At its January 12 meeting, the Niles Township High School District 219 Board of Education recognized Niles North senior Nina Artwell, Niles West senior Zeenat Muhammad and Niles West Dean Amy Tucker with the Those Who Make a Difference Award.
Niles North senior Nina Artwell was honored for School Leadership. North Principal James Edwards said over the course of her high school career, Nina has been involved in clubs and activities including DREAM, SOAR, Children’s Tumbling, PALS and Junior Achievement. She has been a Principal’s Recognition Breakfast Awardee and this year has been instrumental in the work of the Principal’s Advisory Committee.
“Nina’s feedback on the school reopening draft shed light on some things we needed to consider on classroom and hallway safety,” Edwards said. “She has volunteered to work with West students on developing criteria for senior final exam exemptions as well as serving as a student panelist for the Board of Education candidate forum. And in every topic we discuss, Nina’s racial equity lens is valued by both myself and her student colleagues.”
Many of Nina’s teachers testified to Nina’s leadership in the classroom.
“Nina has been a tremendous leader in the Integrated PE class,” said Physical Welfare teacher Glenn Olson. “Not only is Nina a positive role model for all the students, she also has a unique ability to enhance the in-class experience with her calm and upbeat personality. She motivates and leads on a daily basis.”
English teacher Renee Scott, who teaches Nina’s Creative Writing Class, said, “Nina has already been an integral part of creating a class community. She comes to class with her camera on, a great attitude, and a willingness to participate and share her creative work.
Social Studies teacher Patricia Bordenet teaches Law and said, “When we were processing the events (at the U.S. Capitol) on January 6, Nina co-led a discussion and was thoughtful and respectful in her perspective with a group of peers that she has been in class with (only virtually) for 2 days.”
Mathematics teacher Ashishkumar Kachhia said in his Statistics class, “Nina is always very enthusiastic and greets the whole class when we start. She is usually the first to come to class and she usually starts the class with a very energetic ‘Good morning, everyone! How are y’all doing?’ She is the reason why a lot of my students are engaged from the beginning of the Zoom class.”
Nina’s Guidance Counselor, Christine Beeftink, who also sponsors PALS, said, “This year, I was blown away by her essay that won an award from the American Writers Museum. She wrote about her affinity with the Black individuals who have endured the violence of systemic racism and her own vision of America. It was a brave essay that comes from Nina’s inner strength and conviction.”
Science teacher Gordon Booker says in her Forensics class, “It is very clear Nina cares about her own learning and wants to do well in school and in life. She voluntarily answers questions and regularly adds thought-provoking ideas to class discussions. She is an incredibly responsible, honest, and hardworking student who will continue to have a positive influence on others around her.”
Edwards said, “I am ecstatic to report that Nina plans to be an educator after college and there is no doubt in my mind that whatever area she pursues, she will continue to lead in the classroom and as a social justice activist.”
Niles West Principal Karen Ritter recognized senior Zeenat Muhammad and Niles West Dean Amy Tucker for “Compassion and Care During Remote Learning.”
“Zeenat’s grandmother, who lives with her family, was recently hospitalized for a month,” Ritter said. “When it was time for Zeenat’s grandmother to leave the hospital, she had a wound that needed to be taken care of at home as part of the healing process. Zeenat learned from the doctor how to clean and patch up the wound so she could help her grandmother recover. In addition to that, Zeenat’s grandmother needed physical therapy. The doctor told the family that she can do PT at the hospital, or someone could learn how to lead the physical therapy at home. Zeenat volunteered to be that person. Zeenat helped her grandmother get better after one month of this routine. Once her grandmother got better, Zeenat’s grandfather got sick with a bacterial infection that caused him to be hospitalized for several days. The doctor told the family that grandpa can come to the doctor’s office to get his antibiotic or someone can learn how to administer it at home. Again, Zeenat volunteered. She learned how to draw blood once a week and administer an IV for her grandfather. She also did physical therapy with him, since she learned how to do that with her grandmother. As if that were not enough, during remote learning, Zeenat and her whole family contracted Covid. All of these challenges contributed to Zeenat’s multiple absences.
“Luckily, Zeenat wants to be a doctor, so she jumped at the opportunity to help her grandparents heal and saw it as good practice. She is also a responsible student and contacted Dr. Tucker every time she knew she would miss class. Zeenat may be the only student to administer IVs and physical therapy at home, but she is certainly not the only student who is facing challenges at home and missing school because of it.
“Sometimes, when we see students with a lot of absences, we jump to conclusions and think they don’t care about school,” Ritter said. “I caution us from making those assumptions, because we never know what a student’s situation may be at home.
“By the way, Zeenat finished the semester with all A’s and one B. She tutors in the Lit Center three times a week, and she is a member of our Peer Reconciliation Committee. Zeenat says she loves a challenge and loves to push herself, and she will make a wonderful doctor one day and care for her patients as she does for her grandparents. She said of Dr. Tucker, that she is so understanding and she never once judged her.
“I also want to recognize Dr. Tucker, our other deans, all of our counselors, social workers, and school psychologists because they do so much behind the scenes that not many people are aware of. They are constantly reaching out to our students, trying to make connections, following up on absences or mental health concerns, and even do home visits.
“Thank you to Dr. Tucker, our deans and the Student Services team for demonstrating care and compassion for our students, and thank you Zeenat Muhammad for showing care and compassion for your family,” Ritter said. “You are all making such a difference.”