By ALLISON MATYUS
Hyde Park lost a long-time community member and passionate teacher Monday Dec. 7. Jane Averill passed away after her battle with cancer.
Averill was a pre-K teacher at Ray Elementary School, 5631 S. Kimbark Ave., from 2001 until April of this year when she retired. Inside her classroom, room 413, she is remembered as a caring teacher.
“I was really impressed with her use of singing to communicate with the kids,” said Sasha Austin Schmidt, a Latin teacher at Ray. “She would sing to the students as they walked outside to go to recess and as she brought them back in from the playground.”
Even before she became a teacher at Ray, she was a Ray mother, and was passionate about early child education and development, among other causes. Above all, Averill was an advocate for children.
“She was very active in supporting public education at a time when public education is under attack,” said Tom Panelas, her husband. “She worked very hard to prevent Canter School from being closed.”
Averill was also a strong supporter of the Chicago Teacher’s Union and worked hard to prevent Chicago Public Schools (CPS) from closing. She supported the teacher’s strike of 2012, and in true “Jane form,” came up with her own strike songs.
Schmidt said that her dedication and support to her students was inspiring.
“She was very impassioned about preschool education and whenever there would be a meeting about the upper grades, she would always bring up pre-K and advocate for her students,” Schmidt said.
On Dec. 10, Ray Elementary dedicated an art gallery space in Averill’s honor, who believed art was a critical part of children’s learning. A once empty, unused space will now hold the artwork of students in a cozy corner on the second floor. At the dedication, people were lined up and down the hallway and spilled out the door-a true sign of how much Averill was appreciated in the school and in the community.
Almost every teacher, of all grades and specialties, had a story to tell in which Averill helped them.
“She helped my Latin program a lot when I first came on board. She was very supportive and ran a fundraiser for the program,” Schmidt said.
“She was a mentor to lots of people in this building,” said Lori Dana, an art teacher at Ray. “She was always so generous with her time and resources.”
Outside of her classroom, she was a loving parent to her two children, Michael and Alli.
“In whichever role she found herself at any given time, she was always able to empathize and understand the other, and understanding how parents think and feel made her a better teacher,” Panelas said.
In her over 11 years of teaching in Hyde Park, she was able to meet many residents and see her students grow up.
“You couldn’t walk a block in the neighborhood with her without people stopping her two or three times,” Panelas laughed. “She seemed to know everybody in the neighborhood because she had so many generations of kids and parents who were grateful for what she had done.”