Prusko preparing to finish half-century legacy at Grove
For decades, if you visited Grove Junior High, there has been a good chance you would see him. It seems impossible to talk about one without the other.
Not every student has taken his classes, but that is how synonymous John Prusko has become with Grove Junior High. As time marches on, it is becoming increasingly rare for someone to stay in a job for one decade, let alone several. That is what makes Prusko’s time at Grove so special. The lover of science stepped right out of his graduating class at Northeastern Illinois University in 1968 and into Grove, and has been there ever since.
Now, Prusko is in the midst of his final month of teaching before retiring, with his 55 years of service being the most of any employee in the history of CCSD59.
“I have enjoyed having this job and being given the opportunities to keep doing what I enjoy, year after year, and that is teaching science,” he said.
The student council advisor, eighth grade class sponsor, and long-time lunch duty staple has taught generations of Grove families. He estimates over 8,000 students have come through his classroom, many from the same households. He takes pride when students tell him he taught their parents or even grandparents, and throughout family lineages and beyond, he has approached every student the same way.
“Kids are still kids, and I wanted to get as many students excited about science by providing experiences that were meaningful and fun,” Prusko said. “I have always tried to show students how what they are learning has applications in their real world. The reaction… an ‘a-ha’ moment, is very rewarding.”
He has bore witness to many changes in CCSD59 since his career began, having worked with eight building principals and seven district superintendents in that time. He recalls when the original Mac computer was implemented at Grove and when Internet connections were run into classrooms via telephone cables. He has seen schools close, technology advance, Elk Grove Village develop, and has guided his students through historical events, a pandemic, and, of course, their most pressing science questions.
Prusko is a scientist through and through. He speaks passionately about helping students understand how something works or what makes up an object down to a chemical or physical level. At the same time, with each generation of student, he has impressed that scientists do not have to be in white coats in a laboratory. They come in many forms, and he has tried to give every person he has taught equal exposure to the subject and this idea.
“Every student has the ability to enjoy and grow in science. It is hard to crack the ‘nerdy’ scientist idea, especially at the junior high age. When I have students in a Q&A mode, I try my best to not say something is wrong or incorrect. Instead, I ask if we can take their answer and build on it. I also tell students that answers are important, but to get those answers you may need to know what questions to ask to get the answer. Oftentimes, no answer leads to other questions that help to redefine the question, and not all questions have answers.”
This ties back into his philosophy of building critical thinking skills, and he has often incorporated elements of other subjects into his science classes to help students grow these skills. Several of his students have taken these lessons and gone on to become science teachers themselves.
Some of those former students have shared their thoughts about Prusko with his final teaching days on the horizon. There are themes of gratitude for instilling a love of science in themselves or their children. They recall his anecdotes, his sense of humor, and how he made science interesting even to those who never preferred the subject. He did enough his way to be memorable, and students remember him fondly for it.
“I have enjoyed having this job and being given the opportunities to keep doing what I enjoy, year after year, and that is teaching science.”
Prusko admits there is some comfort in knowing he will soon not have to think about what to do to prepare for class the next day. He said his greatest plans have often lasted less than a minute when they are applied to a live situation, and he has pulled his share of rabbits out of hats in 55 years to keep classes flowing. But he will never stop being curious. As a fan of historical quotes, he shared one of his favorites from Albert Einstein, “Once you stop learning, you start dying.”
Most of all, he is thankful for those who have stood beside him and helped him learn along the way.
“The science department at Grove is stuck together with atomic glue. Not only do we support each other, but we support other curricular areas as well. The colleagues I have worked with through the years have been supportive, nurturing and comforting. They have become accustomed to accepting ‘the ‘ol guy’ and at least give him a chance to contribute. I have shared some of the ‘old time’ ways of doing things and have learned how to do things the ‘new way’.”