St. Mary School in Bloomington has been ‘home’ to Donna Zvonar for 45 years
EDITOR’S NOTE: Catholic Schools Week starts tomorrow, Jan. 29, and runs through next Saturday, Feb. 4. The theme for the national celebration is “Catholic Schools: Faith. Excellence. Service.” Jerry Sanderson, interim superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Peoria, reflects on that theme in a column he wrote for The Catholic Post. What follows here is an interview with a teacher who has been fostering those values in her students for 45 years. Donna Zvonar is one of 66 educators being honored for a milestone anniversary this year.
BLOOMINGTON — To find Donna Zvonar’s classroom at St. Mary School here, just look around.
“The other teachers laugh because I consider this outdoor (space) as part of my classroom,” she said with a smile. “The hallway is my classroom, depending on what we’re doing because we need different spaces to do different things.”
It has to be that way because science is all about exploration for Zvonar, who has been teaching at the Bloomington school for 45 years. In addition to middle school science, she teaches religion.
While she doesn’t have math this year, that’s also in her wheelhouse and she’ll tell you that math and science have a close bond.
“Yesterday something came up about religion in science and I said, ‘Oh, so it’s really math, science and religion that go together,’” she told The Catholic Post. “Somebody asked a question and we talked about the answer. It all goes together, which makes perfect sense, of course. Sometimes we have those God moments.”
LEARNING BY DOING
She learned that lesson from her father, whose hobby was photography.
“We were always out on weekends with him,” Zvonar recalled. “He instilled in all of us that nature was so cool and God is behind all that.
“We all had rock collections, shell collections, insect collections. . . . We had everything because he was always pointing out the beauty in things, but also just how different things are,” she said.
That has influenced her own teaching style in science. Zvonar doesn’t use a textbook, but rather follows the Next Generation Science Standards to give her students a hands-on experience.
“We collect data, analyze that data, and then try to come up with some conclusions,” she explained. “That makes it more fun, too.”
Right now, the sixth-graders are studying Newton’s Laws and collecting the data that will help them understand Newton’s Third Law: “For every action (force) in nature there is an equal and opposite reaction.”
The seventh-graders primarily study life science. The microscopes come out as they learn about cells.
It’s basically a chemistry year for the eighth-graders, who just finished a project on density and will be moving on to the periodic table, Zvonar said.
“So the kids are learning by doing and they have those ‘aha’ moments,” according to Zvonar. “And a lot of the labs we do, the answers are already out there — other people have already discovered those things or have already figured out these things. But to (the students) it’s something new.”
This is actually Zvonar’s 49th year in education. She taught special education at Pontiac High School for four years after graduating from the University of Illinois in 1974. She would go on to earn a master’s degree from Illinois State University in 1978.
She became interested in special education as a student at York Community High School, while preparing a young man with Down syndrome for reconciliation and First Communion.
“When I walked in that door, I honestly heard words in my head that said, ‘Welcome home.’ I feel like I was called to be here. . . . It’s like a family here.” — Donna Zvonar
Zvonar is also certified to teach elementary education, so when there was an opening at St. Mary School in Bloomington, she came in for an interview. There she encountered a student with a resource cart who greeted her politely and introduced himself before walking her to the school office.
“When I walked in that door, I honestly heard words in my head that said, ‘Welcome home.’ I feel like I was called to be here,” she told The Post.
“I just love being here,” Zvonar added. “It’s like a family here.”
She also loves being able to pray and go to Mass with her students, even as she has formed a closer connection with St. Mary Parish. She serves as a lector and extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, sings in one of the choirs, is a Secular Franciscan and active in Cursillo.
Does it feel like she’s been there for 45 years?
“I don’t even think that. Yes, I know it’s been 45 years, but at the same time it’s not like ‘I’ve been here 45 years!’ It’s like, ‘I’m here today,’” Zvonar said. “This is where I belong.”