In January of my junior year at Greeley, I realized that much to my consternation, I would have no Spanish class to take as a senior. When I explained my plight to Ms. Isabel Irizarry, who had been my Spanish teacher two years earlier, she immediately offered to help me do an independent study. While most independent study classes meet once every six or 12 days, she insisted on meeting twice a week to ensure I had frequent exposure to the language. Over the past year, the two of us have read novels, watched TV shows, and had discussions on American politics, all in Spanish. The immense number of hours she has dedicated to helping me improve my Spanish has left a lasting impression on me and further enhanced the extraordinary appreciation I have for Greeley’s outstanding teachers.
Ms. Irizarry’s incredible dedication to her students is not unusual at Greeley. For example, history teacher Robert Zambernardi is well-known for his gregarious personality and unmatched ability to make historical puns. But the most important thing he has taught me is how contagious passion for a subject can be. His enthusiasm is infectious, and he even encourages students to do historical research on their own through his “History IS” program, an independent-study class in which students spend a semester learning about a historical topic of their choice.
Mr. Zambernardi meets individually with these students every week to provide mentorship as they undertake what for most will be the largest research project of their four years in high school. When I took History IS last year to research the decline of communism, Mr. Zambernardi came to every meeting with an arsenal of obscure facts about both the subject matter and the professors whose work I was studying. During a semester when the stress of junior year was overwhelming, my weekly meetings with Mr. Zambernardi were something to which I looked forward. Mr. Zambernardi always leaves his classroom door open, just in case students feel like dropping by to say hello, ask a question about his course material, or vent about how college applications are taking over their lives.
Mr. Zambernardi and Ms. Irizarry are far from the only teachers who make their students a priority. Math teacher George Benack, for example, holds extra-help sessions before and after school every week for students who need them, and even comes prepared with brownies to encourage attendance.
Once, I found myself struggling with a concept but could not attend any of the sessions he offered that week. Determined to help me, he volunteered to meet with me individually after school, and then sat with me for a full hour until he was confident that I understood the material.
Greeley’s staff members have shown time and again that they will do anything to help the school’s students.
Student Life Coordinator Kristin Spillane, for example, worked tirelessly to create an “Ambassadors” program to give students who feel isolated the chance to socialize with older peers. The language department, hoping to give students more opportunities to listen to and speak their target languages, created a “language lab” with software designed to do just that. And, of course, there are the many teachers who act as advisors to student-run clubs.
Greeley teachers do so much more than ensure that students are prepared to ace their AP exams, though they are admittedly excellent at this too. They create a sense of community in their classrooms, and make their students understand that knowledge has no limits.
Twenty years from now, I probably won’t remember the equation for simple harmonic motion, that the 1720 South Sea Bubble helped Sir Robert Walpole come to power in Great Britain, or the details of the Brønsted–Lowry acid–base theory (OK, I may have already forgotten that last one). What I will remember are Ms. Li’s field trips to Chinatown, Mr. Metzler’s Tibetan singing bowl, and Ms. Plate’s Band-Aid collection.
When September arrives, I will be leaving Chappaqua and heading up I-95 to the place that I will call home for the next four years. Until then, I plan to soak up every last drop of knowledge that my school and community have to offer.