2017 Kraft Teaching Award Winner: Dawn McRoberts Strauss


 Dawn Strauss earned her B. A. in Latin at Monmouth College and her M.A. in curriculum & instruction at Concordia University. Since 2004 she has taught Latin at Kenwood Academy High School in Chicago. With her encouragement the number of Latin students has grown from 35 to 185 (the highest enrollment of all Chicago’s public schools), and she offers six levels of Latin. Kenwood is the only public neighborhood high school in Chicago with a Latin program, and the only predominantly African-American school that participates in the Illinois Junior Classical League (ILJCL) convention. It is also a high-poverty school, where many students have lives touched by violence; as Ms. Strauss writes, “In the month of November alone, one of my students has lost a family member to gun violence each week. No student at Kenwood doesn’t know of someone whose life was taken far too soon.”

Consequently she has made her Latin classroom a haven: “Latin serves as the bridge between the star basketball player, math team member, cheerleader, anime fan, band member, etc. My two favorite times of the school year are IJCL and our Latin Award Ceremony. All my students come together and rejoice in their similarities and differences while urging each other on.”  They learn a lot of Latin, too: her students achieve high scores on the National Latin Exam; they win college scholarships; and they continue the study of Latin in college. Her persistence in exploring the best in pedagogy thus develops scholars who love Latin while it also develops a community. 

Parents and colleagues comment on Dawn’s energy and generosity:  “I certainly don’t know where she gets the energy to teach six classes in such an engaging and efficacious way, run Latin club and Certamen, host students at her home for social get-togethers, attend the annual JCL convention, run a rollicking Latin awards ceremony every spring, and generally be on call and on hand in any crisis. I am pretty sure CPS doesn’t even pay her for one of the classes she teaches. And I know for a fact she expends a lot of her own money to ensure some students have all they need to succeed in her class and in the rest of their school life.”

The following student’s comments illustrate the impact of Dawn’s commitment to them: “Last year at the IJCL convention Kenwood Academy was struck by a very unfortunate event, there was a racist act that was done in front of us but as a white woman she was as hurt if not more hurt than us. She fought for us without any withdrawal, she never took no for an answer, and when there was no apology she made sure that we got the apology we deserved. I love Ms. Strauss with all my heart and in my heart she has already won teacher of the year and also teacher of my life.”

The Committee is honored to award Dawn Strauss the 2018 Kraft Award for Excellence in Secondary School Teaching.

The 2016-2017 recipient of the Kraft Award for Excellence in Secondary School Teaching was Dawn Strauss of Kenwood Academy in Chicago, Illinois. Pictured here with CAMWS President Alden Smith (left) and Thomas J. Sienkewicz (right), her Latin professor at Monmouth College.