A Pritikin Story

Upper School French Teacher Retires After Many Moons


Photo credit: The Parker Weekly

At 4:18 pm, room 387 is mostly dark except for a thin beam of natural light that illuminates a laminated map of France on the back wall. Stacks of colorful folders and books lie underneath a cooling vent, and the wall above the window is painted with an assortment of international flags. An arch of black lettering covers a styrofoam tile on the ceiling and reads “PAIX”, which translates to “peace” from french. The title subtly serves as a reminder for students to embrace understanding, empathy, and peace while navigating a diverse and interconnected world. 

Since 1995, the room has belonged to French teacher Lorin Pritikin, an upper school language teacher dedicated to celebrating different cultures and identities. June 2023 will serve as Pritikin’s final month teaching French at Parker, and then she will leave, as she terms it, the Parker “cocoon.”

“There’s a lot of safety, there’s a lot of caring, and there’s a lot of good energy,” Pritikin said. “[Parker has] been my home for so many years that I take comfort in the sameness, like a lot of human beings.”

Pritikin described having a mix of emotions about leaving an institution she has worked at for “many moons”. While deeply missing the Parker-bubble “energy”, what she will miss the most are the connections fostered with students. She teaches several levels of French to upper school students, allowing her to form relationships with students across all grades. That exposure gave her the opportunity to discuss current events and societal issues that students are passionate about. 

“I think that we have learned so much from each other,” Pritikin said. “I get to hear what is on young adults’ minds before they spread their wings, find their voice, and become activists in many causes. I like to be on the pulse of them becoming who they’re going to be as they leave Parker–I always have felt privileged to be in that space. That’s what I’ll miss most.”

As a language teacher, Pritikin feels a responsibility to acclimate students with different cultures and provide opportunities for students to connect with global communities. For example, Pritikin worked with the Global Voices Initiative to get in contact with a high school in Morocco, and often connects her students with them. During the 2021-22 school year, French III juniors engaged in a Zoom call discussion with Moroccan students. Each student asked questions about family, academics, societal tension, and more to learn about each country’s culture.

“I want to ensure that young adults move to another space being culturally competent, which means understanding that others are more like them than they are different,” Pritikin said. “And when they are different, understanding the lens they look at you with, as an American: the political lens, the social justice lens, and the racial and equity lens.”

Pritikin pointed out that as students leave Parker, they will broaden their cultural awareness inevitably in whatever field they pursue.

In addition to her commitment to cultural competency, Pritikin is dedicated to enforcing academic inclusion at Parker. In 1996, Pritikin began the process of creating a language class focused on global studies, geographical literacy, and survival language skills. These classes are intended for students who might struggle in traditional language classes.

 When Pritikin first came to Parker, she found out that students were being waived out of language classes due to natural difficulty reading and processing.

  “I thought, ‘I didn’t do well in pre-calc and they didn’t waive me out of math requirements,’” Pritikin said. “When I was in high school, not a single person got waived out of math, [math teachers] had different levels and courses for people. The math department here has different kinds of classes for people who are either really enthusiastic about math, or not so good at it, but willing to take risks. I thought, “I don’t know a single Parker student ever having been waived out of math.”

Pritikin recalled feeling like a “second class citizen” in the language department, and that the administration felt it was a sometimes unnecessary “add-on” to the core curriculum. Pritikin decided to make a change and introduce the message that,  ‘you can, you’re capable, and you have the talents,’” Pritikin said. “If you’re willing to take the risks and be uncomfortable, we can find a way to help you succeed, but it might need to look a little bit different than the traditional language and culture programs.”

The process of creating the class and gaining administration approval took a few years. Pritikin is still in contact with students who took the program previously and many have entered college language programs, studied abroad, and worked internationally.

“Lorin was ahead of her time, leading the way for Parker to create a Language and Culture program for students whose own learning styles did not fit the more traditional approaches to foreign language instruction,” Principal Dan Frank said at a recent dinner for the Board of Administration.

“I’ve gotten emails from people that say, ‘you’re not going to believe this. I’ve earned a master’s in international relations, and I was in your cultures program,’” Pritikin said. 

Pritikin’s dedication to recognizing all facets of identity expands to gender and celebration of International Women’s Day at Parker. Every year, Pritikin has led a seminar inviting female figures to speak and discuss a topic related to female empowerment. The Women’s Affinity group led by students that was renamed and reintroduced this year also helps to organize the event. 

Each year, the conference follows a specific theme that is selected around December. In the past, themes have included reproductive rights, human trafficking, incarcerated women’s projects, women in the arts, women in sport, and more. This year, the conference was centered around women faith leaders, their work, and how they sustained their communities during the pandemic. 

Pritikin’s family life and background influenced her involvement with International Women’s Day at Parker, and advocacy for women’s empowerment. She “came from a family of all women ” and was especially inspired by her mother’s independence while growing up. 

When she first came to Parker, she had already experienced events and programming for International Women’s Day in college, and deeply enjoyed it. She recalled being fascinated about women’s empowerment in other communities and cultures, and how more women were breaking traditional norms of being stay-at-home moms.

“I was thinking about International Women’s Day in high school and I looked around and found not very many. I was shocked. Even in progressive schools and other independent schools, I thought, ‘why is that?’ That’s what got me thinking. Then, I tried my first [International Women’s Day event at Parker], and it was a success.”

She hopes that someone in the Parker community will “pick up the torch” and continue the tradition.

Pritikin has also had strong involvement with student life, cultural integration at Parker, and the American Field Service committee (AFS). She has played an integral part in welcoming international exchange students from Pakistan, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Ghana, and more. Pritikin considers it one of the “most rewarding” life experiences she has had, next to teaching students at Parker. 

“My parents and I hosted an exchange student when I was 16 and it changed my life,” Pritikin said. “I stayed friends with the [exchange student]. I went over to England, it happened to be England, and then the girl came back and lived with my family and we stayed friends through marriage and children. That’s how I got involved.”

Parker is a primarily white institution that only has 944 students enrolled across all grade levels. In addition to this, Parker has an articulated mission for fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion, and for many exchange students, the cultural adjustment was intense. Pritikin recalled a comment from Evelyn Adongo, Parker’s Ghanaian exchange student, where she described the difference in cultural diversity between the two communities. 

“‘She had said, ‘we’re a homogenous society. We all look similar,’” Pritikin said. “‘And diversity—I didn’t even know what it meant, because we don’t have it and we don’t strive for it, and we don’t have the same tensions. And the people who come here who look different, or come from different cultures—we don’t welcome them in, or we are fearful of them. We just don’t have the same complex issues in our society.’” 

Pritikin mentioned that some exchange students had a similar experience with LGBTQ+ culture at Parker and throughout Chicago. 

“I have had students from countries where having outward same-sex affection is not only frowned upon, but culturally but illegal,” Pritikin said. “When students that have come from some of these countries have arrived at Parker, they have confessed that they have never openly met any gay people. They know that the communities exist in their countries, but they’re underground.”

When the exchange students become more familiar with Parker, Pritikin recalls them feeling “amazed, impressed, and so appreciative.” 

“I am not saying we do not have the same problems as so many schools,” Pritikin said. “But the fact that we’re working on improving, that we’re having workshops for teachers, staff, and students, and that we are asking for student voices and perspectives. Often, that doesn’t happen in their countries and in their schools.”

This year, Parker’s senior class welcomed Zeynep “Eda” Altunbas from Turkiyë as the 2022-23 AFS exchange student. Altunbas met Pritikin for the first time at a bridge event in August where new students were invited on a Chicago boat tour. 

 Due to Pritikin’s role as faculty advisor, she fostered a strong relationship with Altunbas that expanded beyond a traditional student-teacher connection. 

“Once I started talking about my personal [life], my family, my problems here, my problems in Turkiyë, we started to get closer,” Altunbas said.  “Now, I feel like we are more than just teachers and students.”

Altunbas describes Pritikin as a “wise” person who has a lot of “experience on life”

“The thing that I like most about her is that she takes action so fast—she’s such a problem solver,” Altunbas said. “She’s so good at communicating. She can always calm down both sides.”

Pritikin played a large role in Altunbas’ adjustment to Parker and the school’s social culture. Altunbas remembers when Pritikin would stand in the third floor hallway outside her classroom and stopped almost every passerby no matter the age to introduce them to Altunbas.

While describing her appreciation for Altunbas, Pritikin grew emotional. 

“She is the kindest, most resilient, and curious woman who wants so much to know and learn about so much.” Pritikin said. “We became close over tragedies that happened, like the earthquake. We were close before that, but it’s made us even closer. 

Pritikin is “proud” of the Parker community for supporting Altunbas when parts of Turkiyë were devastated by natural disaster. On February 6, an earthquake hit southeast Turkey, 150 miles north of the Syrian border. The natural disaster affected over fifteen million people across Turkey and Syria. 

 “Parker is so welcoming,” Pritikin said. “We’re just this like, small, little family—we become their family, right? It’s always so hard for them to leave, and it’s always hard for me for them to leave.”

Leaving Parker, Pritikin described three messages she wants to leave with the Parker community. The first message is respecting others, and giving one another grace and the ability to make mistakes. 

“We should respectfully understand that people will make mistakes, because we’re all learning,” Pritikin said. “My legacy would be that we should all assume goodness, and be willing to respectfully educate each other when we do make mistakes.”

The second message relates to civil discourse and communication between students. Specifically, a student’s ability to have discussions with individuals who might differ in opinion or thought. The last message relates to inclusion and recognition of everyone’s voice and perspective. 

“I wish for every student to feel valued and seen, and for no student to feel invisible,” Pritikin said.