Andrea Winiarski, a teacher at St. Charles East High School for 14 years, is known for giving extra doses of caring to her students – even after they graduate.
In fact, it is one of the reasons another teacher, Donna Wisely, nominated Winiarski as an Everyday Hero – because she dedicates herself wholeheartedly to every student that is, or was, part of her work day.
“Recently, she supported a former student through pregnancy, including taking the young lady to doctor appointments, buying her needed clothing or other supplies, and providing friendship and emotional support,” Wisely wrote. “Her commitment doesn’t end when the last school bell rings. I have known Mrs. Winiarski to provide food and clothing to students who don’t get breakfast at home or forgot [their] lunch.”
In addition to being a teacher, friend and mentor, Winiarski, 36, of Aurora, also dedicates some of her time to the local Illinois Special Olympics teams at St. Charles East High School, Wisely wrote.
“She is more than their coach,” Wisely wrote. “She’s their biggest cheerleader and No. 1 fan.”
Winiarski said she became interested in special education as a student at Stagg High School, being a peer partner in physical education class, where she helped train kids for Special Olympics competition.
“I liked it so much, I started reaching out to teachers in the school. During study hall and lunch period, I would help out at the special education department,” Winiarski said. “They allowed me to run a group, grade papers and interact with the children. Then I went on field trips, and that was what pushed me in the direction of special education.”
Winiarski said she works with all kinds of special education students, including those who are developmentally delayed, those on the autism spectrum and those with learning disabilities. She also co-teaches classes.
Many of her students graduate and attend Elgin Community College, but they still contact her for assistance, she said. Most recently, a former student who attends ECC asked Winiarski to help with an English paper before she turned it in.
“They needed a little help – and I helped them,” she said.
Winiarski’s extra caring for students comes through by her taking notice when a student wears the same clothing day after day, Wisely wrote. Winiarski then goes out of her way to collect clothes for that student.
“Andrea has searched local resale businesses and sought donations from colleagues who may be doing some ‘spring cleaning.’ Andrea continues to remain a part of her students’ lives long after they finish attending school,” Wisely wrote. “Mrs. Winarski makes a point to ensure that students know she can be counted on.”
Winiarski said when she is going to take steps to help a student with food or clothing, she approaches the situation delicately, sometimes talking to the school social worker for background.
“Sometimes, it’s getting to know them and gaining their trust so they will open up to me,” Winiarski said. “And if they need something, I will be able to help them.”
The Winiarski lowdown
Who she is: Andrea Winiarski, a teacher at St. Charles East High School
Town of residence: Aurora
Family: Married 10 years
Hobbies: “I see local bands and have gone across the country to see bands play, such as Alabama.”
Fun fact: In high school, she played drums in a garage band called Stratified Violet.