving back, she recounted an Easter egg activity that she and some friends arranged when they were in the fourth grade. She lights up when she talks about how it feels to make a difference.”
Roshni has been an engaged leader in Student Council for all four years of school and other school-related leadership roles include being a founding member and now President of the South Asian Student Association, being an R Code Leader (Maine East’s PBIS organization reinforcing Respectful / Responsible / Ready actions and dispositions), and being an academic tutor for COACH (the school’s peer tutoring program), in addition to tutoring for other community entities. As a part of National Honor Society, Roshni has been a volunteer on the tech trial team, a group of volunteers whom teachers utilize to try out lesson plans and new technologies in the virtual world. She has participated whole-heartedly and offered feedback to help teachers make their lessons better before using them with their classes.
“Roshni’s civic leadership extends to concerns about equity,” says English teacher Kate Lee-Chin. “In feminist club, she participates actively and was part of a small group who spearheaded a book club discussion of Chanel Miller’s Know My Name.”
Science teacher Judy Tyler shares that, “Roshni often stays after class (or even a weekend Zoom) to help me navigate the e-learning space. She gives me great feedback on what is working and not working for her fellow classmates.”
Rhiannon is the president of Key Club, where she’s been a member for four years, and says that her favorite event has been readers and leaders at the Park Ridge library which is a program that aids developmental reading in young children in a 1:1 setting. She also participates in the Kiwanis pancake breakfast and a spaghetti dinner. Rhiannon also participated in AAA day for differently abled students that consisted of mentoring individuals to raise awareness and provide a fun opportunity for the students. She has been a part of Uncle Pete’s Lunches for NHS; Strikes and Spares, a program for differently abled students at a bowling alley; and the Day of Giving Back, which produced cards for children in the hospital. Every winter, Rhiannon participates in Wreaths Across America with her father and cares deeply about supporting military veterans in our country. She is on DECA, the secretary of the Senior Class Council, Spanish Club, cheerleading, track, Irish Club and a Hawk Pride leader. She spends some of her free time volunteering with Free Rice, which is a website where you answer questions which accumulate grains of rice for people in need from around the world as a part of the United Nations world food program.
“Donating my time is just as important as money because we can’t always do that,” she says about her work at the Park Ridge library. “I love seeing little kids get so excited with having an older kid be with them. It benefits everyone.”
Diane Spillman, counselor at South, says “I have no doubt that Rhiannon will continue to help those in need throughout her life. She is just a very kind person.”
Jim McGowan, Key Club sponsor, says “as a leader, Rhiannon has been impressive in her willingness to try to think through how to facilitate projects that the membership proposes. Her first instinct is never to dismiss an idea, but instead to think how we can make it possible for students to serve. She has also dropped minimum service requirements for members as she operates by the philosophy that if we, as a club, can inspire a student to participate in even one service project, that still makes a difference.”