Kenwood Academy High School Teacher Named Educator of the Year

Friends of the Chicago River presented the 2022 Educator of the Year award to Kenwood Academy High School teacher Lynette Thomas for her outstanding participation in the Chicago River Schools Network (CRSN), Friends’ flagship education program. The award was presented at the 26th annual Chicago River Student Congress on Saturday, February 25 at DePaul College Prep High School near the North Branch of the Chicago River.

Learn more about the CRSN

Hundreds of high school environmentalists from dozens of schools in the city and suburbs participated in the annual Student Congress which is a water science-focused student conference organized by the CRSN, offering workshops on environment-related topics and featuring student presentations with a focus on river-related issues.

With a personal motto of “Be better than yesterday, everyday”, Thomas teaches chemistry at Kenwood Academy on Chicago’s South Side where she has been teaching science classes for 11 years. She is an active participant in the CRSN where she helps students to explore river chemistry at river-edge locations and how to improve habitat through litter removal and stewardship.

“The Chicago River Schools Network helps me to provide my students with hands on experience while learning about the water systems in Chicago,” said Lynette Thomas. “It means the world to me to be acknowledged for such an honor. I owe it all to my amazing students and their endless desire to fulfill their curiosity.”

With the Chicago-Calumet River system as a teaching tool, the CRSN enriches academic courses with river-based learning for students, helping them grow a life-long sense of stewardship for the river.

"Lynette has a great attitude about teaching and making the environmental lessons at the river come alive for her students," said Mark Hauser, ecology outreach manger and head of the CRSN at Friends of the Chicago River. “She helps students learn what it means to be good stewards of the environment.”

A native of East St. Louis, Thomas’ love for science was sparked at a young age when she received 1st place in the local science fair. She attended Eastern Illinois University where she studied Biological Sciences and Plant Biochemistry and later attained her M.Ed. Science Education from the University of Illinois Chicago through the Project SEEEC (Science Education for Excellence and Equity) program.

Since its founding in 1996, the CRSN has engaged more than 473,000 students and teachers in science, language, and history activities at river locations, north and south. In 2022 the CRSN’s student impact totaled over 14,000 people via direct programming, including field trips to the river with Friends’ staff and through the hundreds of teachers who have been trained to use our river curricula which is designed to meet state learning standards.

The CRSN is also one of Friends’ most diverse and inclusive programs. Public schools represent 90% of CRSN participants. A five-year analysis of the CRSN conducted by Friends in 2019 found that 69% of schools served were Chicago Public Schools, with 53.1% of students from low-income families. Over that same period, students served were 37.1% Latinx, 29.6% Caucasian, 20.6% Black, and 7.3% Asian.