I've been connected to the neighborhood since 2001. When I graduated from DePaul for my Masters degree, I was looking for jobs . . . . I remember distinctly coming home one day and there was a message on my voicemail from Mr. Kallas, [the principal at Peterson], asking if I was still interested in an interview.
And I'm like, “Sure, why not?” And if I would come in on a Saturday, May 12th, which is my birthday. I remember driving up and as soon as I drove up on Christiana I just automatically knew this was the school. I fell in love with it even before walking into the building. And so I chose it.
My father was in the military for 32 years, so I'm a military brat. The longest place that I lived in was Colorado, so I called that home. Chicago's my second longest residence and what brought me out here was I was waiting tables and hoping to open restaurants and fell in love with Chicago. I got my bachelors at Loyola and then fell in love with teaching. I couldn't change my major because my mother would have murdered me because it had already taken 10 years. So I decided to become a teacher and stay.
I love the fact that people [at Peterson] are so welcoming no matter where you come from. I love the fact that Peterson is smack dab in the middle of two universities, and that the socioeconomic backgrounds of everyone are so diverse, that everyone has an opportunity to learn from everyone. I've learned so much from being in the school that I know if I had gone to any other school I don't think I would have learned what I've learned here.
I know there's other schools that have the same or very similar demographics that we do. But I love bragging about Peterson to other colleagues. For instance, I just mentioned that I'm getting ready to go to Europe on a Fulbright. When I was studying for my classes to go, it was amazing just to tell other teachers around the country that my school has over 30 different languages spoken. And they were just amazed. And many of them were like, “Well, do the kids get along?” Yeah, it's not perfect but we are a very unique microcosm of our world and what our world has the possibility of being.
This is such a special place. I wish every school had the opportunity to see what it's like to have kids getting along when they have an opportunity to learn from different cultures.
I just love when – since this is my 21st year here – when kids who are in college or graduated from college reach out to me. For instance, a few years about two years ago, I was in HomeGoods at the cashier checking out and someone else was checking out and they're like Miss Bell and I'm like, “Oh my gosh, Delilah!” and she's a nurse now.
Just to see my former students as adults or as parents now . . . to see where you guys are – I can't wait to hear what you become. It just does my heart good.
De'Andrea Bell was interviewed by a former student in May of 2022.