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Catalyst Maria teacher wins statewide award

Hamilton hailed as dedicated, compassionate, effective

By Kelly White

Sean Hamilton has been teaching for the past eight years at Catalyst Maria High School. His peers describe him as dedicated, compassionate and hard working. His students say he is one-of-a-kind.

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Catalyst Maria teacher Sean Hamilton shows a ceremonial check for $10,000 at the surprise all-school assembly in his honor earlier this month. –Supplied photos

So it was no surprise to many at the school when Hamilton was selected as the Illinois Network of Charter Schools (INCS) Teacher of the Year.

“Sean is that rare breed of educator that blends passion, art, intellect, life experiences, and educational insight together in harmony, with as much brilliance as a world-renowned conductor of a symphony,” said Ed Siderewicz, Co-Founder & Director of Mission & External Relations at Catalyst Maria. “He begins by truly seeing his students for who they are. From there, Sean recognizes the gift each student brings to the world.

“As any great teacher does, Sean inspires his students to dig deep to have the vulnerability and courage to bring their gift and the needs of the world together,” Siderewicz contuned. “When this happens, we see and hear harmony – which sets the stage for healing and wholeness.”

Hamilton, who obtained his undergraduate degree from West Chester University of Pennsylvania, and two master’s degrees from Johns Hopkins University and the Art Institute of Chicago, started as a Teach for America Corps Member at Catalyst Maria, 6727 S. California, and has stayed since the conclusion of that program.1 1 1

“I stayed because we have incredible students, really incredible students who (mostly) love art,” Hamilton said. “Honestly, I see teaching as a pathway to the much-needed radical change that may make our world better for all. I had great teachers throughout my own education and saw the practice of teaching as a vehicle to influence change and even hope.”

He is the founding art teacher at the high school, starting out his career teaching both art and history.

“I started two general introduction to art courses in 2014, and by 2015, school officials asked if I would be interested in teaching art full time,” Hamilton said.3 1 1

His passion and drive for creative talent led him to develop the department to include more courses, instructors, and opportunities for students’ growth. Some of the classes offered now include, but are not limited to: ceramics, drawing and painting and digital media.

“Digital media is a class I take great pride in,” Hamilton said. “It is a class that combines photography, film and graphic art for the purpose of representation through the lens of the photographer. I wanted to create a class that was all-inclusive to every background, race, sexual orientation, ethnicity. Not everyone in the art world is a white, straight male; and, everyone views the world differently.”

His colleagues say he has made a profound impact on a number of lives at Catalyst Maria, through his daily instruction, as well as leading events like the annual STEAM EXPO.2 1 1

“My heart melts when I see a student emotionally respond to a piece of art,” Hamilton said. “It does not happen often and sometimes takes a great deal of prep to help them make that connection; but my goodness, is it worth it. I like and enjoy teaching most when I see and feel students embrace art as a way to understand, make sense, connect and represent.”

Hamilton was nominated by Naurice Olivera, Director of Recruitment at Catalyst Maria High School for the INCS Teacher of the Year. She completed the initial nomination and then a group of students seconded the nomination.

INCS Teacher of the Year awards began in 2011, and this year they received a record number of nominations, with 121 from varying schools within the Chicago community, including the nomination for Hamilton.

Natalia Blanco, Program Coordinator for Illinois Network of Charter Schools, explained the selection process.5 1

“INCS has an evaluation committee where people from other charter schools around the state join to read nominations,” she said. “Committee members are provided with a rubric and all the materials provided for each nomination. They then present their top choices to the other members and we meet for a discussion on who the winner should be. The rubric is one of many factors taken into consideration, but we mostly focus on the discussion call.”

Hamilton remained modest. In fact, he was informed he was selected for the Teacher of the Year when the school called a surprise assembly during the month of November.

“I am glad my school and community are getting recognized, but as far as I am concerned, we have dozens of stellar ‘Teachers of the Year’ at Catalyst. I am honored and humbled that I was selected and it has been a lot to process,” he said.

The assembly was attended by scholars, staff, and members of the INCS team. His family was also able to join the celebration virtually, where he was honored by students and staff and awarded $10k from INCS.

Hamilton was also honored on Monday at the 2021 INCS Charter Excellence Awards.

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