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Wildcat Chronicle

The student news site of West Chicago Community High School

Wildcat Chronicle

The student news site of West Chicago Community High School

Wildcat Chronicle

Humans of WEGO: ‘Mystery’ man brings engagement to classroom

Steve Aiello has played a pivotal role as a team member and teacher at West Chicago Community High School thanks to his mysterious persona and solid sense of humor.
According to fellow English teacher Jamie Culen, Steve Aiello “always got involved with spirit week.” (Photo courtesy of Steve Aiello)

Special thanks to Ja’Nyah Villa for her assistance with this article.

There are few teachers at West Chicago Community High School shrouded in as much mystery as Steve Aiello.

“Mr. Aiello is mysterious in many different ways: one, is he is unpredictable in the best way. One time, we walked into class and he faked his death. Unsure of the takeaway, but was very funny regardless. Another thing that makes him mysterious is his after-question silence [that] always leaves us guessing as to what is going on in his mind,” junior Ella Warsaw said.

As it turns out, keeping mum is part of Aiello’s game plan.

“I’m not a very mysterious guy, depending on who you ask, but I don’t tell them any personal information about myself at all. I’ll do my first day presentation, so [the students] see my family and some basics, but then I tell them, ‘I’m not going to tell you anything else about me. And anything you ask, I’m going to give you the same response,’ which is ‘I will tell you almost anything you want to know about me on the last day of school, but I’m not going to tell you until then.’ So it’s great because it creates this air of mystery, which I think really just helps the perception of me as a teacher, right? Because it makes things that are mundane and normal, like seem really interesting,” Aiello said.

What students do know is that there is a rumor circulating that Aiello is the type of teacher willing to do a handstand in front of their class, and he loves peanut butter.

“The peanut butter thing: I was just trying to figure out what to tell students about me and I went into this whole thing about crunchy peanut butter versus creamy and how I do eat peanut butter every day for lunch,” Aiello said.

In fact, when his coworkers were asked what they think of when Aiello comes to mind, “peanut butter” was at the top of the list. However, Aiello does not consider his proclivity for peanut butter to be obsessive. In fact, the condiment is a nod to his childhood, and a matter of convenience.

“I’ve had peanut butter sandwich for lunch since high school, and I’m pretty routine. It’s the easiest thing to make. It doesn’t matter if it’s hot or cold – it tastes fine, it gives me energy,” Aiello said.

Eating habits aside, Aiello has helped countless students with a unique perspective and authenticity in the classroom that even involves re-enacting real life events for an assignment. In Aiello’s English classes, students never know what to expect, and that is what keeps them engaged and interested in the content.  

“Mr. Aiello keeps things interesting, like bringing in a head of broccoli to prove that we actually enjoy Shakespeare. He also surprises us with chocolate chip pancakes during test-heavy weeks to help keep us motivated,” Warsaw said.

Although Aiello started working at West Chicago Community High School in 2018, his educational journey is a unique one; from unknown bridges to cross, to papers signed, and a new life beginning. He was initially hired as a long-term substitute for now-fellow English teacher Jamie Culen; upon her return in January 2019, Aiello picked up another long-term sub position filling in for Shannon Sanchez. He worked for awhile as a long-term substitute at Lisle High School before he was ultimately asked back to WEGO for the 2020-21 school year to fill in for Lauren Stewart, who was then an English teacher taking a year’s leave. 

When teachers were asked to dress-up like students on one of the fall spirit days, Aiello donned a “rizz” outfit. (Photo courtesy of Steve Aiello)

“I came back for COVID, and I mean COVID is kind of its own thing. I didn’t really know what was going on. When when the kids started coming back in shifts [during hybrid learning], it was a lot easier for me because [classes] were smaller, and you teach one lesson three times. I feel like my classroom presence started to get a little better. I started to understand a little bit more what I was doing regularly,” Aiello said.

Although he finds teaching to be a “job of highs and lows,” he credits the following two years with being “the biggest in terms of growth.” Aiello was hired as a full-time English teacher at WCCHS starting in the fall of 2021. While he has learned from all his coworkers, he credits Culen, and later Kyle Etheridge, with shaping his style as a teacher.

When Etheridge left the department for special education, Aiello suddenly found himself leading the English 2 Honors team.

“It gave me a greater sense of ownership. I kind of went from being second in command to steering the ship, which I think was huge just for my confidence level,” Aiello said.

English teacher Merrick Ramza teamed up with Aiello this year on the honors team; Ramza found Aiello to be a “very focused planner” who ensured goals were met, and that the students were challenged and engaged by the content.

“I think because Steve comes from a background of coaching, and being an athlete, he knows how to approach issues as a team by talking it out, getting feedback, and experimenting with assignments or results to see what will be best. I admire how well he always kept his head on while mine was constantly spinning,” Ramza said.

Aiello, a three-time national qualifier in wrestling, has coached the sport at Wheaton College, his alma mater, for the past several years. Aiello’s coaching mentality, according to Culen, “helps kids grow.”

Part of that growth is due to the high levels of engagement in Aiello’s classes; he strives for a ‘different’ approach that involves daily trivia questions that get the students working together to determine a solution, dressing up as “rizz” for spirit day, and of course, those alleged handstands he performs at the front of the classroom.

“I view motivation kind of two ways. I think, number one, the students have to trust that what you teach them works, especially at the higher levels. They need to know that what you’re teaching them is good. [I] try and establish this idea that ‘hey, you know, if you listen to me, the stuff I’m teaching you is good stuff, and it’s going to improve your skills.’ And then I think the second part goes back to my whole classroom persona. I try to make things different and take chances so that kids understand that I’m thinking about how much they enjoy what we’re doing,” Aiello said.

Having fun and showing his “goofy” side is part of what Aiello is known for at WEGO. (Photo courtesy of Steve Aiello)

While fun is an important aspect in the classroom, Aiello maintains high academic standards as well. He pushes his pupils to challenge themselves and find meaning in their work, and makes it a priority to demonstrate how much he cares for his students.

“Mr. Aiello makes everyone feel like they have a special connection with him. For many of his students, he has a little inside joke that always brings energy to the whole class,” sophomore Ethan Godwin said.

Those sentiments were echoed by Culen, who has not only worked with Aiello over the past several years, but befriended him as well.

“[He] will do anything for students and staff, and has been a teammate to me even when not on a team together. He poured his love into his classroom,” Culen said.

Although Aiello does go above and beyond in the classroom, part of the enjoyment in teaching, he says, is growing along with his students.

“I’d say probably the biggest thing has just been getting to learn where different students come from, and honestly, what I’ve learned from that is the impact. There’s days when you get a comment about something you did or said that you might not have even thought about, but ended up being impactful,” Aiello said.

Understanding students’ backgrounds has been one way in which Aiello established a community within the classroom, and found himself part of the WEGO family.

“I feel like I’m adding something here. And I can see if I stayed here for ten, or however many years, a future where it’s like, ‘Oh, this could be a really cool thing to be a lasting member of this community of people,” Aiello said.

Family is important to Aiello, who finds their relationships only strengthen with time. (Photo courtesy of Steve Aiello)

Perhaps those connections stem from his own close knit family. He grew up in a suburban neighborhood on the East Coast with his twin brother, Frank, and younger brother, Dave. Aiello did not “have it made,” nor a wealthy family, but he said his childhood was just what he needed.   

“I kind of like an all-typical, all-boy household: a lot of roughhousing, digging at each other,” Aiello said.  

While he acknowledges that his own family dynamics may be different than those of others, he values the strength of his connections with his brothers, in particular.

“The thing that’s kind of continued from my childhood is that it’s cool to see those relationships keep maturing. I’m pretty fortunate in the fact that we’re all pretty close,” Aiello said.

His family situation, however, as well as his 10-year plan, remained somewhat of a mystery for most of his students until just this week. On the last day of school, Aiello allowed the students to ask any burning question they had been storing up since his self-imposed ban on making personal statements after the first day of class. It was then that he revealed he is engaged to be married this summer; in fact, Aiello is planning to move to Colorado with his fiancé, Virginia, in July, and so May 23 marks his last day as a Wildcat. 

Aiello and his fiancé, Virginia, are looking forward to hiking in Colorado when they move there this summer, as both enjoy the outdoors. (Photo courtesy of Steve Aiello)

“I’m going to miss hearing ‘good meeting’ after the end of our PLCs: the mixes of talking about analysis for our students, and discussing the funs of our marriages. I’ve been very fortunate to be neighbors to Steve, meet with him weekly for PLC, and just have a common understanding of when we need to be diligent and when we can jokingly push each other’s buttons,” Ramza said.

Students, will also miss this dynamic teacher who kept them interested and engaged in English class.

“Aiello is such a goofball. His class is such a unique environment, and his relentless silliness and positivity brings him closer to his students while making every lesson and every unit weird and wonderful. He will be sorely missed,” sophomore Nick Riconosciuto said.

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Jayden Lang
Jayden Lang, Reporter
Jayden Lang is someone who can be found writing poetry, taking inspiration from a poet named Kwota B. In the future, he wants to write and publish a book and use his poetic style to be a motivational speaker. When he is not writing or doing school work as a senior at West Chicago Community High School, he enjoys playing “The Division” or spending time with his poodle mix, Ace.
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