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CHICAGO —Senora Shenel Conde wants her Spanish class to be a sanctuary for students at Kenwood Academy High School. With the school year disrupted by COVID-19, most of them she has never met in person. But she loves them all the same.

“They are my babies, they really are,” she said. “I just have a lot of love for my students. I love what I do. I love being here. And they tell me they still feel it through a computer.”

Nia Mitchell nominated Conde for WGN’s Teacher of the Month.

Mitchell was in her Spanish class several years ago and is now in college and studying to be a pilot. Conde gave her support to soar.

“She’s so caring,” she said. “And I’d be able to talk to her. I would go to school like an hour early just to go sit in her office and chat. She impacted so many lives and she doesn’t even realize it.”

“I love Nia,” Conde said. “I feel like I made an impact on her but she made an impact on me too. That’s what happens sometimes, the students affect us more than they realize.”

After teaching for more than 20 years, Conde says the pandemic brought new lessons and challenges but she was able to lean on her Kenwood colleagues. She said she’s looking forward to having her students in the classroom and getting back to leading them on service-learning projects and neighborhood tours.

“When I see my students using Spanish communicating with each other – I love seeing that,” she said. “When the fear of making mistake sheds away and they’re able to communicate taking risks with the language.”

Award sponsor Attorney Ken Allen presented her with a $1000 check for the school.

She said she’s honored, humbled, and super excited to keep connecting with her students.

“My objective of course is for them to use that Spanish for real world communication,” she said. “I want them to have knowledge and appreciation for Spanish speaking regions and culture. But I also want my students to be happy, to enjoy their time with me, to know they can talk to me if they need me.”