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Luis Gomez: A Fond Farewell to a Nurturing Mentor

Señor Luis Gomez offers the following analogy for the student experience: “In sixth grade, we have students in the canoe with faculty, and the teachers are paddling. In seventh grade, the roles are reversed: students are paddling and the teachers are riding. In eighth grade, the students are paddling in their own canoes, and the teachers are walking along the shore cheering them on.” Indeed, Luis is one of NA’s greatest champions of student growth during early adolescence.

When Luis arrived at NA in the fall of 1992, the Middle School had a more provincial view of the world. Former Middle School Principal Joan Parlin remembers a conversation from her interview with Luis; in it, she asked him, “Would you be willing to take a group of students and faculty on trips to Spanish-speaking countries?” Luis’ response was succinct: “I will only take the job with the understanding that I will be able to travel with students outside the country.” For 26 years, Luis has done that and so much more. In fact, he has probably devoted over a year of his life, in total, traveling with students from Grades 6-12. Joan notes, “In addition to the teaching of Spanish language, Señor brought Spanish culture to Newark Academy. From sharing traditions of Spanish culture to cooking in the old kitchen upstairs, Señor shared with his students a deep understanding of the various Spanish and Hispanic cultures through his teaching.”

Joe Ball, another former Middle School principal, holds Luis as a role model for educators: “Everything this guy says and does comes from the heart – and it comes with love. His students know from the moment they walk into his room that he has their best interests at heart, and he is not afraid to deliver a tough message.” I witnessed this myself many times in Luis’ long-term work as eighth-grade team leader and advisor: although he was a beloved confidant to students, he was not shy about delivering a difficult message about a student’s need to change in order to grow.

Although Luis is the rare teacher who has taught and advised students in every grade, his greatest joy has always come from helping Middle School students grow up. Next fall, I will miss witnessing his interactions with kids, sharing his sense of humor and benefiting from his friendship. Luis has had a home at NA for the past 26 years, and he has been the heart of the Middle School – helping countless young students learn to paddle down the river on their own.

Faculty Recollections

 

Betsy La Padula, English Faculty

When I met Luis Gomez in the spring of 1996, he immediately handed me a giant piece of birthday cake and gave me an enormous smile. I hadn’t even been formally hired, but that didn’t matter to Luis – everyone who encounters him gets the same treatment: food for the body or for the soul, and that high-wattage smile. Luis’ pedagogy is simple: encourage all of the Academy’s children, hold them to high standards of behavior, lighten their loads with jokes and laughter, and celebrate every accomplishment. With Luis, one never has to worry about judgment or negative feedback; he manages to gently guide kids – and adults – “toward the light” with his unflagging support and love. He has literally and figuratively fed the Middle School faculty, staff and student body for decades; it will be a much leaner feast without him. I will always be grateful for his mentor-ship and compassion, because with Luis around, it is always possible to have one’s cake and eat it too.

Deb Tavares, Science Faculty

Luis Gomez was born a natural teacher and mentor. Having taught at various schools, he has decades of experience and has become an institution at Newark Academy. A straight shooter in his relationships with students, Señor (as he is affectionately known) pulls no punches when he lets students know they are not performing appropriately on an academic or personal level. One might be tempted to think that his frankness would drive preteens and teens away, yet they still flock to him, because he has a wonderful way of letting them know that he cares not only about their academic progress but about them as people. One can often hear a student saying, essentially, “Señor is real with me. He’s right, I was being an idiot and he called me on it, but I love him because he taught me more than just Spanish. He taught me that everyone makes mistakes, and he gave me the tools to learn how to grow up with pride and dignity.” It is this quality that has fostered lifelong indelible bonds between Señor Gomez and a multitude of students.

“Luis has helped shape the present and future of lives of so many students. The Middle School will not be the same without our beloved Señor!”

Luis has contributed in so many ways to the Middle School, providing experiential learning in his kitchen and fostering the love of Spanish culture by leading trips to Costa Rica, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Peru. As a longtime eighth-grade team leader, student council coordinator, advisor and teacher, Luis has helped shape the present and future lives of so many students. The Middle School will not be the same without our beloved Señor!

Alumni Recollections

Danielle Greco Panas ’02

Señor Gomez was my Spanish teacher for many years at Newark Academy. He was unique in the way he taught through experience. Many of his classes were spent in the kitchen, not only learning the life skill of cooking but learning everyday Spanish as well. I can still recite most foods in Spanish because of his classes. After I had bragged to my parents about how amazing this teacher was, they had the luck to win “A Dinner Cooked by Señor Gomez” at the NAPA Gala one year. He came to our house and cooked up a delicious authentic Puerto Rican feast. During the night, our families bonded and Señor Gomez has been a part of my life ever since. We have shared trips to Puerto Rico, Mexico, Costa Rica and Cuba. He attended my wedding and my children’s baptisms. I am honored to call him a friend.

What sets Señor Gomez apart is his heart and hospitality. He truly cares for his students and colleagues. He has a way of making everyone feel welcome through his vibrant personality and easy-going nature. He is so loyal that once you connect with him, you have a friend for life. His classroom and his home are always filled with family, former students and friends. I am so thankful to have met him all those years ago and to have felt his support ever since. Happy retirement, Señor Gomez!

Ari Borinsky ’04

From 7th through 12th grades, I knew him only as Señor, but now as an adult I am proud to say I am on a first-name basis with my friend Luis. I can still remember how excited I was every day for Spanish class with Señor. Some of the highlights included looking up synonyms of vocabulary words for extra credit (boleto/billete), conjugating the infamous “go-go” verbs, and of course making delicious meals in Señor’s kitchen. It’s funny, because I clearly remember helping out with the cooking, and yet today I’m a pretty terrible chef. Nevertheless, Señor succeeded beyond his expectations in sparking my interest in Latin America and the Spanish language. I majored in Spanish in college, I have been to almost every Spanish-speaking country (and I know all the capitals, thanks to Señor), and I speak fluent Spanish every day at work. One of my fondest “Señor memories” takes me back to the Cuba trip, when Mr. Parlin was thrown out of a supermarket for taking unsanctioned photographs and Señor explained to the police why the gringo was actually harmless.

I have a dear family friend who is a sixth grader this year at NA, and of course he has Señor for Spanish. It makes me very happy to know that my friend gets to experience such a wonderful teacher and mentor who impacted my life in so many ways. Señor, te deseo mucha paz y tran-quilidad. Un abrazo fuerte.

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