Chicago Bears linebacker Jack Sanborn hands Komarek School teacher Michelle Cole with her own personalized jersey during a surprise visit on Feb. 28 when he and the team’s mascot, Staley the Bear, presented Cole with a Bears Classroom Legends Award. | BOB SKOLNIK

Komarek School preschool teacher Michelle Cole and her afternoon class students got a surprise visit from a Chicago Bear last week, more than one if you count Staley, the football team’s mascot. 

Bears linebacker Jack Sanborn and Staley the Bear, along with a few other representatives of the Chicago Bears organization, dropped by Cole’s preschool classroom in North Riverside on Feb. 28 to present her with a Bears Classroom Legends Award, along with her own Chicago Bears jersey, an invitation to visit the Bears training camp next summer and a $1,000 check.

Cole was nominated for the award by Komarek School parent Kelly Will. Cole has taught two of Will’s children, 6-year-old Enzo and 4-year-old Giulia, who is in Cole’s morning class this year. 

“Each morning Miss Michelle greets students with a song and a smile,” said a Bears representative reading the letter Will wrote in nominating Cole for the award. “Her impact on learning starts with all her enthusiasm. In the morning when she talks about projects and activities, she is so excited it becomes contagious. The way she makes learning come to life is addictive and kids want more.”

Will, an ESL teacher at Irving School in Berwyn, said she decided to nominate Cole for the award when a teacher at her school received it. She went on the Chicago Bears website and wrote her nominating letter.

“She’s just such a caring person and my kids are super shy kids and, as a parent sending them to school for the first time, you always have some butterflies, and Miss Michelle just takes all that away,” Will told the Landmark in a telephone interview. “And she just truly cares about the kids and she’s always spending her own money on materials. They’re always doing these awesome projects and I thought the $1000, I just knew she would put it to good use.” 

Cole says she will probably use the money to purchase raised flowerbeds for the courtyard outside her classroom. 

“This is incredible,” said a shocked Cole of the visit. “I am floored, but I’m glad that it’s with the kids, that makes all the difference. I don’t do it for their parents or the administration. It’s for the kids. They’re the ones that make it all worthwhile.”

The 3, 4 and 5 year olds in Cole’s afternoon class were thrilled by Staley the Bear, a few of them going in for hugs with the furry mascot.

Cole has taught preschool at Komarek School for the past 10 years. She teaches 20 kids in the morning and another 20 in the afternoon. Until this year Cole was Komarek’s only preschool teacher. Another preschool teacher was added, along with a second afternoon class.

Komarek School District 94 Superintendent Todd Fitzgerald said that Cole deserved to be recognized.

“This is outstanding for Ms. Cole,” Fitzgerald said. “She’s just been a phenomenal teacher for us at Komarek for the last 10 years, and it’s really nice for her to get this recognition. She deserves it and she is truly a huge asset to Komarek School District 94 and all the preschool students she’s worked with for the past 10 years.”