WEGO’s newest Division Head seeks to serve as a support for others


Photo by Lauren Stewart

West Chicago Community High School teachers Lauren Stewart (left) and Brittany Nelson (right) with their children.

Bookworm. Yogi. Baseball fan. Traveler. Outdoor aficionado. Mental health advocate. Teacher. Division Head. Mom. All words to describe West Chicago Community High School’s Lauren Stewart.

She met me outside the journalism classroom shortly after the bell rang to start seventh period. Stewart greeted me with a smile and asked how my college search was going, and promptly led me to her office, conveniently located a few steps from my previous class. Upon walking into her office, a small table with two chairs was visible. Even though I have crossed paths with Stewart, the Language Arts Division Head, on multiple occasions, I grew nervous. I have never had such an in-depth conversation like this with a teacher before, let alone a division head. Before I could ask any questions regarding her life, she asked about mine first. This put my nerves at ease, and I immediately made myself comfortable sitting across from her.  

The English department poses for a candid at the beginning of the 2021-22 school year. (Photo by Unknown)

Once we returned to the subject of the interview, Stewart began with a rundown of her early childhood and life as a teen. 

Stewart grew up in a loving, middle-class family. 

She cannot speak more highly of her parents and what they were able to provide for her and her two younger twin brothers. 

“The amount of sacrifices that they made to make sure we did better than them was so apparent to us,” said Stewart. 

Stewart poses with English teacher Kyle Etheridge, a frequent “winner” in WEGO’s turkey suit challenge. (Photo by Unknown)

She spent most of her childhood in Woodridge – up until middle school – then moved to the newer section of Naperville for the rest of her time at public school. Her dad was an elevator constructor and her mom waited tables. While reminiscing about attending Neuqua Valley High School, she laughed at the memory of her dad dropping her off at the beautiful, “college campus-like” high school in a white work van. 

“I hated myself for being embarrassed,” she said, explaining that during her high school years, she was very conflicted about growing up in a family “I loved and adored, but where money was very tight, while in an area where there was a lot of money with cash to spare.” 

Still, family has always been a priority for her: she stated her brothers mean everything to her. While Stewart considered herself “shy and a wallflower”, claiming she did “okay” in high school, her brothers were seemingly “smarter and cooler” than she was. She loved being able to enjoy the high school experience with them, though and felt it was a “cool dynamic” to have them by her side. 

“I am a very cautious person. I’m very planned and if I don’t know the outcome of it, I take the safe route,” said Stewart. 

After high school, her brothers moved out and made a life elsewhere, while she completed her college studies close to home. 

“I feel like all of us are living who we authentically are,” said Stewart. “I mainly attribute that to my parents. They told us we can be anything we wanted to be.” 

With a smile, Stewart proudly said, “Well, all of us are college-educated, which was my mom’s one goal for us.” 

The bell to end the seventh period rang as she transitioned to talk about her interests in teaching, and her passions outside of school. 

“I knew pretty young I wanted to be a teacher…I just always worked well with younger kids. It wasn’t until high school in English class where the literature sparked meaningful conversations and connections between real life and fiction. Literature is a way to bring people together and connect us, but also teach us about the things that we don’t necessarily know or never come across,” said Stewart.

She laughed at the thought teaching was considered a “safe” route, which was a mindset she continued into her adulthood. Attending College of DuPage after high school, she also admitted it was a safe choice to remain close to home. Considering herself a follower, she did not trust herself to go away to school, and sighed with relief as she recollected her college experience and the decision to remain in the area. 

Stewart continued that mindset when she transferred to North Central College, through which she was assigned to student teach at WEGO with Jennifer Culbertson.  At West Chicago Community High School, Stewart interacted with other teachers and had a positive student teaching experience. Culbertson only had beaming statements about Stewart and said, “I have had the privilege of working with Mrs. Stewart since 2009… This school year, she was promoted to the division head. I couldn’t be prouder. Her enthusiasm, dedication, love and passion for her students creates and amazing learning environment for all Wildcats” 

“I just fell in love with West Chicago, it’s such a wonderful place,” said Stewart. 

Though it has been a few years since Stewart taught in the classroom, many students look back on their experiences in her class fondly.

Mrs. Stewart was a great teacher sophomore year. She helped me throughout the rest of my time in high school. Now that I [have] graduated, I can truly say I am very thankful to have met her! Thank you Mrs. Stewart!” said former student Gabriela Flores via email.

Former student Andrea Garcia said, “I had Mrs. Stewart as a sophomore in High School in English II. Mrs. Stewart always saw the best in each of her students and always focused on the students’ ability to learn more every day. Although her class was very difficult for many students, she made sure to be supportive and helpful throughout the semester. She is wonderful for what she does, and teaching is truly her passion! Mrs. Stewart has definitely made an impact in many students’ lives.”

Lauren and Andrew Stewart attend their senior Prom in high school. (Photo by Unknown)

While Stewart spent 12 years in the classroom, she was promoted to Division Chair during the summer of 2021. She explained that working at a school can look different everyday, and the people one encounters each have individual stories – that variety is so exciting to her. Her passion and love for the people in her workplace remains the same, no matter how unpredictable the day may be. 

While Stewart “never anticipated being in this job,” it was her husband, Andrew Stewart, who strongly encouraged her to consider her dedication to West Chicago, which ultimately led to applying and taking on the job of Division Chair. When the spot opened up, she had just started a program connecting to leadership, so the timing was right. She emphasized that building relationships with students and staff at WEGO has been very important to her, and that she is hoping to bring that ideology into her role as a meaningful and effective department chair.

Stewart met Andrew when they were 17 years old and both attending high school. 

“Nobody knows me better. He’s been through the journey with me, and definitely has seen me grow as an educator,” said Stewart. 

When considering their long relationship together, Stewart said, “We have the same values, but we are opposite in the way we act.” 

Andrew is receptive, and listens, balancing out Stewart’s extroverted side. Celebrating milestones throughout their lives, like college graduation, starting their careers, marriage, and having kids, has changed her outlook. She explained that when they met in high school, they were the “rawest version of [themselves]…and we chose to grow together.” 

There is truly no shortage of successes for Stewart. 

Former student, now co-worker, Elizabeth Mastroianni, said, “Stewart, or ’Stewie’, as we called her, was a teacher that really made high school great for me and many others. She not only made her class a wonderful learning environment, but a safe and fun place to be. She was such a positive light during hard times and made it very known that she cared about us! She is and always will be a great mentor.”  

“When you are in my circle, I have decided you are someone I need to take care of,” said Stewart. 

Friend and co-worker Brittany Nelson said, “She has a distinct way of making her friends and family feel loved and valued for being exactly who they are.” 

Outside of WCCHS, Stewart is a mother of 2 to Addison, 4, her “mini-me,” a son who talks way too much and is extremely empathetic (able to read others’ emotions very well).

The Stewart family, featuring Andrew (far left), Addison (left), Stewart (far right) and Maeve (center). (Photo by Lauren Stewart)

Maeve, her daughter, is spunky, but is an observer. She is a nurturer, just like her mom, and is constantly curious about the world around her. 

Becoming a mother, Stewart felt that the sibling love she experiences with her brothers, is a special emotion she wanted her own children to have. Stewart’s kids are her world, and her adoration shows in the way she speaks of them. 

Nelson said, “She has some of the sweetest, most well-adjusted kids I know, and it’s because she approaches everything as a mom with so much love.” 

When not busy being a mother or working at the high school, Stewart enjoys the outdoors and yoga. In the beginning of her professional career, she started practicing yoga to combat daily anxieties. 

“I fell in love with the practice in terms of stress management, but it also gives me a chance to slow down,” said Stewart. “I love the connectedness and a space that’s created that’s safe for everyone.” 

She is also an avid reader (shocker!) and believes it is important, as an educator, to be bookish. 

Stewart’s favorite piece of classical literature is The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, a piece she read as a sophomore in college. Stewart loved the nature-driven vignettes written in between the chapters. 

“It was eye-opening for me,” said Stewart. “It’s a very sad and depressing book, but it shows every little thing you do is an effort in the right direction.”  

Her “guilty pleasure” read is any sort of mystery/thriller. She tries to solve them, but “never does.” Last year, a group of her friends from high school started a book club. She has had so much fun experiencing reading a book with a bunch of her “non-reading” friends.

“Most of them just listen to the books. They don’t even read with their eyes!“ said Stewart jokingly. “How nerdy are we?” 

Stewart also loves travel excursions. She has seen 7 of the major national parks, and has hopes of adding to that list. She and Andrew are big baseball fans, and she pointed out it was opening day when we met. 

Prior to our interview date, I stalked her public Twitter page and noticed a large amount of her reposts about mental health awareness. When Stewart started her professional career in teaching, she came to terms with herself, and the fact that she had been struggling with anxiety and needed help. Starting with counseling and yoga, she developed strategies to combat her stress. 

“It’s a huge part of who I am,” said Stewart. “It means a lot to me and being able to identify that in my students has been important as well.” 

Throughout the different stages of her life, she has been able to not only be a support system for others, but also to admit defeat and ask for help from her own support systems when needed. Stewart’s sincerity and openness at this part of our conversation was evident, as she reassured me that I am never weak when asking for help, and that her door was always open to me, as it is for so many other students and staff at WEGO.