Outdoor enthusiast inspires a love of science in her students


Photo by Lisa Licari

Licari with her fiancé in Door County (on the day of their engagement).

By Jennifer Carvajal-Romero, Reporter

Entering the classroom, one immediately notices the purple walls, accented by light brown cabinets and science images, including body diagrams and faces of different animals. A model of a spine hangs from the ceiling. Looking around, one will find Lisa Licari sitting at her desk near the window, as I did on a March morning. I found her on the computer, working, a coffee drink by her side, looking comfortable in her white puffy jacket. 

Now one of West Chicago Community High School’s science teachers, Licari fell in love with biology during her freshman year of high school. She then went on to major in biology during college. All in, Licari has attended four different universities, including Harper College, Benedictine University, University of Illinois Chicago, and now Northern Illinois University, where she is working on her master’s degree in human anatomical science, and hopes to graduate in May. 

Achieving her master’s in education is one of Licari’s proudest accomplishments: she chose a 1-year program and attended full-time before getting hired at a high school. She taught in an area that many would consider rough, working with youth struggling with problems outside of school, like gang violence, problems at home, and split families. The supervising teacher did not provide Licari with materials or even a textbook for the subject (biology), so Licari had to figure out the lessons herself. During that time, she stayed up late planning, preparing for class, and giving herself a chance to embrace the challenge, get the hang of teaching, all while managing the load for her own coursework. 

Her drive is part of what makes Licari so successful. In addition to her Master of Education, she holds several other degrees, including an Associate of Art, Associate of Science, and a Bachelor of Science degree. In asking her about the colleges she liked the most, she takes her time to respond to the question, and ultimately chooses Harper College, located in Palatine, Illinois, which she attended post-high school.

Best friend Alex has known Licari since second grade. (Photo by Lisa Licari)

For her, college was different from high school in that it presented an opportunity to meet new people and call them friends. Licari said, “To this day, most of my friends are actually from Harper.” 

During her undergraduate years, Licari was involved in a number of activities, including working as the editor for the health and science section of the college’s student newspaper. She loved taking different classes, too. 

At the end of her university tenure, she worked as a Teaching Assistant (TA) for a few biology labs, and the experience was so inspiring she decided to teach science, and more particularly, biology. 

“I like science and doing a lot of dissections and having a good time doing those types of labs, and due to having a lot of experience with it, I am really glad that I have the ability to enjoy teaching and being able to enjoy what I love to do,” said Licari.

Now, Licari has been teaching for 3 years at WCCHS, going on to the fourth next year. However, while she may have stepped foot in the “beautiful” science wing for the first time in 2019, Licari was already somewhat familiar with WEGO, having swum in the pool during her competitive swimming years. In fact, Licari started swimming when she was 5 years old and still enjoys getting in a few laps on a cool summer morning, just before it gets hot.

“I love the students, I love the atmosphere, I love our classroom, and I love teaching my favorite subjects: human anatomy and physiology,” said Licari.

Teaching is a passion – one that allows her to help students with difficult concepts. Students report that she is often a support for them when they are struggling, as Licari can break down the information in an understandable way. She makes herself available for questions or help before and after school. 

“She is my favorite teacher, for sure. Last year, I had human anatomy with her, and she is such a fun-loving person. She holds her head high, and is very welcoming. We are very close. I ate lunch with her last year, and she is an up-and-coming teacher that enjoys what she teaches and makes it enjoyable for students, too,” said senior Sofia Schumann.

In fact, as I asked a question during our interview, a student walked in to take the test. Licari set the student up in the back of the room, and then, without missing a beat, returned to our conversation, explaining she wants to know and meet a lot of people. 

When questioned about what she liked most about being a teacher, Licari said, “Aww, I love this question,” and then we stayed for a few seconds in silence while she was considered her response. Like many teachers, Licari acknowledges that teaching during the pandemic has its ups and downs. 

“I think this year is a bit different, because it presented new challenges that I never had before. New challenges of students being out of school for almost a year and a half and coming back and learning how to work with students who haven’t been in a school in a long time,” Licari said.

Nonetheless, she feels like she has improved her skills, having the ability to adapt and learn about the students and the new needs they have as a result of working remotely for much of last year. Licari is working to adapt her teaching style and try to improve to meet those needs.

I met Ms. Licari at the new teacher orientation and we became quick friends. She is so easy to talk to and the fact that she teaches Biology made me love her even more since I am a nurse.  She has such a great heart and really cares about her students and has such a passion for teaching and learning.  Ms. Licari became a definite favorite of mine when she asked me to come to her class to help teach how to take blood pressure to her students. I love teaching with her,” said school nurse Cathy Collins-Clark. 

Licari teaching a science class during her ⅞ period. (Photo by Jennifer Carvajal-Romero)

Her students appreciate Licari’s different instructional strategies and hands-on approach to science.

“Licari has a great and positive energy. She always finds ways to make class fun. She always makes sure her students get the help they need,” said senior Judith Hinojosa. 

Although Licari has only been teaching at West Chicago Community High School for a short time, she has started to build strong relationships with her peers as well.

Ms. Licari is a wonderful addition to the WEGO science team. Her bubbly personality and willingness [to] help students learn in fun way[s] is inspiring to all. Not only does she teach students about science content, she makes meaningful connections to the real world. She has established a positive learning community where students value learning and each other. We are lucky to have her here at WEGO,” said science teacher Drew Plumb.

Collins-Clarke said, “Even though I am much older than Ms. Licari and I have two kids, I can share what is going on in my kid’s life and she listens and celebrates their accomplishments with me. If she comes in to say hi, I know that I can “vent” to her, and she will just listen and offer whatever words of encouragement she can to help me feel better.”

Licari attending a wedding with family members. (Photo by Lisa Licari)

When she is not making a difference at WEGO, Licari enjoys watching television shows such as A.P. Bio and Breaking Bad.

A.P. Bio is a show on Peacock and it’s hilarious! One of my favorite quotes that the teacher says just about every time he walks into the classroom is ‘All right, shut up, sit down, and start shutting up’. I find it downright hilarious that he says this because the class is full of very smart, very quiet kids and they are usually silent. So, when he walks into the room and starts class with that, I die laughing every time! It makes no sense because they are never talking!” said Licari.

She often cooks and bakes as well, a skill she learned growing up in Barrington with her three siblings: Laura, James and Linda. 

Recently, Licari was excited to share news of her engagement with family, friends, and of course, her students and colleagues. Her voice takes on a higher pitch when speaking of her fiancé, who took her to a Door County lookout tower (over Lake Michigan) on January 16 to ask for her hand in marriage. 

“It was really peaceful, it barely started to snow, the little snowflakes falling down while my fiancé got on one knee and got ready to propose to me,” said Licari.

Some of Licari’s pets, Peanut and newcomer Rufus. (Photo by Lisa Licari)

When asked what she likes about being engaged so far, Licari said, “Everything! I always wanted this for myself. I always saw this in my future, I just never knew when. Every time I look at my ring, I smile, and I remember the love we have for each other… Being able to share my love story, and how happy I truly am, and how happy he makes me, and everything about being engaged makes me happy.”

Licari looks forward to a wedding in the next year, and eventually hopes to have children as she begins this new chapter in her life.

The trip to Door County in January is very typical of Licari’s life beyond school. In her free time, she enjoys being outside, being active, rollerblading, and walking. Sometimes, she can even be found riding her fiancé’s motorcycle during the summer months, her favorite time of year. Somehow, she also manages to spend time with family, which includes three pets: 13-year-old Peanut, a shih-poo, 12-year-old Tilly (a gray cat), and 8-month old kitten Rufus.

“The best thing about my pets is that they have unconditional love and are always there to make the hard days easier with cuddles. Our animals are a wonderful part of our family,” said Licari.

And, Licari herself is a wonderful part of the WEGO family, one students and staff alike are glad to have on board.