There aren’t many teachers who would start their retirement letter with a reference to showtune lyrics, but Jill Bonavia-Galligani isn’t just any teacher. She has been teaching theater at Homewood-Flossmoor High School for more than 20 of her 32 years on staff.
“I cannot believe how quickly the years have flown by. The adage ‘times flies when you are having fun’ certainly is apropros,” she wrote Superintendent Von Mansfield in a letter explaining that she was moving her retirement up a year.
Bonavia-Galligani found her way to H-F thanks to her sister, Jackie, who had moved to Homewood. The Rockford native, a newly minted graduate of Northern Illinois University, taught one year in Loves Park before applying for a position in the English department at H-F.
“I always wanted to do theater,” Bonavia-Galligani told the Chronicle, but she started directing H-F’s group interpretation shortly after she was hired in 1989 taking it over from teacher/coach Tom Sweeney. Bonavia-Galligani went on to co-direct the IHSA state championship Theatre-In-The-Round production and several IHSA state champion and runner-up speech team students.
As the group interpretation director, nearly every team she worked with placed for honors. Bonavia-Galligani said she had three state championship titles, numerous state runner-ups and countless others that placed in state contention.
Preparing for competition isn’t easy, and Bonavia-Galligani recalls working on a group interpretation production of “Catcher in the Rye.” She remembers students being discouraged, saying: “’We’re throwing in the towel. This isn’t coming together.’ And then we won state, so there are those situations just when you think it’s not going to work out and it does.”
After 10 years, she passed the group interpretation responsibilities to a fellow teacher so she could focus on directing H-F theater productions. One of her favorite shows was “Steel Magnolias,” an early project. A more recent production of “The Laramie Project,” was a very moving play about how a town dealt with the death of a young gay man. The project gave students a chance to interact with one of the authors who visited H-F.
Yes, there have been a few disasters along the way. She recalls them as “mostly with people getting sick and having to fill in the last minute. I block out things that are unpleasant.”
She can tick off graduates who have gone on to do great things in theater, including Austin Smith who played Macbeth and a lead character in one of her group interpretation projects long before he appeared on Broadway in “Hamilton.”
For more than 20 years, Bonavia-Galligani has been teaching summer theater. The cast can include children as young as primary grades through high school. Summer theater will be her “swan song” this year. She will be teaching the first half of summer theater before she officially leaves H-F on June 30.
“Every experience with the kids is just so special,” she said admitting that leaving will be difficult. “The kids, hands down, are the best part of teaching. It is a privilege and such a blessing to be around students every day. I’m going to miss them more than I could think. It chokes me up just talking about it.
“They inspire me and I have tried to be a role model for them,” she said. Her message is to be “caring about other people and caring about themselves, having faith in themselves.”
Bonavia-Galligani was thankful that the English Department allowed her to teach English II. The curriculum includes several plays and a speech component giving the teacher a chance to share her passions with students.
And now what will she do? “I have to figure out that plan,” she said. “Right now, I’ll just have time for myself and my family. And when theater opens, I’ll go to plays.”