Holy Cross in Mendota teacher is recognized as ‘distinguished’

Photo Caption: Laura Knapp works with third-grader Jaelyn Weber during a lesson linking the glorious mysteries of the rosary with their corresponding Bible passages.

By: By Jennifer Willems

MENDOTA — She’s Mrs. Knapp to her third- and fourth-graders at Holy Cross School here, but Laura Knapp once sat in the classrooms of this vital little school as a student.

It was a natural choice for her to return to her alma mater after she graduated from Illinois State University in 1986.

“I’m able to pass on the faith,” she told The Catholic Post last week. “In today’s world people seem very unchurched as a whole. Where will we be in 50 years if the next generation doesn’t have the Catholic values?”

For her dedication and years of service to Catholic education, Knapp was chosen as the nominee for the National Catholic Educational Association’s Distinguished Teacher Award from the Diocese of Peoria.

Her principal, Anita Kobilsek, cited Knapp’s “servant leadership” as the reason she recommended the longtime teacher for recognition.

“She shows that teaching is a vocation and not just a job,” Kobilsek said. “It’s edifying to know that she truly loves the kids. She loves to teach. She loves her Catholic faith and shares it with the kids. For me, that comes out in her teaching and in the other roles she has at our school.”

In addition to teaching the combined third/fourth grade class, Knapp is a mentor to the new first/second teacher, Stephanie Mahar. She also stands in for Kobilsek when the principal has to be out of the building.

“Because we’re so small, she’s usually the person who volunteers her time,” Kobilsek added. “She’s here all the time. It’s that true dedication that she shows through her actions. It’s not just words.”

A lifelong member of Holy Cross Parish, Knapp said the seeds for her future profession were planted during her days as a baby sitter for the neighborhood kids.

“I felt a calling — I don’t know if it was the mothering instinct in me, but I felt it was rewarding to spend time with kids and teach them skills,” she recalled.

That feeling grew during junior high school and high school when the young musician accompanied students in ensembles.

“You almost give a mini lesson when you’re doing that. That was rewarding, too,” Knapp said. “I thought, ‘I can do this.'”

She taught for three years at Holy Cross and then took 10 years off to raise Bill and Kurtis, her sons with Tracy, her husband of 27 years. She returned in 2000 and is now teaching the children of some of her former students.

While Knapp holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, she minored in music education. At one time she played for parish and school Masses and directed the adult choir at Holy Cross. The presence of an electronic keyboard in the corner of her classroom makes it clear that music continues to find a place in her lesson plans.

“Just yesterday in social studies we were learning about the Southeast states so we sang ‘Shenandoah,'” Knapp said. “The kids really enjoy when you can work music into the different elements of the curriculum.”

Her goal as an educator is to teach students to teach themselves and learn how to find information for questions that they have.

“I tell my kids, when they ask me questions I don’t have the answers for, that I am a resource, but I want to teach them how to be resourceful, too,” she explained.

That will be a continuing challenge as Holy Cross moves toward a digital curriculum that is accessible at home as well as at school.
Many things may have changed in how things are taught since Knapp — or her sons — attended Holy Cross, but the importance of faith and community remains the same, she said.

“Our school, seriously, is like a family. These kids have bonds,” she said. “My two boys have friends now when they’re in college and out of college that they had when they went to school here. You’re making lifelong friendships.”

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