Special Features — 30 September 2016
Class acts: Challenges, triumphs of teaching

By Felicia S. Levine

City & Shore Magazine

Great educators don’t just teach students, but guide and inspire them.

We’ve all got a story: The instructor who helped you conquer the fear of geometry, or provided comfort when you were bullied, or encouraged you to apply for that hard-won college scholarship.

Starting this issue, City & Shore will introduce you to the educators behind those stories in a new series called Class Acts.

We approached leading South Florida school educators to understand what drives, challenges and gratifies them. We also asked them to share their most memorable career moments. We begin the series today with three educators: Dr. Radleigh Santos at American Heritage; Jill Landel at North Broward Preparatory School; and Kevin Dibert at NSU University School. The series will continue in November and December with Carlos Perez-Cubas at Cardinal Gibbons Catholic High School and Dr. Denise Aloma at St. Thomas Aquinas High School.

Read on and who knows: You just might learn something.

NURTURING TALENT

EDUCATOR: Jill Landel, Learning Specialist and Academic Club Advisor, Grades Pre-K-Fifth at North Broward Preparatory School, Lower School, 7600 Lyons Road, Coconut Creek; 954-247-0011;  nbps.org.

ABOUT LANDEL: She’s been a teacher for 43 years, with 31 spent at NBPS. As  a Learning Specialist, she works with students in all grades in the Lower School. “Every year I get to reinvent myself according to where there is the greatest need for my services,” says Landel, 66, also a Student Government Advisor. “This includes providing extra support as well as enrichment opportunities.”

WHY TEACH? “When I was in elementary school, I loved my third grade teacher and wanted to be just like her. Throughout high school and college, I babysat, tutored underprivileged youngsters, was a camp counselor and a nanny, and volunteered as a youth group advisor, candy striper and softball coach. I can’t imagine a career that didn’t entail working with children. As teaching is my passion as opposed to being a job, I’ve never given much thought to doing anything else.”

BIGGEST CHALLENGES: “What’s going on with computers and learning is exciting, but kids are losing the ability to communicate — writing, making eye contact, people skills and social skills. It’s important to get away from the cells and bells.”

MEMORABLE MOMENT: “There’s a student named Hannah with whom I had a special relationship. She was a member of student government and the Academic Club and a Ronald McDonald House volunteer; she collected books for those who have none and was a member of the Safety Patrol, walking little kids to class… She was always very modest but I recognized she had real talent and I was one of the teachers to nominate her for the Pinnacle Award for community service. She won.”

CHANGING THE WORLD

EDUCATOR: Kevin Dibert, Math Teacher, Grades Ninth-12th at NSU University School, 3375 SW 75th Ave., Fort Lauderdale; 954-262-4506; uschool.nova.edu.

ABOUT DIBERT: After working as a camp counselor in training, Dibert knew he wanted a career helping kids. And since math is his favorite subject, teaching was a natural choice. Mission work is his other passion: He spent a year traveling the country building houses in states ravaged by natural disasters. He now sponsors his school’s service club WIND (World in Distress), which does similar noble work and more. Last year Dibert won NSU’s President Award for Excellence in Community Service.

WHY TEACH? “I love seeing kids when they understand math for the first time and the lightbulb goes on,” says Dibert, 43. “It’s the best feeling in the world. It gives me reassurance that I’m doing what I was called to do.”

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “Demonstrating real-life applications because students always ask, ‘When am I ever going to need math?’” For example, Dibert explained in class how he used the Pythagorean Theorem geometric equation to build a wall perpendicular to the floor.

MEMORABLE MOMENT: Five years ago a student inspired by Dibert’s mission work launched WIND. Members visit soup kitchens, build Habitat for Humanity homes and hold collection drives; they also raise funds for Food For The Poor and sponsor a child though Mission of Hope Haiti. “It’s most rewarding when graduates return to tell me they’re still out there volunteering,” Dibert says. “I think of it as an eternal difference because those kids will pass it on to their kids. There is so much bad in the world — this is the hope.”

COACHING FOR SUCCESS

EDUCATOR: Dr. Radleigh Santos, Head Coach of Math Competition, Grades Ninth-12th at American Heritage, Plantation Campus, 12200 W. Broward Blvd.; 954-472-0022; ahschool.com. (The school also has a Boca Raton/Delray Beach campus at 6200 Linton Blvd.; 561-495-7272.)

ABOUT SANTOS: This AH Class of ’98 graduate earned his master’s degree at Georgia Tech and Ph.D. at Florida Atlantic University before returning to his alma mater to coach his award-winning math team. For the past seven years, the team has been named the top private school during the Mu Alpha Theta (National Math Honor Society for high schools and two-year colleges) Competition.

“I’m so lucky I get to work with students who are incredibly smart and enthusiastic,” says Santos, 35, also a senior scientist at the Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies, a nonprofit biotech research facility in Port St. Lucie. He’s proud of his students and says they “prepare for competitions after school, on Saturdays and even during the summer.”

WHY TEACH? “I’m always excited for students when they learn something new, though in my opinion 90 percent of the time students are responsible for their own successes. I’m thrilled to be a part of it, but I’m not going to take credit for their accomplishments.”

BIGGEST CHALLENGE:“I teach students at enormously disparate levels and need to make sure they all enjoy math — even the über students, whom I often have to persuade to listen because they think they already know everything!” he says, laughing.

MEMORABLE MOMENT: “I had a freshman who didn’t compete well; he was exceptionally anxious and had this nervous laughter. But I could see how badly he wanted to do well and worked with him on his nerves. He devoted his summer to studying and returned to become one of the top students! After graduation he majored in math at Vanderbilt University and still comes back to volunteer when we co-host regional math competitions. He’s still the same kid — but when it comes to math he is now very serious.”

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