Rochelle teacher among finalists for $100,000 Dream Big grant
By Kimberly Watley
ROCHELLE ― Vic Worthington woke up feeling miserable with a cold and planned to take Thursday off.
His boss said no one could cover for him. His wife offered no sympathy either.
With a pocketful of Kleenex and a pounding headache, he headed to Rochelle Middle School, where he is a cross-curricular vocational teacher.
He was called out of his classroom at one point, and about 20 Farmers Insurance representatives and members of the media crept in through the back door. When he returned, he was greeted with applause and learned he's in the finals of the Dream Big Teacher Challenge grant, part of the insurer's Thank America’s Teachers program. He'd applied for the grant in June.
The 100-plus applicants were narrowed to 15, and Worthington is the only teacher from Illinois on that list. The prize is $100,000, and the winner will be determined in online voting.
District manager David Schramm and agent Mark Gillis gave him the news.
“Let me gather my thoughts,” a slightly flushed Worthington said. “Phew! This is pretty cool and if we win, it goes to the whole school. I’ve been fortunate to receive two grants through Monsanto to use in my lab, so this isn’t just for me and my kids. It’s for everyone in the community really.”
His vision, "Full STEAM Ahead," highlights needs of students and the community.
“Years ago, when I was changing jobs, I was able to double my income with information I recalled from middle school," he said. "Mrs. Karen Dye, my science teacher, taught me things that later applied to my life and career. These aren’t things students think about.”
Her lesson in earth science and chemistry and how he was able to use that information to improve his situation is what he longs to teach his own students.
He said STEAM is based on the STEM program, a coalition formed to increase state and federal policymakers' awareness of the vital role science, technology, engineering and mathematics play in economic success for students.
Worthington incorporated art into the concept, believing a child’s creativity is imperative to his success. For two years, he has adapted his ideas, discussing them with colleagues who stand beside him in the endeavor.
State budget cuts have cut school programming across the board. Netting the grant would allow the program to live up to its name.
His effort also is driven by an unemployment rate that is 2 percent higher than the state average, and watching hundreds of agribusiness and industrial jobs in Rochelle go to people who aren't living in the Hub City.
Worthington grew up in Little York, a village in Warren County more than 150 miles southwest of Rockford, and spent hundreds of hours in a tractor seat, tending crops of corn, soybeans and hay. He baled, detasseled corn, cared for livestock and digitized his family farm’s records.