Rays of Light: Kacey Carpenter

Hometown: Crystal Lake, IL

Current Location: Schaumburg, IL

Current Role: High School Math Teacher

Nominated By: Alexa Prejna (also a “Ray of Light”)

Reason for Nomination: She is always a source of light in my life as a friend, but I have watched her change the lives of her students from the moment she began student teaching. And now that she has her own classroom, she has become a role model to the generation of people that need great role models the most.

A Short Bio.

Kacey Carpenter was born with a brilliant smile on face, and in her 23 years, little has changed. To this day, she is full of energy, laughter, and positivity. Kacey centers her life around family, faith, self-care, and compassion.

Kacey was born in Crystal Lake, IL, a far northwestern suburb of Chicago. She and her siblings—Zack (age 30) and Kloe (age 28)—were raised in an intergenerational, Ukrainian-American household, fit with “lots of laughing,” fond memories, and love. As a child, Kacey grew up attending her “brother’s baseball games, watching the Chicago Cubs with [her] dad, [and] trying in every way to be just like [her] sister.”

During high school, Kacey’s baba (Ukrainian for “grandma”) moved in, and Kacey cherished every moment of this time. With three generations of women under one roof, there was never a dull moment, especially while Baba was around. Meanwhile, outside of the house, Kacey enjoyed participating in youth group, going on mission trips, and hanging out with same best friends she has had since seventh grade: Shaina, Kourtni, and Alyssa.

After graduating high school in 2015, Kacey moved downstate to attend Augustana College in Rock Island, IL. There, she double-majored in Secondary Education and Math and studied abroad in Jamaica and Italy. Outside of the classroom, Kacey participated in a service sorority, worked in campus admissions, student taught, and forged many new friendships.

Augustana College is known for its iconic limestone structure: Old Main. PC: Augustana College Website

Last year, Kacey graduated from Augustana and accepted a teaching position near her hometown. Needless to say, for Kacey, the past year has been one of considerable growth and change. “My life looks a lot different than it did a year ago,” she writes.

I’ve been investing quite a bit of myself in my job. I love my job so much and feel blessed every day to have the ability to teach! I spend many hours in the day thinking about my students and learning from them and all they deal with. They taught me so much more than I could’ve imagined.

Outside of work, Kacey has also been working to discern her callings and lead her best life. “I feel that being 22 is such a strange and confusing age,” she said. “

This is the time to invest yourself in things that you really care about. [When I was in school] my life was so consumed by school and work that it was easy to lose yourself in the process. I am just trying to figure out who adult-Kacey is going to be and investing time in myself! I have been trying to develop healthier habits like exercising every day, eating healthier, reaching out to the people in my life, being more open to opportunities and things like that!

Although Kacey dearly misses her students, she loves having time off for summer break, where she can recharge, catch up with friends and loved ones, and enjoy her past times unabated. Kacey finds great joy in “redecorating her apartment over and over, FaceTiming [her] friends and [her] niece every second of the day, listening to music as loud as [she] can,” and cooking. When not doing these things, Kacey invests her time visiting family or talking to her mom and sister “at least 10 times a day.”

For Kacey, “the little things”—special people, yummy food, everyday opportunities to smile and laugh, and the times where one can positively shape others’ lives and be shaped by theirs—matter most. Even on Kacey’s difficult days, she is filled with love, joy, and laughter!

Q & A: The [Not So] Serious

BB: Hi Kacey! Congratulations on your Rays of Light nomination. I am super excited to get to know more about you and help share your story. What are you most looking forward to doing once the pandemic is over?

KC: Well, I am actually planning on spending time in Hawaii with Alexa Prejna once the quarantine is over, and I could NOT be more excited! Regardless of when I get to go, I can’t wait to see that girl!

Kacey cannot wait to visit Alexa and the Aloha state soon. PC: Hawaii Public Radio

BB: What do you most enjoy about being a math teacher?

KC: Wow, this is a hard one, because I enjoy so many things about teaching math! But, I have to say that what I enjoy the most is watching students who have felt for a lifetime that they “can’t do math”, or are “bad at math” actually succeed and change their mindset.

Math is an interesting subject because if you look at its past, the people who got the most credit for mathematical discoveries are often white, educated, wealthy men. In fact, if you’re interested, you should read the story of Emmy Noether or watch the movie Hidden Figures to see how much discrimination there has been in math. Anyways, because of this past, I feel that people who don’t come from those types of backgrounds automatically think that they can’t be good at math. The majority of my students fall into this category of having these negative views. So, my favorite thing is being able to show them that ANYONE can do math. I love getting over excited about things in math because, even if they call me the biggest nerd and make fun of me like crazy, I know that me getting over excited helps them to want to try.

One time, I cried in front of my class because I taught something that I thought was going to be difficult for them (writing exponential equations), but they rocked it!! I literally walked around checking all of their work and started crying. Of course, they wouldn’t let me live that down, but I didn’t mind! I was so proud of them. Another time, I had a student come running up to me in the hall (she is a student who recently moved here from Turkey and struggles with English, so you could imagine how difficult math is for her), but she was dying to show me how well she did on her last test, and she even started crying telling me how proud she was of herself. Those are the kind of moments that make my job the best job I could have ever asked for.

Much like Kacey, the movie Stand and Deliver (1988) tells the story of a math teacher who shows his students, many of whom are dropout prone, that they can do math. PC: IMDB

BB: Kacey, those that know you often remember you for your infectious laugh. How would you describe your laugh to someone who’s never heard it?

KC: Oh goodness, I don’t even know how to describe it. It’s definitely very loud & I feel like when people hear it, they think someone is dying or in pain so they look concerned until they see it’s just me laughing again.

BB: When looking to laugh, what (activities, settings, etc.) or who do you turn to?

KC: Definitely my sister, Kloe. I don’t know why, but she is just the funniest person I know. She literally can make me laugh in seconds… the kind of laugh that makes your stomach hurt for a while afterwards. We definitely have the exact same sense of humor so we know exactly what will make each other laugh. I can be the most myself around her, and I literally tell her everything. I also have to give a shout out to my baba here – she is where everyone in my family gets their sense of humor from. She is the goofiest and funniest lady!

The Carpenter siblings on a recent trip: Kloe (left), Zack (back), and Kacey (right); and Zack’s daughter Kooper (middle). PC: KC

BB: In speaking to you, Kacey, I remember hearing you talk proudly of your Ukrainian heritage. Who and/or what has made this heritage important to you?

KC: All this credit goes to my baba! Since I was a baby, my baba has been teaching me Ukrainian words and telling me about my heritage. My baba actually lived with her mom—I called her great baba—for the majority of my childhood, until my great baba passed away at 94 years old! (I know she was a total bad ass!) In the last few years with my great baba, we had a caregiver come from the Ukraine – Lesha, and I will always remember her! She would cook Ukrainian foods, and she even tried to teach me how to speak Ukrainian (which I gave up very quickly haha). This is just something about my family that we have all been taught to be very proud of, and that’s still true for me to this day!

BB: What do you appreciate most about your heritage?

KC: I have always thought of Ukrainian people as very strong. My baba and great baba have told me countless stories of how the Ukraine has dealt with so many hardships throughout its history. Also, the women in my family are the strongest women I know. All of them have dealt with extreme hardships and always find a way to make it through, no matter what. When I think about my Ukrainain heritage, it’s these strong women that I think of, and I’m very grateful for that.

Per usual Kacey, her mother, and baba made paska on Easter this year. In the photo above, baba shows off the fruits of their labor. PC: KC

BB: What Ukrainian traditions do you still practice?

KC: The FOOD! My favorite food in the world is pyrohy (pronounced ped-a-heh). It is similar to Perogis – but Ukrainian style. There’s also Hulupchiy, Kapusta, and Paska. Every Easter, we made homemade Ukrainian bread (Paska) and it takes ALL day, but it’s totally worth it. My baba says it’s not Easter without Paska. There’s also a beautiful Ukrainian Catholic Church on the outskirts of Chicago called Saint Joseph’s. My baba, mom, aunt, and some cousins were all married there. I hope to get married there one day as well!

***

BB: Finish this the following sentence. When going to the movie theater, I sneak __________ (this type of food) into the movie, inside my pocket/purse.

KC: Sour Patch Kids … they are my weakness, but no way in heck am I paying as much as they cost at the movie theater!

As you age, some things don’t change. Kacey still loves her Sour Patch Kids. PC: Amazon

BB: How would you define “self-love” or “self-acceptance”? And what has adulthood taught you about practicing these behaviors: being human and embracing yourself? 

KC: Faith has always been very important to me, so I have always thought of self-love as accepting the person that God created you to be. He created each of us uniquely and perfectly, so there is no need to question Him. I feel like as I grew up, I tried so hard to be perfect. But obviously, I’m not perfect—no one is, not even the people who seem perfect on Social Media. I make lots of mistakes, and have screwed up more times than I can count. I never gave myself any grace. Now I know that God loves me through my mistakes, and He created me, so I just have to trust Him and not be so hard on myself. Being perfect is no fun anyway.

***

BB: If you could prove one mathematical theorem, or explain one mathematical concept to a public audience, what would you teach? Why?

KC: Gotta give a shout out to Dr. Bengston here. I would prove that the square root of 2 is irrational. Such a beautiful and clear proof of something complicated. Lyli Chavez and I have been known to break out a few math proofs at parties…we aren’t ashamed of it 🙂

In case you are wondering, √2 is irrational. Don’t ask me to prove this, though! PC: University of Adelaide (AU) Math Blog.

BB: Tell about a recent moment when you felt proud to be you. Why do you think you felt this way? And what does this moment say about you?

KC: When I successfully completed my Pure Math major. I knew that I wanted to teach and that teaching was my passion, so my secondary ed-math major was all I really needed for that. However, I wanted to challenge myself. I wanted to be able to say that I got a major in Pure Math. I told my friends countless times that I would probably drop it because I didn’t need it, and it was going to be so hard but I did it! That SI class kicked my butt, but I am so proud that I did it. I feel very proud to be a woman with a math degree.

***

BB: If you were stuck in a parallel universe in which you could only listen to one musical artist for the rest of your life, who would you listen to? Why?

KC: Morgan Wallen. Love that man to death. I’ve always loved country music, and I know that it can be cheesy and all that stuff, but I love it. It helps me think about simpler times. But I’ve seen Morgan Wallen in concert before he was really famous and it was just at a small bar & it was the most amazing concert I’ve been to. So, I’ve loved him since.

Morgan Wallen. PC: morganwallen.com

BB: If you could time travel, what advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

KC: As mentioned before, I would say stop trying to be perfect. It’s okay to make mistakes and it’s NORMAL to make mistakes when you’re that young. Just be you and the right people will stick by you. Also, I would have told myself to do a full-term study abroad. Still wish I did that.

***

BB: Imagine it is Friday night. You have just finished a long week at work and are looking to relax, have fun, and blow off some steam. What are your plans for the night? And who would you like to spend this time with?

KC:  Ladies of 612, of course!!! My bffs and roommates Ally, Kimi, Alexa, Michelle, and Shelby. The night would go like this: everyone would end up in my bed and we would go back and forth for an hour about whether or not we were gonna go out. We’d make fun of each other and laugh the whole time. We’d decide we are gonna go out, spend so long getting ready and raiding each other’s closets, then end up not going out and just having a dance party in our house and going to bed early.

Ladies of 612 (from left to right): Shelby, Kim, Kacey, Alexa, and Ally. PC: KC

BB: If someone were to describe you in three words, what words would them to say?

KC: Hmm, I would say loud (mostly because of my obnoxious laugh), passionate, and goofy.

BB: What words would you use to describe yourself?

KC: I think I’d say similar things as my friends & the people that know me haha – I’m definitely an open book. I’m a “wear-my-heart-on-my-sleeves” kinda person, so I feel I always show people the real me so the answers wouldn’t be too different.

***

BB: If you could get a pet right now, what would you choose?

KC: A German Shepherd puppy!!! The moment I move to a bigger place, I am getting a dog!!

German Shepherd Puppies!! PC: American Kennel Club

BB: With modern technology and social media, it seems really easy to perceive others’ lives differently than they occur. Given this phenomenon, what do wish the world knew about you that they might not already know?

KC: That I am working on myself. If you scroll through my social media, you will see tons of pics of my family, friends, and pretty much all the relationships I’ve had with people. While these people mean everything to me, I am trying hard to better myself & figure out who I am on my own, and who I want to be.

Author’s Note: Rays of Light is a blog dedicated to spreading positivity, recognizing everyday servants and role models, and allowing others to be vulnerable and share more of their stories. These words are found as they were written, except when subtle rewriting improved narrative flow. It was such a joy getting to know Kacey through this process. Her authenticity, positivity, compassion, and care for others is so refreshing. Kacey has approved this feature’s content.

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