Camelot Education’s Excel Academy of Southwest Teacher of the Year wins Recognition and Promotion
Helping students, who attend Camelot Education’s Excel Academy of Southwest in Chicago, overcome the life challenges they face explains exactly why Juan Carlos Funes chose to be an educator and why he chose Camelot Education. His passion, understanding, and dedication to his students added up to his being selected as the school’s Teacher of the Year.
Funes, a graduate of Northeastern Illinois University, has been with Camelot for six years. Until now, he was a history and physics teacher, but he begins this school year in a new role – as the school’s director of student services. While his exemplary work in the classroom led to the promotion, he said being chosen Teacher of the Year was not something he expected.
“Was I surprised? Humbled is more like it,” Funes said. “I wasn’t trying to be chosen. I wasn’t even thinking I deserved it. Being selected for the honor means you’re one of the best and that your peers recognize you as such. I was very humbled to be thought of in this capacity. It makes you reflect and ask yourself: ‘what did I do to deserve this?’”
Jake Benke, principal at Excel Academy of Southwest explained precisely why Funes deserved the honor.
“I’ve been working with him for four years,” Benke said. “Every year, he gets better and better. When we conduct reviews, he takes detailed notes. He’s always applying and implementing the critiques he receives. His students are attentive in his classes, and he always demonstrates leadership qualities.”
Benke said that the process of selecting the Teacher of the Year is not easy. The school’s staff members select two of the most outstanding teachers. Through a process of observation, one is gradually chosen through peer input. Students also get to have their input.
Excel Academy of Southwest is an accelerated and credit recovery school for students in Chicago Public Schools who have fallen behind academically. Benke said their students are vulnerable of dropping out of school, but it is Camelot’s mission and goal to guide students to actualize their full potential.
Funes said that’s why he works for Camelot.
“When most people sign up for a career or a job; they have one specific function. If you’re an English teacher, you teach English. Here, you realize it’s different and that students rely on you; like a firefighter or other community leader. There are lives in your hands. As an educator, when you hit your stride, you also learn that it’s not just the students who are relying on you – you’re also relying on them. We anchor each other, and believe it or not, it keeps you from letting the challenges overwhelm you. We’re lifting each other up.”
Funes said a degree in psychology is his next goal, and he’s working toward this by attending Governors State University. In the short term, in his new capacity as director of student services, he wants to bring students more job opportunities, help them work on community building, and engage them in developing concrete plans for what they’re going to do when they graduate from Excel Academy.
“When you come here, you realize you’re not just a teacher. You become a confidant and a mentor,” he said. “We have lost students to gun violence, to abuse, to all of those destructive things in the streets. You understand that you might be the only person in that young man or woman’s life they can talk to about the issues in their lives. If they’re not in school, there’s the potential for something bad to happen. They could lose their lives or end up in trouble. But that’s what we’re working to prevent. This isn’t the kind of career you take on to get credit or recognition. You do it because you want to help our young people. We build them up, we bring them hope, and by doing that, we’re building up communities.”