Math teacher hopes votes add up for Oak Lawn student needing car


Bobs Column - The B SideTeaching is tough profession. And those who babble on about teachers not working a full day and having summers off are misinformed and ought to be quiet.
I’ve worked as a substitute teacher and while that’s not comparable to working in a school on a full-time basis, it helped me appreciate the challenges and obstacles teachers face day in, day out.
No two days are the same, there are always a handful of problematic students and the work is endless. Of course, teaching is amazingly rewarding as well. Just ask Ellen Kruger, a math teacher at Oak Lawn Community High School.
I got to know Ellen a few years ago when I wrote a story about a holiday program she sponsors that helps the needy in the Oak Lawn community.
The program is simple. Ellen identifies the needs of underprivileged families in the area and lists those needs on ornaments that decorate a Christmas tree at the school.
Students and teachers select an ornament and purchase the requested items. The items are wrapped and sent to the homes of the needy families. Simple isn’t it? Kruger takes a little extra time to identify a problem and helps solve it. Not in the job description by a long shot, but going above and beyond is her passion.
Now the veteran educator has moved on to another challenge: getting a specially equipped car for a student with disabilities.

Riley Spreadbury is in a wheelchair, but as Kruger told me last week, she often has to be reminded of that fact. I realized what she meant when I met Riley last week at the Oak Lawn Village Board meeting.
She’s a vibrant and engaging young woman who told me without hesitation how many days remained until graduation. She was extremely accomplished during her high school years, and now she has her eyes on the future. That’s where Kruger and the car come in.
Kruger became aware of Riley’s need for a car as they discussed her plans to attend Moraine Valley Community College after graduation. Riley’s family owns only one van and the cost of another vehicle equipped with a lift and hand controls is cost prohibitive, Kruger said.
Kruger wrote a letter to Ellen DeGeneres’ television show in the hopes that they’d tell Spreadbury’s story and give her a car. The show, however, did not respond. Kruger turned to the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association. She nominated Spreadbury for a contest the association sponsors. The winners receive a specially equipped van.
Votes can be cast (one a day) for Spreadbury by visiting the Oak Lawn Community High School web page at and clicking on the “Vote for Riley Spreadbury” icon on the right hand side of the page.
Kruger got the ball rolling on the campaign by encouraging members of the high school community to vote for Riley. Last Tuesday, Riley and her mother attended the Oak Lawn Village Board meeting to encourage more people to vote.
I’d encourage you to do the same. Voting is easy and is open for a few more weeks. Here’s an opportunity for the community to come together and do something for one of our own. Riley deserves this car and you can help make it happen.
We spend a lot of time, myself included, complaining about stuff. Meet Riley and you’ll walk away encouraged and inspired. She wants to attend Illinois State University after finishing community college, pursue a degree in recreational therapy and work with children whose mobility was affected as a result of an accident or surgery.
Riley was born with a condition called Goldenhar Syndrome.
Despite this condition, she led a typical childhood, participating in dance, ballet, swimming, rollerblading and hiking. At age 10, it was discovered that she had developed scoliosis. She had numerous surgeries on her back and, because of complications, Riley sustained a spinal cord injury that left her paralyzed. She spent more than 100 days in the hospital and was able to regain control of her arms but she remains paralyzed from the chest down.
There are several days left in the campaign. If each person who reads this column casts one vote per day, we’ll give Riley a real chance of winning the car. We owe that not only to Riley but to Kruger—a teacher who understands that education is about so much more than lesson plans, grades and homework. It’s about getting in touch with students and helping them grow.
I’ve written about countless fundraising events over the years and the charity and goodness people show never ceases to amaze me. I know you’ll come through for Riley Spreadbury.