Barrington kindergarten teacher makes learning fun
Popular kindergarten teacher George Vlasis is adding to his legend at Hough Street Elementary School in Barrington.
Long known at Hough Elementary for his storytelling prowess, Vlasis had his first children's book published in September. He said he was encouraged by a kindergartner three years ago to put onto paper a particular true story he tells his classes annually.
"I actually started typing it and I actually used my kindergartners as a sounding board," said Vlasis, 39, of Lake Zurich. "So when I had an idea, I'd say, 'Do you like this idea?'"
Vlasis' "Helmet Man and the Chocolate Cake" is a true story from when he was 5 years old.
His character is a boy named George Peter, who really wants to make a chocolate cake. As he makes the cake, George Peter decides the bowl would be a perfect helmet. It's meant to be a fun story of a child just being a child.
Illustrating how Vlasis is beloved at Hough, a crowd of students and parents were present last month for his signing and reading of "Helmet Man" at Barnes & Noble in Deer Park. Vlasis was the first featured author for the school's annual book fair at the store.
Hough Elementary parent Debra Johnson was part of the Barnes & Noble crowd. She said her fifth-grade son started school with Vlasis as his teacher.
"He loved George," Johnson said. "I think he's everything a teacher should be. He communicates. He makes learning fun. He's just a quintessential teacher."
Lauren Belleson, a Hough Elementary physical education teacher, said Vlasis brings energy to his students and colleagues.
"Just overall, anybody he comes in contact with, they immediately love him," Belleson said. "He just brightens their life and enriches their life."
Vlasis' work with kindergartners was recognized statewide in 2015, when he was one of 10 Illinois teachers to receive the Golden Apple Award for teaching excellence.
Commonly known as "Mr. George" to students, Vlasis believes in connecting with students by making learning fun. So instead of just writing "Helmet Man," he decided it was important to let the kids be part of his creative process.
"They think they're having a fun time, but they're really doing hard work," said Vlasis, who has been exclusively with kindergartners for 13 years and serves as a co-coach for Hough Elementary's girls basketball team. "And I think the more you do that kind of thing, the more engaged they are."
Vlasis typically starts the day with a morning meeting with the kindergartners sitting in a circle and sharing what they did on the previous night. The rest of the day includes students reviewing a calendar of upcoming assignments before writing, some physical activity, reading and mathematics.
Principal Jim Aalfs said he wasn't surprised when he heard Vlasis was writing a children's book. Vlasis is a gifted storyteller who shines in the kindergarten classroom, he said.
"I've said this before, that I think when God made George He simply said, 'George is going to be a kindergarten teacher,'" Aalfs said.
"He has the patience of Job. He loves these kids. The work that he does with the families outside of school is exemplary. He just pours his heart and soul into his profession."
Curriculum vitaeName: George Vlasis
Position: Kindergarten teacher, Hough Elementary School in Barrington
Teaching experience: 17 years, all at Barrington Area Unit District 220
Education: Bachelor's degree from Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa; master's degree from Elmhurst College
Personal: Single, lives in Lake Zurich
Tips From A Great Teacher
• Maintain a high energy level in the classroom.
• Make learning fun to keep students engaged.
• Find out what interests students. "If they're interested in something like dinosaurs or they're interested in trucks, we'll build a curriculum around that item so then we have that child's interests," he said. "And then we can teach math and science and reading all based on what the kids are interested in."
• Have a partnership with students' families.
• Get the most from limited time you have with each class. "Make teaching come alive, build a classroom community, teach your students that making a mistake is just part of our journey, but not the end of the ride," he said. "Smile, laugh and let those kids explore. For some kids, you are their teacher, role model and, most importantly, their connection to learning."