By Felicia S. Levine
City & Shore Magazine
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 a scholarship. In this ongoing series, we introduce some of the educators behind the stories.
EDUCATOR: Dr. Denise Aloma, Principal, St. Thomas Aquinas High School, 2801 SW 12th St., Fort Lauderdale; 954-581-0700; aquinas-sta.org.
ABOUT ALOMA: She’s been in the Catholic education system for 44 years, starting two decades ago as an English teacher in Jamaica before moving to South Florida and eventually joining St. Thomas Aquinas High School. Aloma was promoted to vice principal 14 years ago and this is her second year as principal.
WHY EDUCATION? “I was very influenced by the Mercy Sisters, founders of the Convent of Mercy Academy in Kingston, Jamaica, where I attended and returned as a teacher,” says Aloma, 64. “Another influence was reading the biography of Helen Keller, who I consider to be a role model.”
BIGGEST CHALLENGES: “Today’s litigious society creates a constant subtle, passive-aggressive threat of a lawsuit and teachers have to keep a lot more documentation to protect the integrity of a program. It’s cumbersome. While I haven’t encountered this problem here, it’s something I brace for.
“Also, students are under more pressure than I’ve seen in the last 40 years and aren’t enjoying the best years of their lives. Some end up with anxiety and depression, which saddens me. We need to do more to nurture their hearts.
“And society needs to acknowledge the value of teachers or I’m concerned we’ll face a crisis in securing and retaining high-qualified teachers. They are the real heroes.”
MEMORABLE MOMENTS: “I’m exceptionally proud to see the second generation of kids I taught become incredible husbands and wives and unbelievable citizens, some of whom bring their kids back to the school. I have about 25 alumni who now teach here and have their kids enrolled here — and more than 50 percent of them were in my class when I was a teacher. I’m also fortunate to see my grandchildren here now.”