MORRIS — Sister Debrah Funfsinn’s kindergartners at Immaculate Conception School in Morris were learning reading and writing and all the usual subjects taught to young students, in addition to the meaning of Easter and the Lenten season, when Covid-19 surfaced.
The ICS students, along with all other Illinois students, were sent home in the attempts to slow the disease. They had some schoolwork to do, including e-learning, before Spring Break.
Sister Funfsinn sees the silver lining of the break from school, however, and hopes her students will be learning more about family relationships while at home.
“I think this is a time where families can build up their relationships,” she said. “I hope families grow stronger and pray together.”
It might not be so easy for parents to come up with ways to hold their children’s attention for these days to come, but the Sister says it will be worth it.
“I think it will be really hard to keep them at home and happy,” she said. “I wonder how they’re going to handle it. Parents, too.”
Funfsinn advised parents to do what they can to make sure their children are not afraid of the pandemic and all it involves.
One thing that doesn’t particularly worry her is the break in her kindergartners’ education.
“I think my students are ready for first grade, anyway,” she said.
This is Funfsinn’s 45th year in education. She’s taught first, second and fifth grades at Catholic schools in Mokena; Fort Wayne and Avilla, Indiana; Park Forest and, for the last five years, kindergarten at ICS in Morris.
Funfsinn is a member of the Franciscan Sisters of the Sacred Heart and was the Morris Rotary Club 2018 Teacher of the Year
“I’m just in awe of her,” ICS Principal Stacey Swanson said. “She is fabulous. She knows how to bring out the best in each child. As a former teacher myself, I admire the ease in which she does it and how much her kids grow every day because of it.”
Funfsinn was raised on a farm in Mendota with her 12 siblings.
“We could have had our own baseball team,” she said with a laugh.
She went to a three-room Catholic school – Saints Peter and Paul School. There were only six in her class, and one was her cousin. It was a great experience, she said. The teachers were all nuns, and during lunchtime, the students would go across the hallway and clean the nuns’ house and the church.
Funfsinn remembers a little mischief, as well. There was the time when she decided she needed to throw a boot on top of the school’s roof.
“Lo and behold, I got it up there,” she said, “and my poor Dad had to go up and get it down.”
She felt the call to religious life as a high school sophomore when she attended a retreat with her Catholic CYO.
“I never regretted it ever,” she said. “I have been so happy to be able to serve the Lord.”
Back then, nuns could serve as teachers or nurses. Funfsinn had the idea she wanted to be a clown and visit pediatric wards. Her Mother Superior encouraged her to become a teacher.
“I love teaching because the children energize me,” she said, “and I get so excited when they are excited about learning new things.”
Funfsinn said students have always held nuns in high regard. With the younger students, she said, the nuns sometimes have more clout than the parents.
She remembers years ago when a young student went home from the first day of school and told his parents that they had been pronouncing their last name wrong all those years, based on his teacher’s pronunciation that day.
She loves teaching at ICS.
“It’s a really close family,” she said. “It’s nice that the students get to see their teachers at Mass, too, and at other parish activities. We pray for the community, those who are sick, those in bereavement every day. We have the opportunity to touch lives and at the same time teach a lot of children.”
Funfsinn said the most important thing she hopes to instill in her students is to keep in their minds to always do what Jesus would do and that Jesus loves them. She said she “loves them into learning.”
“Each child must be noticed and loved,” she said of her philosophy of teaching. “Once they feel loved, they’ll know the great love God has for them and will want to share it with others.”
She wants them to be fluent readers and good writers and be good in math and counting. Her kindergartners write in journals every day. They write about everything in them, she said.
“I really enjoy kids and their innocence,” she said. “They remind me that I should be more humble like they are.”