Thomas Wheeler has taught at Catholic schools for more than three decades. A product of Catholic education — St. Gregory School and Mercy High School — Wheeler said his faith compelled him to seek a career in Catholic education.
“It’s the faith, the quality of education and the family aspect that I love” about Catholic schools, said Wheeler, a middle school social studies and language arts teacher at Our Lady of the Pillar School in Creve Coeur. “When I come to school and I teach, it’s like another family here.”
Wheeler is one of six teachers from Catholic schools in the St. Louis area who are among 86 educators honored with the annual Emerson Excellence in Teaching Awards. The award recognizes classroom instructors, selected by their schools’ administrators, for their accomplishments and dedication to their students and the teaching profession.
The Excellence in Teaching Awards program began in St. Louis in 1989 and is sponsored annually by Emerson, the St. Louis-headquartered global technology and engineering company.
Chris Chiburis - Seventh-grade teacher
Chaminade College Preparatory School
Chris Chiburis is described as a veteran social studies teacher whose desire to educate young people in human geography is only exceeded by his desire to learn, grow as a teacher, discover new methods and shape students in character and mind.
“His leadership has helped to grow students in community, by creating environments where all students may be heard and are allowed to express themselves creatively, personally and spiritually,” Brett Desnoyer, associate principal for mission and instruction, wrote in his nomination of Chiburis.
Chiburis gives freely of his time and efforts, and he is always willing to take on more — including more responsibility and more classes — while still maintaining his desire to improve, share methods and learn from others, Desnoyer wrote.
About Chris Chiburis:
• Has taught at Chaminade for 25 years.
• Leads more than 100 seventh-grade students annually to Chicago for a cultural field trip experience.
• Coaches the baseball team and is the longest-serving House Dean in Chaminade’s House System.
Greg Cissell - Music director
St. Dominic High School in O’Fallon
St. Dominic principal Stacy Stewart said Greg Cissell demonstrates excellence in teaching by investing in each student, both inside and outside the classroom. He tirelessly works with school productions, district competitions and state competitions in band and choir.
“Greg’s approach to teaching any student is developing a positive relationship with them,” Stewart wrote in her nomination. “Students describe Mr. Cissell as kind, compassionate, hardworking, easygoing and fun. He is also organized, calm under pressure, and sets big expectations for his students.”
Stewart said that Cissell continues to make the classroom enjoyable by implementing cooperative learning strategies and is creative with the students in performance-based classes to help them learn essential objectives. He also supported all students in performance-based classes, even during remote learning.
About Greg Cissell:
• Has taught at St. Dominic High School for 27 years.
• Teaches choir, band and music appreciation.
• Has guided many students to the high school state level in choir and band.
• Puts in extra hours to ensure the success of school productions and pep bands at sporting events, and for students to be successful in pursuing their instrument and vocal talents.
• Cissell is a member of the school’s teacher leadership team, which supports the school’s mission and vision.
Cindy Schneider - Fourth-grade teacher
St. Margaret Mary Alacoque School in Oakville
Schneider’s commitment to Catholic education is evidenced by her many years of service, principal Peggy Visconti wrote in her nomination of Schneider. A lifelong learner, Schneider is enthusiastic about learning new things and experimenting with new ideas.
Schneider is described as running an organized classroom where children are familiar with procedures and routines. Her positive attitude and sense of humor contribute to a productive learning environment. She encourages her students to be self-sufficient, independent and self-monitoring individuals.
She learns alongside her students by integrating new technology into her instruction methods. In recent years, Schneider has become an Apple Teacher certified educator and a Kami certified educator.
“It’s the value of her experience along with her ongoing enthusiasm that I respect the most about Cindy Schneider,” Visconti said. “She’s still working to learn new things and putting forth a lot of effort and keeping an open mind. What stands out to me the most is her love for the kids and love for what she’s doing.”
About Cindy Schneider:
• Has taught at St. Margaret Mary Alacoque for 38 years.
• She is a collaborator, having previously served on the school’s marketing committee and organized events for faculty and staff celebrations.
• Has a proactive presence with families, working with students outside of classroom time to meet their individual emotional and academic needs.
Kayce Swigelson - French teacher
St. Louis Priory School
French teacher Kayce Swigelson’s passion for her students and her love of all things French makes her a “true gem” at St. Louis Priory School, wrote Judy Mohan, assistant head of school for intellectual formation.
“Affectionately known as Swiggles, Kayce embodies passion for her craft,” Mohan wrote. “From the moment that a student enters her classroom, he is enveloped with French culture. No, not quiche and red wine but rather full-length posters of hamburgers, fries and shakes (complete with the corresponding French word).”
To help students master French vocabulary, Swigelson created scavenger hunts, with students roaming the halls to complete their tasks. A senior student recalled how Swigelson replaced the exam with a project in which they were required to write a script in French and to make a film with fellow French students.
Students have described her as someone who makes others seen and wants to help every student succeed.
About Kayce Swigelson:
• In her eighth year at St. Louis Priory.
• Was cast in the school’s production of “Newsies” as the swindling newspaper saleswoman. Swigelson also was a cheerleader for the other actors throughout rehearsals and performances.
• Swigelson finds a way to make lessons hands-on. Her classroom features a basketball hoop so students can shoot for extra credit after earning the privilege.
Rebecca Wendl - Third-grade teacher
St. Francis of Assisi School in Oakville
Principal Beth Bartolotta described Rebecca Wendl as an exemplary teacher. “I have witnessed the way she brings excitement and engagement to her third-grade class in very innovative ways,” Bartolotta wrote in her nomination.
Wendl embraces interdisciplinary instruction with project-based learning. Her students learned engineering and design, marketing and economics through a store, where they made toys and sold them to middle school students. She also collaborates with other teachers to integrate subject matter.
She conferences with students to set goals for themselves and check in with their growth. Wendl also meets with small groups while other students work on personalized “playlists” of tasks and skills designed for them. She also shares her best practices with colleagues during professional learning team meetings.
About Rebecca Wendl:
• Has taught at St. Francis of Assisi for five years.
• Works with other teachers to integrate subject matter. Wendl has worked with the art teacher, for example, to integrate art with religion, social studies, science and math.
• Empowers students with goal setting and adapts lesson plans to incorporate those goals into lessons.
Thomas Wheeler - Middle school teacher
Our Lady of the Pillar School in Creve Coeur
It is a daily effort of Tom Wheeler to seek feedback from his students to determine how they are progressing toward their goals, wrote Our Lady of the Pillar principal Heather Fanning in her nomination of Wheeler.
With an enthusiastic and positive attitude, “Mr. Wheeler contributes to a cooperative spirit within the school community, among students, parents and colleagues,” she wrote. “(He) takes the uniqueness of each student into account in planning lessons and develops a positive atmosphere for learning. He makes every effort to help students experience success both as individuals and as a class.”
Wheeler sets an annual professional growth and development goal for himself. Last year, he used a growth-oriented process for praising students based on their accomplishments via prior knowledge and study strategies and habits.
About Thomas Wheeler:
• Has taught for seven years at Our Lady of the Pillar.
• Teaches social studies and language arts.
• He ensures that students experience success individually and in class, using hands-on learning experiences. He is sympathetic and understanding, yet firm and consistent.