AVID’s Nick Kempski is more than a teacher


WEGO teacher Nick Kempski, playing guitar on his porch.

By Karina Lemus, Reporter

Musician. Teacher. Coach. And family man. West Chicago Community High School’s very own Wildcat, Nick Kempski is one busy man who puts pride into his work in school and outside of school. 

Kempski sat down with me for an interview on March 23, 2022, and as we started talking, I asked Kempski about his college experience and what got him into teaching. He attended Illinois State University, and as he explained, his plan was to go for a year and then transfer to the University of the Virgin Islands However, during his first year at Illinois State, he fell in love with the school and its people, and decided to finish his college experience there. 

Kempski in his staff photo at West Chicago Community High School. (Photo by Lifetouch)

Kempski said, “I loved ISU because of the people.  I met my wife there and some of my best friends.  The community was great.  There was a lot to do, and it was fun.  I always get the same feeling when I go down there to watch a football or basketball game.  Now my kids get to be a part of that, which is great.  My family started at ISU, and now I get to share that with my children.”

Kempski went into teaching because he was not ready to end his high school experience and because he was forced by his parents to at least try the program. He actually wanted to become a mechanic and skip college altogether but was convinced by his parents to go to a four-year school. 

Kempski said, “My dad said, “I really want you to go to college. They were not going to help me pay for college, but they wanted me to go.”

Originally, Kempski majored in math, hoping to become a math teacher, but failed all the math tests (and was failing math in general). In fact, math was the only class he was failing in college, so, as a solution, he spoke with his teacher, and explained how he was struggling with math, even though he was studying and going to tutoring. His math teacher told him, “I’ll give you a C if you continue to come every day, go for tutoring, get extra help, and promise to drop the math major.”

With that advice, Kempski’s new journey started.  

He was playing guitar and singing at a local cafe when he thought to himself about how much he liked writing music, and so Kempski decided to become an English teacher.

“I like writing songs. How much different is that from English?” said Kempski. 

During college, Kempski student taught at WEGO. He got an offer right after graduating and has been teaching at West Chicago Community High School ever since.  

As our interview continued, I asked him about his AVID journey. For those who do not know what AVID is, it is an organization where teachers get chosen to help students further out with college applications, future goals, and their plans for after High School. Kempski was given the opportunity to join AVID in the 2010-11 school year, but he was initially going to deny the opportunity because of his plan to leave West Chicago and become an administrator. Ultimately, Kempski accepted the position and has loved AVID ever since. 

Through the program, he has gotten the opportunity to travel, and meet different people. And, as a result of the students he has met, and the opportunity to see how AVID has helped them go to college and make a good future for themselves, Kempski has stayed with the program. He even won a “Heroes in the Classroom” Kempski was nominated by Richard Kost, who is also an AVID teacher. 

Kost said, “If you want to build the perfect modern-day teacher from the ground up, then you would construct Mr. Nick Kempski.  He possesses all of the tools and materials needed for such a task.  Nick is passionate, rigorous, smart, and loyal, and he always puts his students first.  Furthermore, he is a teacher whom other educators go to for advice, reassurance, humor, ideas, and the occasionally needed pat on the back.  However, I’m really lucky because I also get to call him a friend.” 

Jennifer Culbertson, Kempski’s coworker and friend, said, “Nick and I are the perfect teaching team: I am the warm, cuddly, positive mom, and he’s the grumpy, loud, old man. Eventually, he’s going to be that old man who sits on a lawn chair on his driveway yelling at kids to ’Get off my lawn!’ Just kidding, but not really.”

The award, hosted by Chicago Bears and sponsored by Symetra, is designed to recognize educators for being good teachers and going more than beyond for their students. Spokespeople from the Chicago Bears came during his tenth-period AVID class with a jersey to announce Kempski had been nominated. He was able to attend a Chicago Bears game, and his photo was displayed on the big TV. Kempski’s modesty was evident when he told me that Kost easily could have won that award considering how great of a teacher he is. 

“In all honesty, he’s a great teacher who cares about his students and their future success. I’m not sure if kids who have him for AVID realize how lucky they are to have him, but I know how lucky I am to work with this every day.  That’s why when there was an opening in AVID two years ago, I jumped at the chance to work with him again.  He’s such a dedicated, engaging teacher who has made the AVID program at WEGO what it is.  So many of our students are college-bound and successful because of him,” said Culbertson.

Kempski with his wife, daughter, and son with Illinois State shirts. (Photo by Nick Kempski)

His wife, Katie Kempski, said, “Nick has an incredible ability to develop rapport and meaningful relationships with those around him. He genuinely cares about each of his students, both past and present, and wants what is best for them. He advocates for their needs and encourages them to reach their fullest potential.” 

Some of his AVID students have experienced Kempski’s teaching style, and echoed those sentiments. 

Melissa Garcia, senior, said, “He’s an awesome teacher.”

Angel Marquez, senior, said, “He’s crazy, he’s bro bro. He got a nice fade and I love him.”

“I like him as a teacher. He’s very sincere,” said senior Abdoin Quintero. 

As our interview continued, he got a little more comfortable speaking to me, he moved around more in his chair and spoke more with his hands, we spoke about his life outside of school. Kempski is a father of three kids: two boys, and one girl, ages ranging from 3, 8 and 11. He is very invested in his kids’ lives, coaching his boys’ football team, and spending a lot of time with his daughter (and wife). 

He said, “It’s definitely made me not softer, but more understanding.”

Being a father has allowed Kempski to teach kids with the compassion he lacked and now has developed due to his students.

Kempski said, “Teaching here has probably made me a better father than me being a father has made me a better teacher.” 

Katie Kempski said, “He takes the time to engage in meaningful ways with each of our children whether it be learning the choreography to a dance routine for the daddy-daughter dance at our daughter’s recital, coaching one of our son’s sports teams, or intentionally planning an outing to a concert, sports event, or vacation destination to spend time together. Lessons Nick has learned from the classroom in regards to the importance of relationships leading to student success transfer over to his role as a father in fostering meaningful relationships with each of our children.”

Daughter Ellie, 12, said via email, “I love how my dad can always cheer us up if we’re having a bad day or feeling sad. He’s really funny!?”

“I love that my dad is always willing to play with me or help me get better at something I’m learning or interested in,” said son Austin, 9.

Maddox, 3, chimed in as well, and said, “I love when Dad picks me up from school and reads stories to me at bedtime.”

Kempski’s project car, a 1973 Dodge Dart he has been working on for 13 years. (Photo by Nick Kempski)

When not with his family, Kempski has a car project: he has been building – from scratch – a 1973 Dodge Dart that he has customized, from the paint to the motor. This dream car has been a labor of love: Kempski has been working on the Dart for 13 years. 

Kempski said, “It has taken so long to finish my car because I made a commitment that this car would not impact my family in a negative way.  I did not want it to take money away from my kids doing activities or taking a vacation, and I did not want to take any time away from my family.  I needed to work slowly because I needed time to save money, and I do not have a lot of free time with three kids.  I also did not know what I was doing a lot of the time.  My dad helped me a lot, and I needed to coordinate a time to work with him on the car.”

When not with his family or building his car, Kempski loves to play guitar and watch bands play. He tries, at least once a month, to see a band (although Kempski used to go to watch musicians perform once a week). Music has been a big part of his life and has helped him deal with stress and anxiety. Kempski has his own YouTube Channel, which was created during COVID for the students who wanted to see him play and sing. He has videos where he sings the song “Till the Day I Die” that he wrote himself after 9/11 and the song “Forever 18” that he wrote as well when he was a senior in High School. 

Kempski with his parents and sister in earlier years.

He said, “I really did not like teaching online.  I find success when I am able to build relationships with students.  I put relationships first and curriculum second most of the time.  Online teaching made it very difficult to build those positive relationships with students.  I also think my humor and sarcasm don’t always come across the way I want it to on a computer.”

Going deeper into his past, I asked Kempski about the events in his life that shaped him as a person. His answer was sincere and honest: while it had him thinking for a bit, when he gave an answer, he did so with animation, waving his hands around as he spoke.

“There are mistakes I’ve made along the way that could have completely crushed me, and I was able kinda to get through those harder times in my life and those have made me who I am,” said Kempski.

Kempski explained that he, as a person, does not know who he truly is yet, but the obstacles he has endured have made it easier for him to go through other hard times and not get crushed by them.

Slowly but surely, Kempski started to open up with me as we sat in the English office. He opened up about the anxiety he has been dealing with for a long time. As Kempski explained, the anxiety has lessened over time due to the fact he has been able to recognize anxiety was a problem and that he needed help. He sought counseling to figure out why he was stressed, and what was going on. 

“Being able to recognize anxiety was a problem, seeking out counseling, figuring [out] why am I anxious, why is this going on, and then coming up with a plan to kinda overcome anxiety has helped me immensely in all aspects of my life,” said Kempski.

In addition to counseling, Kempski’s faith in God has also gotten him through difficult times. His faith in God has grown over the past several years. Now, he is in a men’s group at his church, and in fact, he is the youngest member of the group. At their meetings, they often watch videos that have to do with a common topic many people deal with: for example, they are currently watching a series that discusses the idea science and the Bible do not have to be two separate concepts they can work together. 

After the group watches the videos, they speak about what they have learned from the video. Joining the men’s group was something Kempski did not particularly want to do, but after being convinced by his father-in-law, Kempski ended up joining the group, and now looks forward to each meeting. 

He said, “They’ve helped me put a lot of things into perspective whether it would be my relationship with my kids, my wife, my work-life, and just really focusing on what are the most important things.”