Alumni Profile - Ermelinda Lewis
Lewis first came to Sauk to visit Project VITAL, the college's literacy program, to learn more about learning disabilities. Lewis met Linda Kim, VITAL coordinator at the time, who was also part of a local organization that worked with children and parents.
"She (Kim) had me take some tests," recalls Lewis. "She came out and said ‘you did fantastic, you didn't miss anything, when are you going to go back to school?' I told her when my kids grow up.'"
Kim must have had an intuition about Lewis. As they were walking past the admission's office, Kim swept Lewis through the doors and helped her enroll in an Introduction to Psychology class. At first Lewis was shocked, but Kim told her she could cancel if she changed her mind. Lewis never canceled. She took that class and soon met with Dr. Joan Kerber (then coordinator of counseling) to discuss what to take next. As they talked, Dr. Kerber was impressed with Lewis' passion for wanting to become more knowledgeable about learning disabilities so that she could assist her own son. Lewis told of all of the things that she was doing to help champion her son's education. Kerber told her, "You should consider teaching; I would just be thrilled if someone like you were my son's teacher," and Lewis gasped. Lewis had also been encouraged by a close friend to go into teaching. She had asked her friend who was going to teach her son to read, "who is going to care and see that he is successful." Her friend replied, "What about you? You're his mother; just think of those other kids you could help too."
Ironically, Lewis actually had been teaching children in other settings than school, but never thought about becoming a classroom teacher. At the time, she taught children's missions at her church to about 50 children that ranged in age from kindergarten through sixth grade. She said she wasn't supposed to have that many, but the program grew and Lewis didn't turn anyone away.
Lewis' ability and calling as a teacher started to blossom, but, she had not dedicated herself to it yet due to a work commitment with a home-care client. So Lewis continued to attend Sauk part-time and after that commitment ended, she started her full-time venture towards teaching.
"Everything happens for a reason and it was my time," said Lewis. "I was surprised that there were so many adults at Sauk. I felt very comfortable with students of any age. I had been living in this area and knowing a lot of the kids' parents and having my own kids, everybody knew me," said Lewis.
While at Sauk, Lewis' road took another turn. In addition to her full-time studies, she took on the role of peer mentor in a new peer mentoring program that was just starting at the college.
"I think being a peer mentor was probably one of the best experiences that I had," Lewis said. "We had the multi-culture group, the single women and returning women. In fact one counselor told Lewis, "You have more clientele then I do." In fact, many times Lewis couldn't get into the building before she was stopped by students with questions.
"I guess I always knew I had a rapport with kids, but I was amazed and surprised that they trusted me the way they did," said Lewis, who added that one upset student even called her late one night because he didn't know who else to turn to.
In fact, her work as a peer mentor at Sauk is still remembered. Lewis says she still receives phone calls from parents inquiring about taking classes. She still encourages people to come to Sauk.
"I worked for Parents as Teachers for awhile and there are parents that I had encouraged to come back to school and they did. Many were single mothers," said Lewis. "They would call me when they got married, or call when they graduated. We always had that connection."
What Lewis remembers most about Sauk is the positive atmosphere and attitude from everyone. She recalls how the late Dr. Jerry Mathis would always pop in with something positive and uplifting to say; how her orientation class, ‘Women in Transition,' taught by Dr. Kerber was a great way to make new friends and get started on a positive pathway. She also mentioned Judy Williamson (professor of English retired) and Dr. Jim Barber (professor of speech retired) who encouraged her along the way to do her best.
"I don't think I would have ever made it through math or science if it hadn't been for Kay (Turk) and the Learning Assistance Center. They were wonderful."
Lewis graduated from Sauk with an Associate in Arts (major Special Education) in 1993 and transferred to Northern Illinois University. There, she says, she was extremely prepared to apply what she had learned at Sauk. After graduating from NIU, Lewis began substitute teaching until she landed a position as a special education teacher at Nachusa House in Dixon. From there, she moved on to her present position at Challand Middle School. Lewis teaches sixth through eighth grade self-contained students, which are those diagnosed as Educate Mental Handicap (EMH), Learning Disabled (LD) and Behavior Disordered (BD). She teaches all students together in one classroom.
"I love teaching, but I also love working with my BRAT pack," says Lewis, who explained BRAT (Being Righteous All the Time) is a group of sixth through eighth grade girls who were starting to fail, had a lot of potential, but didn't feel they fit in. BRAT, which Lewis says, began by word of mouth, is open to any student. What began from word of mouth has turned into a once, sometimes twice a week encounter that Lewis has done now for six years. In addition, she is also participating in a new reading program at Challand.
Lewis describes herself as an average student in high school. And school was not her focus. In her junior year, Lewis lost her mother.
"School was not my focus. I had four brothers and sisters to care for, and a cousin who lived with us. It was all my responsibility," Lewis said. "When you have a mother die you're not thinking about school. I had no idea that I could do what I have done until I came here."
Her own life experience has helped make Lewis a better teacher. Lewis says that as a teacher, her focus is slightly different.
"I want my students to be happy, successful, and have a good life. Students may be doing well on your tests, but what is important is if those kids know that you care about them as human beings, and that you want them to have a good life and do better. You encourage them. Doing well on the tests will take care of itself, once they know you care."
Lewis says Sauk gave her the self-confidence and the opportunity to achieve and succeed.
"Everyone made me feel like I could do it and I had so much to offer and so much to give. That goes so far into when you see other people believe in you; you just do what you can to succeed."